Embracing South Africa's ICT Growth Opportunity Requires a New Approach to Accelerate Country Digitisation


By Cathy Smith, General Manager for Cisco South Africa

Today, South Africa stands at the door step of opportunity, with enormous potential for accelerated social and economic transformation. Key for the nation will be to prioritise investment in information and communication technology (ICT), to enable it to embrace the next wave of the internet, the Internet of Everything (IoE). The IoE will connect people, processes, data and things, creating unprecedented opportunities for South African organizations and businesses. It will deliver new customer and citizen experiences, improved operational efficiencies, breakthrough innovations and entirely new economic models for services and growth.

In order for South Africa to embrace the IoE, it must become fully digitized. Becoming digital requires an agile IT model, and the ability to rethink core processes for the digital era. It will require disruptive thinking and working differently. With Gartner predicting that 75% of global businesses will be digital by 2020, the reality is that South Africa cannot afford not to invest in digital technologies, given that the African continent is home to nine of the world’s 15 fastest growing economies. South Africa is very rapidly entering into a dynamic technological era, and the increase in connected devices will benefit a wide range of industries and vertical sectors, including manufacturing, transportation, oil and gas, utilities, government, healthcare, sports and entertainment and education in terms of increased efficiency and reduced costs.

Digital disruption has the potential to reshape South Africa faster than perhaps any force in history and those organisations that that do not drive their own digital business transformation will be left behind. Those that do will be pulled toward a ‘digital center’ in which business models, offerings, and value chains are digitized, driving new revenue streams and substantive business outcomes. At its core, Country Digitization is the process of planning, and ultimately building, a sophisticated and forward-thinking IT network ecosystem that will allow for greater connectivity, productivity and security to drive this positive impact. Digitization has the potential to create sustainable and positive impact for every area of society in South Africa.

We will also see the transformational impact of the digitization and the internet of everything applications in all aspects of our lives including citizen services, production and healthcare. For example, in South Africa today digitization is already helping to deliver quality healthcare to more citizens in both rural and urban areas in the form of remote healthcare utilising collaborative technology solutions. The opportunity for care at a distance is of particular significance as it means that citizens in even the most underserved remote communities will have access to specialists, both within and outside of South Africa, without having to travel to major cities or hubs.

Education in South Africa is another area that will benefit enormously from digitisation. It is also an area that the government has already identified as a priority. Digitisation in education means connecting schools to a wider pool of educators as well as giving pupils access to tools and information they were previously excluded from. In a nutshell, connecting schools will ultimately connect more communities.

In terms of citizen services digitization is set to deliver unprecedented opportunities for South Africans in the future. Energy will be saved by equipping street lights with intelligent sensors, so they can be dimmed or brightened based on motion; smart devices will enable citizens to find open parking spaces and avoid areas of heavy traffic congestion; smart waste sensors installed in waste containers will signal when they become full or are emitting odours above a set threshold for optimized pickup routes; City Wi-Fi will enable traffic congestion management and automated water metering resulting in greener and more efficient city infrastructure management.

However, traditional methods of rolling out ICTs that have worked in other more developed economies are not necessarily suited to our needs here in South Africa. We need a new approach that prioritises collaboration to open the country up to digital inclusion and opportunity. Collaboration is the premise where transformation starts and an inability to collaborate will hider social and economic transformation. South Africa now needs to do things differently to accelerate ahead of the traditional curve.

Our role at Cisco will be to act as a strategic partner providing the technology solutions, thought leadership and experience to help move our customers from traditional to digital and beyond thereby enabling public and private sector organizations to grow in the future. Our ability to help South Africa connect beyond basic infrastructure is the fundamental game-changer that Cisco can bring to the country. By fostering and encouraging public and private partnerships, we can help improve service delivery and customer experience in a sustainable, transformative way.

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