The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) presents a wealth of opportunities for South Africa, but factors such as a lack of high end skills and widespread fear of job losses could hamper 4IR progress.
This is according to leading ICT stakeholders and finalists in the 2019 IITPSA President’s Awards.
Speaking ahead of the President’s Awards, finalists said the 4IR could create new jobs and business opportunities. However, seizing the opportunities would require new approaches to education and workplace skills development.
Visionary CIO Award finalist and PPS CTO Avsharn Bachoo notes that the 4IR is not a once off event, or a one size fits all fix. “It’s a social transformation process, sustained over time, involving diverse stakeholders. 4IR has to connect the global digital revolution to SA’s specific socio-economic priorities.
“This has to be driven by partnerships across government, business, and ordinary South Africans through leadership, innovation and learning. Very importantly, 4IR technologies like robotics, AI and IOT are interdependent.
“In order for them to thrive, 4IR needs an ecosystem of technical infrastructure like fibre, system development skills, local ICT support as well as cyber governance and regulatory frameworks.”
Prof Jean Greyling, associate professor, Department of Computing Sciences at Nelson Mandela University and finalist in the IT Personality Award and Social Responsibility/Community Award categories, said skills will be South Africa’s biggest 4IR challenge.
“The technical skills 4IR needs are some of the scarcest skills in South Africa. This is made worse by the fact that more than half of our schools do not have computer labs, and it is estimated that it will, on average, cost R1 million to equip each school with an internet-connected lab.
“Even if schools have the technology there is a huge shortage of teachers equipped to teach subjects like robotics and programming, as well as a shortage of teachers and staff with the skills needed to maintain laboratories,” he said.
“All this 4IR talk by government is causing an anxiety among learners, teachers, principals and parents from the mainly disadvantaged communities, since they have a sense of missing out.”
Frans Kalp, CEO of Ligbron e-Learning Systems and finalist in the Technology Excellence Award and Social Responsibility/Community Award categories, agrees. He expects the changing skills needs to drive change in education.
“I am seeing major disruptions in the SA education system as a whole and especially higher education. To name one I can see a huge shift from traditional teaching to more online teaching by using videoconferencing for online schools and universities. More students will be able to study from home by visiting online classes,” he said.
Fear and resistance
Rumbidzaishe Maisva, Head of STEM at Womandla Foundation and Social Responsibility/Community Award finalist, notes: “One key change to the 4IR is that there looks to be a possibility of many people losing jobs as those jobs become automated.
“Thus the single biggest challenge for the 4th Industrial Revolution for South Africa is resistance, resistance to embracing the 4IR, resistance to the idea that the disruptive technologies bring about major changes whose effect is not clearly known at this point and resistance to the idea of acquiring new skill sets.
“Unfortunately this poses such a major challenge because ignoring the new technologies and hoping they would go away would only adversely affect the South African economy and set back South Africa from taking the lead in a global market.”
4IR opportunities for South Africa
Derek Wilcocks, group CIO of Discovery and Visionary CIO award finalist, said the single biggest 4IR challenge South Africa faces is coordinating resources behind a few big opportunities that create the most leverage in creating new jobs. He goes on to say: “The single biggest 4IR opportunity is aligning 4IR technologies with industries that can create new jobs.
These include 4IR opportunities that create job markets and match buyers and sellers in tourism, agriculture and business process outsourcing.”
Avsharn Bachoo said the 4IR has become an engine of growth and can open major opportunities for transformational change in South Africa.
“For me, the exploitation of data underpins 4IR and is the single biggest opportunity for SA. Data opens up new opportunities for convergence by taking advantage of the new markets offered by digital platforms and exploiting production possibilities enabled by digital technologies.”
However, fostering an ecosystem that supports 4IR development requires strong IT leadership across all sector levels to plan and implement 4IR transformation strategies.
“This leadership is important to communicate a 4IR vision, mobilise long-term commitment, integrate ICT opportunities and investments into strategies, align complementary policies, harness skills, and pursue partnerships with private and public sector,” he said.
Rumbidzaishe Maisva said the 4IR provides a major opportunity for the South African economy to level up with first world countries: “A barrier like geolocation would no longer be a limiting factor for South Africa to tap into the global economy. One of the most significant factors attributed to the development of first world countries has been technology.
“The 4th industrial revolution has brought with it disruptive technologies which are ‘disruptive’ to the economic, political and social environments.
“These disruptive technologies, if harnessed efficiently, could result in positive major impact. South Africa would be able to compete in providing services in a way that allows them to gain market share. Furthermore, the skillset of people in South Africa can be grown to improve the social economy.”
Technology Excellence Award finalist Marnus van Heerden, Co-Founder of decentralised insurer Pineapple, echoes this view, saying: “There is a significant opportunity for South Africa to build excellent technology products for global partners.”
Taki Netshitenzhe, Chief Officer Corporate Affairs, Chairperson of the Vodacom Foundation and finalist in the Social Responsibility/Community Award category, said that the skills challenge has to be addressed.
However, “well-managed, the 4IR has the potential to improve the quality of life for the world’s population and South Africa to remain competitive in the global economy. There are immense opportunities for South Africa to leapfrog and address all societal challenges in various industry verticals that support service delivery and the sustainable development goals, such as education, health, transport, asset management, municipal services.”
The impact of the 4IR and the wave of innovation in the ICT sector will be a focus at this year’s IITPSA President’s Awards, to be staged under the theme NE><T.
IITPSA CEO Tony Parry said the theme celebrates the changing ICT landscape and the mass arrival of a wave of Generation Z ICT professionals in the workplace. He notes that the 2019 finalists are prime examples of the excellence, ethics and innovation that will be needed in the 4IR.