On Saturday 4 th October we held Kenya's first ICT Open Day dubbed “Skunkworks@innovation”. The event was very successful in bring together technical people, business community, and government in one room to sample local innovations and explore business opportunities therein. Over twenty local companies that submitted their demo products briefs and qualified were allocated presentation tables/slots.
A preparatory session titled “pitch your business idea” intended to assist the developers polish their presentation skills was conducted the day before by Professor R.O. Marwanga at Strathmore University Business School.
Very interesting and exciting presentations ranged from mobile communication solutions,an airtime transfer service Kikwe and an SMS application, Enterprise Resource Planners (ERPs), Educational applications, time-table application, content applications, web applications, games, Linux localisation-translation projects, animations and more. Attendee who had not registered before the event handed their demonstrations, such as, "SomaNET" an e-Learning solution for informational purposes.
We sought ways to address constraints facing IT solutions producers preventing widest adoption of locally developed solutions from business presentation skills and capacity building, market, policy, and public procurement environment, among others. In this regard we were pleased that Bitange Ndemo, the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Information and Communication and Paul Kukubo, CEO Kenya ICT Board made time to attend. Several other officials invited did not make it because of a parallel senior government officers' meeting that was taking place at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre(KICC).
Bitange Ndemo took time off that meeting to attend our event and promised to lobby for procurement of locally developed software back at the other meeting. Assuring skunkworks of government policy to promote local IT innovations, he hinting that he would also propose that sizable number of this local group members accompany government delegations to upcoming meetings abroad to strengthen their business capacity.
He announced several government initiatives aimed at addressing long-standing constraints to local software development, growth and uptake. He said that a committee had been formed to look into minimum IT standards and other related issues and to suggest solutions to government.
Paul Kukubo, announced a raft of ICT Board's measures to further stimulate local content development, including software.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating, to skunkworks he offered a cash incentive award of shillings 100,000/= to the best-voted collaboration application developed by skunkworks for their own use adding, “this collaboration will increase this group's visibility to the business community, investors, and potential foreign clients.” Reinforcing official support, Paul also pledged own capacity building contribution to the group, starting with bloging about the event at his new blogsite and sponsorship of a members specialities portal.
At the Open Mic session, Erik Hersman (“white African”) said that the world keenly followed at African innovations saying, “considering the multitude of variables and factors here, anything [innovative] that works in Africa is bound to work, and succeed much more, elsewhere in the world.”
Laban Mwangi demonstrated Linudix POS - an embedded Linux device POS system for credit card processing, voucher vending, among others, that can be used to vend vouchers or tickets, for example, airtime, parking tickets, concert tickets and with Traffic is over an SSL encrypted pipe, enables payment of utility bills using plastic cards or for banking systems. The solution is based on a GPRS terminal thus offers excellent mobility functionality.
Steve Mutinda - a Java developer demonstrated mobile phone content applications. Ken Kasina spoke about his Linux Kiswahili localisation project and also presented a game developed by Wesley Kiriinya. A summary of the presentations is being compiled for posting to skunkworks blog
We attracted great business interest and key telecommunications industry representatives; Dominic Saint-Jean, Chief Executive Telkom Kenya present invited business proposals from skunkworks. Safaricom (among the sponsors) and Zain' representatives were also in attendance.
Media representatives, for example, Gikonyo Macharia the Group Commercial Director, Royal Media Services Ltd was interested in animation especially after animator Josh Jingo showed Big Buck Bunny - a HDD “Peach Open Movie Project” as an example of media content development possible with Blender, relating it to under way migration to digital broadcasting. Further, he now promises free publicity for local developers on Royal Media Services Group's TV and radio channels.
Many key local ICT stakeholders casually sat through the demonstrations amidst more-than-double-initially-expected audience with some international representatives in attendance.
Nation Media Group, NTV, covered the event twice at prime time news. The next event is bound to be an even greater success attended with more CEOs, CTOs and CIO. Plans yesterday commenced yesterday with consultations with the Kenya ICT Board on one hand and skunkworks on the other.
Organisation of this event was inspired by a presentation "connecting and sustaining linkages between technical people and business" at FOSSFA-inWEnt co-hosted IDELO3 at Dakar, Senegal in 2008. Its success proves that with the right mix of official support, business community interest, media involvement, public participation, and technical community collaboration, local innovations takes root in public and business domains benefiting local software ecosystem.
The synonymity between innovation and open source software could never be divorced or emphasised enough. Whereas skunkworks is a technical community open to all developers, irrespective of platform, this event's organisational success was possible through collaboration and best effort by every skunkworks member - the same principle Free and Open Source Software is built on. The Kenya ICT Board's award only reinforcing inter-group collaboration.
We cannot wait for the next bigger event promising to be an even bigger success - one attended by more industry representatives and stakeholders, government and developers. Right now, we are consolidating gains made and following up on business linkages established.
Pictures by Erik Hersman can be viewed here.
Presentations can be downloaded from skunkworks blog.