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South Africa can't wait to digitally transform

South Africa can't wait to digitally transform

South Africa's newly appointed president Cyril Ramaphosa has vowed to establish a digital industrial revolution commission to ensure that all sectors can better manage and leverage opportunities linked to advanced ICT. The expectation is that local businesses will adapt to-and accelerate the country's digital industrial revolution, and the commission will help to drive this process – but there's more to it than simply plugging into technology and sitting back.

The commission is positioned to help creation a regulatory environment that stimulates digital skills development, digital entrepreneurship, digital enterprise and government co-creation, says Wayne Hull, MD of Accenture Africa.

But it won't happen overnight says Hull and much depends on the approach of stakeholders. He believes the commission will work and describes it as "an important catalyst for digital acceleration in the country" and specifically because it will facilitate closer cooperation between government, private enterprise and policy makers.

"Key role players must realise they are on the cusp of a real game changer and by embracing digital change in a strategic fashion they can leapfrog many legacy challenges. It certainly won't happen overnight but the first step is for business, labour and government to understand the potential and to work together on making changes that matter. Many are too quick to focus on the negatives as a reason for not taking action – for instance, estimates of global job losses due to digitalisation range from 2 million to as high as 2 billion by 2030. Could it be they have never actually been able to quantify the digital benefits in various sectors?" he adds.

Research suggests businesses have ample reason to invest seriously in the revolution. Accenture's Digital Industry X.0 research shows a combination of advanced technologies can enable digital transformation and enterprise-wide growth saving companies up to US$16 billion.

Several markets are experiencing digital disruption globally, including transport, hospitality, health, manufacturing, retail and benefit from digital technology depends on South Africa embracing this at both public and private level.

The reality is that the country is lagging behind in its journey towards full digital industrialisation, compared to global counterparts and must accelerate if it is to compete in the 21st century, says Hull.

"South Africa needs to grow at over five percent per year to create jobs and grow the economy. Digital is one of the last remaining areas of competitive advantage yet very few companies are able to effectively leverage it. It is no longer enough to build the next generation car, music player, crane or plane to satisfy customers. The government and private sector organisations need to embrace digital and provide a superior experience to their rivals, from the point a customer shows interest in a service or product, through the research and purchase, to long after they own the item or receive a service, with a series of services to keep the customer delighted," he continues.

The country has little time to contemplate its position. Research by the IDC suggests that Africa is maturing and fast becoming a part of the global ecosystem.

The company predicts that ICT spend in Sub-Saharan Africa will surpass US$95 billion by 2021, and globalisation will impact business operations going forward.

"We're seeing increased growth in cloud and as big international players increase their power through cloud and data centre technologies, there are a lot of opportunities for the rest of the marketplace, therefore we will see changes in the way technology is distributed. Cloud computing represents the transforming future of IT investment opportunities for enterprises seeking to deliver operational efficiencies while ensuring costs are kept at bay," the IDC has stated.

"We need to think about where we are going with technology and we need to have people ready and skilled to operate in these areas. Africa has a young population that is hungry for technology, but we are lacking in skills and this needs to be addressed," the research firm warns.

For South Africa, skills development, the high cost of connectivity and the need to stimulate entrepreneurship remain challenges.

Hull adds that companies are failing to deliver on customer demand for personalised, affordable and unique experiences. He says businesses that are not ready to embrace digital will lose customers, and those who meet their customer's needs will gain competitive advantage.

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