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How will digitalisation impact Africa’s economy?

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Kathy Gibson reports from AfricaCom in Cape Town – You cannot escape digitalisation and, whether you like it or not, it is going to impact on every company and individual.
But processes and people are much more important than technology when it comes to digitalisation, says Georgio Heiman, vice-president and head of Africa at Orange Business Services.
Ovum’s market outlook for Africa states that the continent will soon reach 1-billion mobile subscribers, Heiman adds. And, while revenue for voice and SMS is declining slightly, there is up to 40% growth per year on data services.
Gartner talks about the Nexus of Forces that refers to mobile, cloud, information and social as the fundamental transformation that the world is undergoing.
Mobile use worldwide is growing tremendously, and will each 4,8-billion next year, mind-boggling amounts of data are being generated which is driving the need for big data and analytics; cloud is delivering flexible ways of managing and maximising infrastructure; and social reflects new ways that people communicate.
IDC, on the other hand talks about the 3rd Platform. The research group says this enables mobility, accelerates innovation, reduces IT costs, shrinks IT footprint and transforms security.
Some of the enabling technologies in the 3rd Platform include 3D printing, robotics, artificial intelligence or cognitive systems, and augmented or virtual reality.
Internet of Things (IoT) is also under scrutiny, and Heiman says there are some industries that could see massive benefits from IoT. These include utilities like water, electricity and waste; agriculture; transport; mining; and others.
Of course, security is an issue when it comes to IoT. The recent Mira DDoS attack on Dyn that almost brought the Internet to its knees was launched through CCTV cameras, highlighting the potential for security breaches.
Among the World Economic Forum’s top 10 emerging technologies for 2016 are nanosensors and the Internet of Nanothings – tiny sensors that can connect to the Web.
Next-generation batteries are also an emerging technology, and Heiman believes the new technology in this area has become so advanced that large-scale power storage is now possible. Perovskite solar cells, meanwhile, will drive the move to ubiquitous power generation.
“Think about putting these two technologies together to bring sustainable energy to the people in Africa who have no electricity today,” he says.
Other emerging technologies, according to the WEF, are autonomous vehicles, blockchain and an open AI ecosystem.
Companies and CIOs are urged to watch out for certain trends, particularly in that technology is probably going to take over a number of jobs. This means that organisations need to consider what skills they will need in the future and what people they will have to reskill or attract.
“What jobs are going to disappear, and what jobs will appear. The impact will be huge,” says Heiman. “And there will be a huge impact on government and policy-makers, and this is particularly relevant in Africa.”
Simply buying a digital asset is not enough to make the business work, he adds. “You have to work with the users and with the people.”
Organisations have a few options for supporting their transformation needs. They can aim for collaboration through a “digital inside” strategy; or transforming customer experience through “digital outside”; or transform the entire value chain with a “digital enablers” strategy.
The bottom line, says Heiman, is that customer experience is the most important outcome. The second key ingredient is innovation, which can be achieved by applying digitalisation to the current process or by setting up a completely different model.
“Last but not least is the people: you need people with a new mentality who are digital entrepreneurs, are capable of inventing different things and are keen to go through this digital transformation journey.”