I made my way to Cape Town, South Africa, the week after UTC’s annual conference, in order to participate in African Utility Week, along with Kathy Nelson, UTC’s new Chair of the Board, Bobbi Harris, UTC’s VP of Market Strategy and Development, Bob Lockhart, UTC’s VP of Cybersecurity, Technology, and Research, and Peter Moray, UTC’s Director, Global Development. In late 2015, UTC launched an African affiliate – the Africa Utilities Technology Council (AUTC). Given that the group is still in start-up mode, we decided to partner with African Utility Week in 2017 to offer a track devoted to utilities telecom and technology challenges and successes.
Before I get to some of the event details, it bears keeping in mind that the four Americans and one Brit left for African Utility Week (AUW) a mere few days after winding down UTC’s annual conference in Charlotte. Let me just say that our heads were spinning a bit (okay, a lot!) on arrival in Cape Town. My arrival was delayed by a full day due to airline issues, which was good and bad, as I mentioned in a previous blog. Despite our scheduling demands, none of us were willing to miss the beauty of Cape Town. And Cape Town greeted us with gorgeous weather and a wonderful event. Before heading back to the States, I was able to fit in the one thing that the locals say is a “must see” – Table Mountain, the iconic mesa-like hill overlooking the city and its waterfront. I am including a couple of pictures from the beautiful afternoon I got to spend up there with Bobbi and her husband. My colleagues all did the smart thing and took some time off after AUW to truly see the sites, the animals, and get to know the people, but alas, it didn’t work out for me to do so this time (it will happen in the future, though).
In terms of the AUW event and AUTC’s involvement, there was a very high level of interest in the two days of sessions we put on with partners from within Africa and elsewhere in the world. The sessions were full and the dialogue was robust. We also had a booth on the show floor and several of us were asked to give interviews by ESI Africa, the publication affiliated with Spintelligent, which runs AUW. I like the online interview format so look out, we might do more of that at upcoming UTC events for our publications and we might ask you to participate (disclaimer: I have shared nothing about this idea with my staff yet).
As you can imagine if you have never been, Africa is a diverse continent, with a huge range of challenges for utilities of all types – there are several countries that have pretty robust penetration of electrification, for example, and others that are behind. On the water side, one challenge is convincing customers that they must pay for clean water and the infrastructure it takes to provide such a resource. The interesting and exciting opportunity in Africa, writ large, regardless of what part of the spectrum they are on in terms of infrastructure deployment, is that new technologies can play a really helpful role and perhaps leapfrog some of the interim steps that were needed to develop the technology elsewhere in the world. This is most obvious with distributed generation. The challenges are often basic, but no less significant – accessing adequate financing, having government leadership in place such that the money gets allocated to maximize the benefits, and having trained experts to deploy the technology and related infrastructure. The bottom line is that AUTC can help with lessons-learned and expertise related to telecom and technology. We are currently assessing the next steps with this group as we build our membership and brand in Africa.
Until we meet again…