Schneider Electric, through its Secure Power Solutions division, is providing a crucial backbone to digital transformation projects across the Anglophone region.
POWERING AN ‘ALWAYS ON’ AFRICA
Seen as key to unlocking the region’s undoubted economic potential, waves of digitisation and connectivity drives are transforming the way people live and businesses run.
Many of the world’s largest multinationals are present on the continent, evidence of the confidence in the region which is widely seen as the next major growth frontier.
Schneider Electric is one such company heavily invested in Africa.
“We are seeing a lot of investment into the technology sector in the Anglophone region, particularly in the areas of datacentres and IoT,” explains George Senzere, Pre Sales ManagerAnglophone for the firm’s Secure Power Solutions division.
“Some of the internet giants today have arrived on our shores already and some are soon to do so. These are exciting times for us. We see startup companies building colocation datacentres which are hosting other businesses’ IT infrastructure – big and small, they are coming in droves.”
The benefits of IoT, need for low latency, cost of bandwidth and regulatory requirements are all leading to a demand for what Senzere describes as a “kind of distributed IT infrastructure environment”, the Pre Sales Manager pointing to the move towards local and regional edge datacentres as essential in order to properly support Africa’s digital drive.
KEEPING AFRICA ALWAYS ON
Senzere himself has been at Schneider Electric for over a decade.
An experienced datacentre professional, he knows better than most the ins and outs relating to cooling, power, physical threats monitoring and data centre infrastructure management systems.
And Schneider is the perfect match, the company’s unrelenting innovation efforts key to its overriding objective – to keep Africa always-on as it journeys through the opportunities presented by the likes of IoT and other means of boosting digital connectivity.
“In the Secure Power Division, we do this through our award winning, industry-leading and highest quality products and solutions, including UPS, cooling, rack systems, DCIM and related services,” Senzere says.
“In this new digital era, we see a world that is always-on. Always on to meet the needs of the highest notion of access to goods and services. Always on to be the solid, reliable foundation of digital transformation for businesses.
“Our mission is very simple – to empower the digital transformation of our customers by ensuring their critical networks, systems and processes are highly available and resilient.”
Senzere’s geographic remit is a sizable one, covering all English-speaking countries in Southern, Eastern and Western Africa. Based in Johannesburg, the Anglophone operation has further offices Cape Town, Durban, Nairobi, Lagos and Port Harcourt, a network from which operations in 24 countries are managed by around 1,000 highly skilled employees.
Building up this knowledge is, by Senzere’s own admission, an ongoing challenge.
“Technology has been changing at a very rapid pace, however, our educational institutions have not been able to keep pace and adapt their educational curriculars,” he explains. “Only recently have we seen adjustment in some of this content in a few of the institutions, and what this means is that in certain areas of the technological divide there are serious shortages of relevant skills.
“Skills migration has not helped either. Other, more developed parts of the world are sucking up skills from anywhere and everywhere they can find them.
“The industry we play in is very dynamic and fairly new. It also requires skills combinations that have not really been catered from the ground up by our various institutions. Take, for instance, a datacentre engineer – this is a new breed of specialists that are multi-skilled and may need a bit of electrical, mechanical and software competencies.”
Recognising the severity of the skills gap issue, Schneider Electric is proactively tackling the challenge head on.
The company is filling these voids, allowing new and existing industry professionals to acquire new skills that will bolster them in their everyday jobs.
This entails participation in Schneider’s Datacenter Science University and Energy University, programmes which are accessible to people all over the industry. Internally, employees have access to a maze of learning and development opportunities.
“Once in Schneider Electric, one starts on a never-ending journey of lifelong learning,” Senzere adds. “This is what Schneider Electric stands for.”
The Pre Sales Manager is also quick to recognise that keeping Africa always-on also relies on expertise outside of the company, the Secure Power Division being a channel-driven business made up of a strong network of partners and suppliers.
For example, such partners become an extension of the Schneider business where the firm is not physically present, and even in the territories where it is, such collaborations enable the firm to reach every corner and connect with end-users.
“Our channel partner programme is one of the best and recommended by a lot of our already existing partner base,” Senzere says. “It is a multi-tiered channel programme, with the highest level being what we call elite business partners. These are partners that can buy directly from us and enjoy the best discounts that we offer.
“Second to these are premier partners who also buy directly from us at discounted prices. The last two partner categories (select and registered) buy from us either through the elite and premier partners or through our distribution channel. To qualify as one of the partners requires rigorous training and meeting of business goals.”
Bolstering this network is a series of collaborations with big names in the industry, allowing Schneider to offer full turnkey solutions to its end-users. These include organisations that provide active IT equipment, systems integrators and even other original equipment manufacturers.
IDENTIFIED BY INNOVATION
Leveraging the knowledge and expertise of partners is just one way in which Schneider Electric is able to keep up with the times as Africa continues to digitalise.
Investing in R&D and innovation is the cornerstone of its own activities, something which lured Senzere to the company all the way back in 2009.
“Innovation is at the very heart of everything we do,” he says. “A significant portion of our annual revenue is reinvested into R&D on a consistent basis – to give you an idea of our dedication to this, in a previous year we were able to launch 365 products, the equivalent of one product a day for a full 12 months.”
Tying all of this together is EcoStruxure, an IoT solution which brings all of Schneider’s innovative solutions to the next level by connecting its own and third party products to a common platform.
“This allows data aggregation firstly in what we call the edge control layer to allow centralised monitoring, alerting and reporting,” Senzere continues. “This data is then fed into the third layer where the real magic happens. In this third layer, we have all the artificial intelligence, the apps, the analytics and algorithms that carry out all the data crunching.
“The idea is to ensure that data-driven insights are generated, and that these are ultimately made available to the end-user to use in their decision-making process. So, everything we do cuts across EcoStruxure.”
This includes a recently deployed innovation in the form of a high-performance range of uninterruptible power supply systems.
Designed to help customers optimise their total cost of owning UPSs by drastically reducing the operational cost through high efficiencies, the suite of solutions features an array of industry unique features such Econversion mode, a smart charger test, four-level inverter and smart power test.
For Senzere, this is a perfect example of how Schneider Electric’s R&D activities are underpinned by sustainability.
He adds: “Sustainability is everything, as our planet has finite resources. Whatever we do at Schneider Electric we would like to do in a sustainable way that preserves our environment and resources for future generations.
“Sustainability in our world means looking out for our environment, and it extends to everything we do including running a green supply chain, addressing the energy gap and engaging in sustainable people practices.”
A BRIGHT OUTLOOK
Indeed, Schneider’s unwavering approach to R&D investment and sustainable grounding will prove vital if the company is to continue in its bid to keep Africa always-on.
Senzere is a stout optimist when it comes to looking ahead to the future, the Pre Sales Manager eager to finish the conversation in buoyant fashion as he shares his thoughts on the direction of travel.
He concludes: “Industry analysts are predicting a huge growth in the number of connected devices. We have already seen the entrance of regional colocation datacentres from some of the big names in technology, and growth in our own homegrown technology companies.
“This is really an exciting time for us to be doing business on this continent. We are already geared up for the edge computing revolution knocking on our doorsteps with tailor made solutions, and IoT has already shaped our lives today in one form or another, and will continue to do so in to the foreseeable future.
“We think that the future is very bright – we see a continent that will fully connected with distributed energy and a future we will all share.”