Business Day Focus 4.0 puts the spotlight on what 4IR means for SA

Africa currently contributes just 3% to global GDP despite being the second most populated continent with more than 1.2 billion people. However, when it comes to the Fourth Industrial Revolution – or 4IR – the continent has some way to go if it hopes to catch up with the rest of the world.

The challenge for Africa, according to Musa Kalenga, CEO and founder of Bridge Labs, is to close a 200-year gap

in just a decade. His solution is to use the power of technology to disrupt with intuitive technologies. The future, he said, will look very different to the present. Instead of testing prospective employees for competency, they will be tested for their ability to work co-operatively; we will work differently.

Speaking at the Business Day Focus 4.0 conference brought to you by MTN and hosted in collaboration with Arena Events and Cold Press Media, Kalenga said the 4IR has the potential to solve many of the problems facing the continent. It’s already being successfully used to deliver essential healthcare services in Rwanda, for instance. However, technology should not be allowed to lead the process. Instead, we should be solving the human problem and then finding a technology solution to fit. Quoting futurist Alvin Toffler, he said illiteracy in the 21st century will not be defined as those who cannot read and write. Instead, it will be defined as those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.

While emerging 4IR technologies will inevitably transform the world in many ways, the extent to which its benefits are maximised and risks mitigated will depend on the ambition of individual nations, the quality of governance, the development of exponential skills and active collaboration between the public and private sector, pointed out Godfrey Motsa, CEO of MTN SA.

However, to win in the 4IR requires a good physical infrastructure and strong connectivity. Education needs to be focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics to ensure we have the requisite skills. Regulation and policies need to be fit for the future; sufficient spectrum needs to be deployed and appropriate data and cyber security regulations need to be in place. Government needs to be incentivising businesses with co-ordinated policies.

The West and the East benefited the most from previous industrial revolutions, pointed out Motsa, and Africa can’t afford to be left behind again.

CEO of Liquid Telecom SA, Reshaad Sha, echoed Motsa’s message that connectivity is a critical component of life as we know it today. Creating smart cities, he said, requires smart infrastructure. A key part of this will be the rollout of 5G. In the Eastern Cape Liquid Telecom is developing a broadband platform which will allow for a higher level of participation in the economy from both businesses and government.

Disruption within the next decade is inevitable for all industries, said Accenture’s Kirtan Sita, MD of Technology. Discussing the role of the platform economy in the 4IR he said that platforms have evolved out of the physical to the digital world. He added that platform economies are the next big disruption.

A panel discussion on why businesses should embrace the 4IR included ABB Southern Africa’s Shiven Sukraj; The Field Institute’s Alison Jacobson; Investec’s Devina Maharaj; and the University of Pretoria’s Professor Alex Antonites. The panel agreed that it’s not about having a tech first mindset but rather about creating a competitive advantage and understanding the customer value proposition. Only once the problem has been identified should technology be used to solve the problem. The panel emphasised the need to upskill staff.

Altron Karabina’s Dave Ives pointed out that customer experience will overtake price and product as the key differentiator. Smart, connected and automated enterprises will allow customers to give instant feedback. However, business leaders need to understand the digital world in order to reap its benefits.

There is no question that there is a business case for automation: they’re not subject to human temperament, they’re less costly to scale and they make more precise decisions, pointed out Wits Business School’s Professor Brian Armstrong. Those businesses that chose not to automate will be disadvantaged in the long term. He urged businesses to be bold and to be fast, adding that in the digital economy, the first to scale wins while the impact of delaying is significant. Every industry will ultimately be drawn into the digital vortex.

During a panel discussion on the future of the workforce in a 4IR world, it was agreed that while certain tasks will be automated and some jobs will become redundant, most jobs won’t disappear and companies will need to invest in retraining people for digital roles.

The future of healthcare, said Life Healthcare Group’s Suren Govender, is personalised and will be made possible by technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI). He said Life Healthcare was already using AI and analytics in its stroke treatment and cardiac treatment programmes in order to make earlier detections and to treat more appropriately.

A panel discussion on what South African CEO’s really think about 4IR revealed that while it offers huge opportunities, it poses a risk to unskilled workers and that there will be increased economic exclusion unless people are better trained. BCX’s Jonas Bogoshi, Naspers’ Phuthi Mahanyele-Dabengwa, RainFin’s Sean Emery and Tshimologong Precinct’s Lesley Donna Williams agreed that there will be a blurring of physical and digital lines and business models will have to change. They agreed that business problems need to be identified and then solved with technology. However, there is too much inertia amongst many larger businesses with the result that smaller companies are left to innovate.

Connectivity will be key to SA’s involvement in the 4IR, as will the necessary infrastructure and licencing of spectrum to allow for more bandwidth to be released, agreed a panel discussing the country’s broadband infrastructure roadmap. Panellists called for spectrum to be released as a matter of urgency and investments made into broadband infrastructure. Economies of scale will lower costs. Encouragingly there has been a mindset shift at government level which will be crucial if SA’s 4IR ambitions are to be realised.

Business Day, Arena Events and Cold Press Media would like to thank the following organisations for their support:

Headline Partner: MTN Group

Platinum Partners: Liquid Telecom South Africa, University of Pretoria, ABB Group, REGENT BUSINESS SCHOOL, and Tshimologong Precinct.

Gold Partners: Investec Private Banking, MIP Holdings, Dark Fibre Africa, Wits Business School, McDonald’s SA, Life Healthcare Group, Deloitte Consulting, Exxaro, Johannesburg Business School (JBS), Altron Karabina, SCiBOTRON, IE University, Henley & Partners, BCX, Henley Business School, and Little Green Number.

Silver Partners: Pragma, Commerce Quest South Africa (Pty) Limited (CQSA), University of Johannesburg, Redshift Cyber Security, DHL Express South Africa, Etion South Africa, Thusano Group, Apex BI, Barloworld Logistics, Milpark Business School, Rikatec, Afrox, Petromarine, FlowCentric Mining, CZ Electronics, Lesedi Nuclear Services, Innovo Networks, IronTree, Ukwazi Operations, Interwaste, Webber Wentzel, Chrono-Logic Solutions, Cranefield College, Visa, Symbiotics, Quill Condition Monitoring, Grid Worldwide, Ashanti AI and Nexio.

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