Romanian companies get involved in IT capacity building in Africa

In 2019, a partnership spearheaded by Romanian IT companies helped the Rwandan government revamp all their national institutional portals, over 300 of them, from ministries and universities to embassies and city halls. The companies are looking now into creating a network of partners, which would enable tackling more strategic projects in Africa.

Daniel Homorodean (center), CEO of Romanian IT company Arxia, together with the local Rwandan team, making progress towards relaunching the Rwandan ministerial portals on TYPO3. November 2019, Kigali, Rwanda.

News about Romanian IT companies operating on the African continent are rare, as companies are lacking knowledge of this complex market and its opportunities. So it came quite as a surprise to find out that last year, the Rwandan government started several projects of IT capacity building with Arxia, a company based in Cluj, Romania. In 2019, Arxia’s CEO, Daniel Homorodean also led an economic mission in Africa, together with several colleagues from Cluj IT Cluster, establishing connections and creating business opportunities with relevant partners in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda. With the assistance of the Romanian embassy in Nairobi, the delegation was received by ministries, parliamentary commissions and other high level institutions. The Romanian delegation also met local IT companies and tech startups in the quest to create cooperation bridges between the Romanian and African IT industries. Daniel is also involved in defining standards, consulting and implementing systems to support e-government and e-administration processes in Romania.

We spoke with Daniel about the opportunities Africa offers to European IT companies, helping develop the African ecosystems.

Daniel Homorodean, CEO of Arxia, attending African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

IT capacity building in Rwanda

Our engagement with the Rwandan government started in 2018, when I’ve traveled to Kigali on behalf of the TYPO3 Association as part of the project meant for international expansion of TYPO3, a robust and secure open source CMS framework, yet not well known outside its core German-speaking (DACH) market.

The Rwandan national IT agency was quickly convinced of the benefits of TYPO3 and committed to use it to power all their national institutional portals, over 300 of them, from ministries and universities to embassies and city halls. Such an endeavor requires proper know-how and long term effort and this challenge offered us the chance to employ our vision in Africa: sustainable and efficient development happens when a country has acquired the know-how and has the ability to implement and maintain their projects, not being dependent on outside suppliers for solution and service providing. Therefore, our role should be one of enablers, facilitating know-how transfer and the development of their national internal capacity and foster the development of their own national technical community around TYPO3. This was our proposal.

This led starting our first project in Rwanda, aiming to support, mentor and coach a Rwandan team of developers from public institutions and from private software agencies to learn TYPO3 and to develop the institutional web portals. The second project soon followed, expanding our collaboration with a coaching project on software integration architecture, helping Rwanda to develop the software interoperability framework between the institutions of the country. For both projects, currently ongoing, I am glad to have found reliable partners with whom Arxia shares the delivery effort. On the software integration project, we make a team with another company from Cluj, Nordlogic. On the TYPO3 project, we team up with Macopedia from Poland. I believe in this partnership model and in its potential to expand, both in Rwanda and in other countries. I go by the TYPO3 motto, “inspiring people to share”, because there is a lot of opportunity in Africa and we can create much more value if we work together.

10s of millions of African SMEs will need digitalize their business

I have lately given quite a strong focus on developing relations in Africa. If you ask me, “Why Africa?”, there are two reasons for me. One is very personal and this relates to the passion that I have developed for the continent. I have been travelling in African countries for over 12 years. I love the energy, the colors, the rhythms, the openness and the directness of the people. I love Africa. I wanted for a long time to be more than just a tourist there.

Moreover, I see a tremendous business opportunity. By 2035 more than half of all the people who would be able to work in the world will actually be Africans. In the next few years, I am expecting tens of millions of African SMEs to digitalize their business, to start using the internet and software applications. This will generate a huge new market.

Africa is growing in population with more than 2.5% per year, meaning that by 2050 the Africans will double in number. They will reach 2.5 billions. This population is very young. It’s already getting quite well educated. It has a lot of energy and a lot of willingness to work and to progress. This will be the greatest global pool of workforce and talent.

It is clear for now that the African states themselves are not yet in the position of sustaining this tremendous demand of growth through proper digital systems, and that they need help, help that I believe that we can provide, in order to ensure and accelerate their progress. That is why I believe that the opportunity for us right now is great in Africa, and the moment is for us to go there.

IT can help tremendously in the sustainable development of African countries

I consider IT as a support industry for the growth and development of ecosystems. And as I’ve said at a recent presentation that I’ve held at the African Union in Addis Ababa in last November, all the countries, especially the African ones, need to have the ability to manage and control the data, the ability that right now eludes them because they do not have a proper informational infrastructure.

This means the ability to manage the spatial and territory information, the population data and the data about the movement of the people, the information about businesses and their dynamics, about financial transactions and taxation. Everything requires a proper infrastructure, technical infrastructure that allows the management of such information. This is why the digitalization and overall the IT support is essential for sustainability and development of those countries. And I would say that without the proper approach in this direction, the African countries run in the high risk that the tremendous opportunity of growth can transform into a danger.

It is very problematic when the young population willing to work is not able to find the context of opportunity in the country. Proper employment of IT support can help tremendously in this direction. This does not mean delivering off-the-shelf systems, but developing strategies, policies, acquiring capacity to implement and maintain complex applications, and developing tailored solutions that are adapted to their specific goals and needs. This is the approach that we promote and that we are ready to support with all our experience.

The aim is to develop a network of partnerships, which would enable tackling strategic projects

We already have started projects in several countries in Africa. I’ve mentioned the first two of them that we implement in Rwanda. We have advanced discussions with central institutions from Uganda and Ethiopia and good perspectives as well in Kenya.

This spring, from February to April, I will travel to Africa again, in at least four countries. On one hand to expand the relations already established in East Africa, on the other to explore new partnerships on the other side of the continent, in particular in Ghana and in Guinea.

CMS-Africa meeting Cluj IT Cluster an association of tech companies from Cluj, Romania.

My aim is to develop a network of partnerships, which would enable us to tackle strategic projects in various domains that range from public policy, standardization, implementation of systems, capacity building and training in various technical domains. It is clear that myself, my company, Arxia, or even overall the active group of companies that we’ve brought together in the Cluj IT Cluster requires a larger capacity in order to convert and to expand the high level of opportunity. Everything that I aim to do in Africa is based on a partnership approach.

The great opportunity in Africa also comes with a strong challenge. We face substantial competition, from more developed countries and strong multinationals, that aim to sell their solutions on the continent. They have an efficient political lobby and lots of money to invest. Many times their approach may not be clean nor guided by creating a lasting benefit for their target clients, however we are for now in disadvantage as we do not have the financial means, nor the political support, to compete with them.

Besides the principle-based approach that we promote we also need to foster the development of a support framework. That is why I have launched the initiative to develop a national strategy for the internationalization of the Romanian IT and to promote its implementation as national priority, since IT indeed is one of the most valuable assets on which we can build value as a country. There is much more to come and I would be happy to report back as we progress in creating more and more value in Africa and elsewhere.

To learn more about Daniel’s future plans and the opportunities he explores in Africa, connect with Daniel Homorodean on LinkedIn.

Founder, editor in chief of Startups&TheCity.