By George Obulutsa
NAIROBI (Reuters) - U.S. computer services company IBM and Kenya have opened a research lab they hope will save the country billions of dollars by developing technology to improve delivery of public services.
While IBM did not say how much it would invest, Robert Morris, vice president for services research, said on Monday it would be a "significant" amount. Globally, IBM ploughs about $6.5 billion per year research and development.
Kenya will contribute $2 million annually over five years, information and communication permanent secretary Bitange Ndemo said, with copyrights for resulting works being shared.
Kenya, Rwanda and other countries in east Africa have vibrant ICT sectors, typified by successful mobile phone-based money transfer services, bill payment services and mobile banking.
Ndemo said while it was hard to quantify the savings from the resulting research, automating various government services would save billions of dollars.
"There are several registries, which if we completely automated, our estimate is that we can plough back to the Exchequer up to $10 billion by simply creating efficiency through higher productivity," Ndemo said.
IBM, which has a presence in more than 20 countries on the continent, said the single biggest challenge facing African cities was improving services such as water and transportation.
In Africa, IBM, a bellwether for the IT industry because of its worldwide reach and breadth of businesses, already provides network support for telecoms firms and commercial banks, among others.
(Reporting by George Obulutsa; Editing by Richard Lough and Dan Lalor)