Innovation key to tackling socio-economic challenges in SA

Mandisa Ntloko-Petersen, BCX chief marketing officer and innovation champion. Photo: Supplied/Ventureburn
Mandisa Ntloko-Petersen, BCX chief marketing officer and innovation champion. Photo: Supplied/Ventureburn

A new digital chapter in the story of a resilient Rainbow Nation can now be written, believes BCX, Africa’s leading premier ICT solutions and service provider. It says a story of innovation and an unexpected level of performance is ready to be digitised for posterity and it begins with what we now know.

This, as world markets have experienced rapid systemic technological changes as a result of the impacts of Covid-19, in pursuit of economic revival.

The pandemic has presented South Africa with increased challenges, which may seem insurmountable. However, BCX believes the negative outlook may, in fact, be the catalyst for innovative SA-First thinking that creates a paradigm shift – a country whose future is strengthened by a digital ecosystem that fosters innovation, with the role of government and private partnership driving lasting change.

The plot twist is that the local economy may have been recently presented with the ideal environment to foster large-scale innovation – a galvanising mix between opportunity and crisis.

Already, according to the BCX Innovation Report 2022, approximately 30% of local companies have invested in AI and Robotics and Cognitive Automation. A further 58% of companies had already invested in Blockchain or planned to invest in such a technology over the next 24 months.

Should challenges be identified as opportunities they can be seized to rebuild the economy for sustainable growth, address social challenges and remain competitive within a technologically driven global market. Now is the time to factor in an emboldened path to prosperity that is unique to the country.

“In South Africa, there is an additional element that needs to be taken into consideration when measuring our progress and the impact of digital innovation. While the country has good infrastructure, a mature financial system and a wealth of natural resources, it still faces a number of socio-economic challenges, such as the high unemployment rate, inadequate public services and widespread poverty.

“The socio-economic impact of digital innovation, therefore, also needs to be taken into consideration as both the private and the public sector need to push for the financial inclusion of marginalised sections of the population,” says Jonas Bogoshi, BCX chief executive.


Driving positive change

Ultimately, digital innovation plays a vital role in increased competitiveness, creating value, and increasing productivity. Acknowledging these benefits, South African enterprises are adopting artificial intelligence (AI), insights-driven data and cloud computing as part of a phased approach to digitalising their businesses.

This connects with the government’s vision and policy plans until 2030, which clearly indicate a greater focus on infrastructure development, an accelerated transition to clean energy and a move to digitalisation.

The pandemic therefore provided the platform to drive positive change across multiple fields, with digital innovation often being the common denominator. South Africa can immediately take great inspiration from countries who have faced and overcome similar socio-economic challenges. China, for example, has transitioned in a very short span of time from an analogue society to become one of the world’s largest digital economies.

As Mandisa Ntloko-Petersen, BCX chief marketing officer and innovation champion, states, “Consider how China has managed to embed digital innovation across multiple industries by establishing a joint, bold ambition for all stakeholders to strive toward. For them, it is truly a country-wide initiative across the whole ecosystem. This is what South Africa should be aiming for. That is how we should galvanise the country for large-scale digital innovation.”

Speak to many policymakers in South Africa and you will often hear that they tend to adopt best practices from other markets once policies have been implemented elsewhere in the world. This type of reactive policy making is not suitable for the digital age.

Innovative policy-making

Driving digital innovation also requires innovative policy-making. A proactive approach is required to ensure universal, affordable access to the Internet, managing spectrum and ensuring healthy market competition.

The opportunity to transform society economically by utilising technology is there to be achieved. Highlighted in BCX’s Innovation Report were successful local examples of innovation that creates meaningful change. In 2019, there was a strong emergence of tele-health as an untapped tool for healthcare professionals.

The pandemic, however, drove and will continue to drive an unprecedented uptake in virtual visit services. Remote Patient Monitoring and virtual visit providers will be integrated as the pandemic drives the demand for one-stop solutions. Mobile health (mHealth) will be the largest revenue generator across tele-health. The mHealth revenue was expected to grow by 38.4% in 2021.

Digital innovation however needs the commitment of business, for example in the retail sector. The country can reap the results of digitally savvy decision-makers with the ability to combine their years of commercial experience, with digital innovation proposals if the right investments are to be prioritised. Change, when applied to the whole organisation, but driven from the top can make all the difference.

This is currently not the case for most players. To that end, Africa’s fixation on university qualifications must give way for more practical, digitally focused vocational training. If data is the new oil, and Africa is the last growth frontier, then we are, yet again, sitting on one of the world’s largest untapped future commodities.

Already, regardless of South Africa’s digital maturity, many South African organisations accelerated their digital initiatives during the pandemic, increasing resource allocation and reducing implementation timelines to access expected benefits and help organisations cope with an array of internal and external challenges. A recent survey by Dell Technologies revealed that 79% of organisations in South Africa had fast-tracked digital transformation programmes by the end of 2020. Clearly, the offshoots of a “digital spring” are evident.

South Africa has a solid financial and economic framework, which is complemented by a good digital infrastructure backbone in urban areas. The country has set itself a number of objectives to drive innovation and take advantage of advances in the digital economy. However, more needs to be done to ensure the successful implementation of these objectives.

Although political will is regularly communicated at higher levels, broader stakeholder alignment, support mechanisms, and effective policies for driving digital innovation can still be enhanced.

Given the complexities and integrated nature of the digital economy, these elements are crucial to enable South Africa to take its rightful place in the global digital ecosystem. An inspiring story of reinvention will surely follow.

READ MORE: Cape Town based Locstat raises investment from Grindstone Ventures



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