South African President Cyril Ramaphosa's appointment of a presidential commission on the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) to ensure the country effectively leverages ICT is expected to benefit other countries in Africa and act as a catalyst for information share and technical collaboration.
This is according to Shyam Ranchod, Digital Lead for Technology, Media and Telecommunication, Africa at Deloitte, who spoke to ITWeb Africa at the consulting company's presentation of its Tech Trends 2019 Report in Johannesburg yesterday.
Eight key trends were identified - those that are expected to significantly influence business operations and development in 2019 - and include: macro technology forces at work, no ops in a serverless world, intelligent interfaces, devesecops and the cyber imperative, AI-fuelled organisations, connectivity of tomorrow, beyond marketing: experience reimagined, and beyond the digital frontier: mapping your future.
According to Deloitte's Tech Trends 2019 report and the focus on macro technology forces at work, over the next five years, digital reality, blockchain and cognitive will likely become as important as digital experiences, analytics and cloud are today.
But it was the AI-fuelled organisations trend that dominated discussion.
Deloitte's report states: "To become a true AI-fuelled organisation, a company may need to fundamentally rethink the way humans and machines interact with working environments. Executives should consider deploying machine learning and other cognitive tools systematically across their core business processes and enterprise operations to support data-driven decision making."
According to Deloitte's State of AI in the Enterprise survey, 44% of respondents selected the enhancement of current products as the main benefit of AI, while 42% suggested it was the optimisation of internal operations, and 35% believed the ability to make better decisions was among the top benefits.
Deloitte Global predicts that in 2019, among the companies that adopt AI technology, 70% will obtain AI capabilities through cloud-based enterprise software, and 65% will create AI applications using cloud-based development services.
But there are challenges that have to be overcome before being able to benefit, including availability of quality data, change management and required skills sets/ impact on HR.
AI sexy but...
Rapelang Rabana, founder of Rekindie Learning, said, "I think AI is a very sexy term, but the reality is that to be able to get to being an AI-driven organisation, your company needs to already have a lot of quality data available for some kind of AI machine to consume and this can start in very simple places. Some companies are not using collaborative online tools, for example, where information and documents are shared ... and stuff is sitting in someone's computer or someone's email inbox and these are the things that are going to prevent any kind of AI driven capability from being able to absorb what's happening in environments so that it forms what you do."
Professor Brian Armstrong, Chair of Digital Business, Wits Business School, emphasised the concern around automation strategies and impact on people.
"Given our context in South Africa, an automation strategy that does not consider what happens to the people, from square one, is going to run into trouble. So, we talk about tasks becoming obsolete not jobs, sure that's true, but unless you figure out what is going to happen to the people that were redoing those tasks and equip them to do new tasks, your automation programme, your AI programme is going to hit headwinds of a serious nature downstream."
Armstrong said academic research shows that the number of tasks or jobs at risk or being impacted through automation is between -10% and -50% (depending on what specific research is being reviewed).
"In emerging markets it's worse than in developed markets. My estimation is of the order of 30% to 40% as well ... now people say that this is tasks being automated and eliminated, not jobs, and we will create new jobs... until you say to someone 'ok so what new jobs are you going to create?. The World Economic Forum says we will create 1.7 jobs for every job we lose. Cool, so tell me which ones... everyone sits with a mouth full of teeth when you ask them that question. That is the challenge we have to get through."
Kevin Govender, CIO Program leader and an Associated Director at Deloitte Consulting Africa, said 4IR is here and cannot be ignored.
"I think South Africa is an emerging country and has other challenges that first world countries don't have. So there is an opportunity to take those challenges, use innovation and technology with some of these key trends, and how do we transform and grow this economy, this economy as a whole and businesses."