Carol Koech, now in her third year as an executive with Schneider Electric, was appointed Country President of the company across East Africa. CIO Africa was so thrilled on her behalf she made the 30+ Most Influential Women To Watch list in November 2020.
Before her stint at Schneider, she worked with GE for nine years. Prior to that, she was with Unilever in the management trainee program, where she largely dealt with finance and then grew her responsibilities. Carol has very much earned this role at the top of the region’s IT space, given her belief in East Africa’s potential and the work she’s doing to make a difference.
Claiming it all as a new part with a refreshing leap, Carol confesses to walking into bigger shoes that demands more zeal and more energy that would demonstrate her commitment to fulfilling the new mandate bestowed upon her by Schneider Electric – a reputable global company providing energy and automation of digital solutions. Her charming smile speaks volumes of a leader so welcoming and willing to share.
“It’s a great pleasure to be featured by CIO East Africa. This is unusual for me, but I am starting to get used to being in the limelight,” she started off. She added, “The programmes Schneider Electric runs on sustainability passionately led me to develop the interest in working with this company.” Carol, who largely focused on the company’s contractors and building segment and ran the Access to Energy programme, now engages with customers, contractors, large end-users and building developers.
The future of data centres
Schneider Electric East Africa has offices in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya. In Nairobi, the company has a factory where they manufacture different types of equipment, including data centre solutions, solar containerised solutions, distribution boards and other products that are in demand by customers in East Africa. Carol has defined the company’s setup, which she purposes to make an impact with her very able team. “At the regional level, my responsibility is to manage the entire business, end-to-end, so I am responsible for the company’s overall performance, and, most importantly, keeping our customers happy,” affirms Carol.
“When I look at East Africa’s data centre landscape, I see huge potential for growth. It is projected that 70 per cent of organisations in the continent will move their data and applications to the cloud by 2025.”
The business combines world-leading energy technologies, real-time automation, software and services into integrated solutions for homes, buildings, data centres, infrastructure and industries. “We pride ourselves on our eco-friendly, end-to-end infrastructure for whatever demand or requirement our customers have. The big revolution in the market is connectivity, what we call the Internet of Things,” says Carol.
“Here in Kenya, we believe that there’s going to be a major shift by organisations in the region towards IoT, so they can better operate their assets, be it a data centre, a building, a factory or even a home.” This revolution she says is supported through the company’s EcoStruxure platform. It has a lot to do with the fact that present-day infrastructure is very different from where we were 10 years ago when people would construct their own small little data centres in the back office.
Today, the focus is on larger facilities that’ll be easier to scale up. “When I look at East Africa’s data centre landscape, I see huge potential for growth. It is projected that 70 per cent of organisations in the continent will move their data and applications to the cloud by 2025, with data centre growth projected to be double digits in the foreseeable future.”
For both Carol and for Schneider Electric, data centres are the basis for digital transformation. She shares that we are going to need many more data centres globally, including locally, to not just power the economy and speed up connectivity, but to also reduce the overall costs for server-hosted services. To support this transformation, data centres will need to be hosted locally. Simply put, the closer a data centre is to the user, the faster that user will be able to access information and use services hosted at the data centre. Location evidently impacts reliability. And, like with any service, the more capacity that is offered, the lower the cost will be.
Is this a digitised hurdle?
Carol views digitisation as one of the world’s megatrends with East Africa being no exception. She observes that when digitisation permeates further, as it will, then there will be a need for supportive infrastructure that is both cyber secure and connected to the cloud. “When you discuss digitisation being a part of day-to-day life, people ask themselves, is it affordable, are the speeds fast enough, or is it safe?” she says.
“While the focus is on digital transformation, organisations must remember to ramp up their detect-and-respond strategy to be able to counterattack breaches and threats in real-time.” While digitisation can help provide faster, more accurate access to information, there are also ethical issues organisations need to consider, such as who has access to data and if the data is secure from hackers. Cybersecurity has always been a high priority. However, the pandemic pushed the issue higher up the agenda ladder with increasing attacks on infrastructure and hacks on software as employees work remotely. “We have specific tools we use, and we have our own security systems in place. We consider cybersecurity in everything we do, for our employees, partners and our customers.”
“While the focus is on digital transformation, organisations must remember to ramp up their detect-and-respond strategy to be able to counterattack breaches and threats in real-time.”
Inclusivity – give credit where credit is due
Contrary to the public opinion that there is no opportunity for women to participate in leadership positions, especially for techie companies, Carol states otherwise. She works for a company that rewards merit and points out that women should focus on developing their skills and make themselves more visible. That way, they are ideally placed to be considered for senior roles when they open up. She confesses that her experience has been that women tend to do all the hard work, but that somebody else takes the credit. In her mind’s eye, women must stand up and announce when they are deserving of credit for their work.
“This role being given to a woman is a big statement not just to me, but to the women in the organisation and the country. I am sure there are many women who are managing similar organisations elsewhere in Kenya. The point I’m making is that Kenyan women and women in the wider region can do any job as long as they have the right support and the right mindset.” She adds that, “I tell women in Schneider that when they do a good job, they should present it and claim the credit. There is no point in shying off. If you are capable, let people know.” Even more critically, she urges women to ask for the support they will need from time to time from their teams, to make sure that their colleagues know and trust them, and that their areas of strength and areas for growth are known.
The future of digitisation
Moving forward, the digitisation space is going to be much bigger. Schneider Electric is pushing hard for its EcoStruxure platform to be the industry’s choice. This technology is an open, interoperable, IoT-enabled system architecture that can be connected to any electrical infrastructure for improved control and monitoring. It maximises IoT advancements, mobility, sensing, cloud, analytics, and cybersecurity to deliver innovation at every level. From design to integration, right through to commissioning, it brings the best-in-class engineering efficiency to buildings, machines, plants and data centres without compromising availability or operational efficiency.
It can be implemented by any of their system integrators, many of whom are small to medium-sized Kenyan businesses. It is a good thing they have built up a strong network of partners, both experienced system integrators as well as start-ups, throughout the region. A channel-focused vendor, Schneider offers partners extensive development and training for them to specialise in the specific technologies and industries. “In terms of influence and effect on the SMEs, we do it to spaces we are experts in.
This article was first published in the December/January 2020/2021 edition of CIO Africa magazine.