Kathy Gibson is at Satnac in Hermanus – The 4th industrial revolution and a greater level of digitalisation means that business models are being challenged across all industries.

For instance, even something like mining could be fundamentally changed by digitalisation, says Shyam Ranchod, digital transformation lead at Deloitte.

A panel discussion at Satnac attempts to understand digitalisation’s impact of economic growth.

Companies pay a high price for the lack of innovation, says Vernon Thaver, executive partner: executive programmes service delivery at Gartner.

History is littered with examples of companies that failed to self-destruct and instead were destroyed by external forces.

This is why Gartner encourages companies to practice bi-modal operations.

In this environment, leadership is not so easy, Thayer adds. “You need to bring new thinking, new blood, new approaches into an organisation. Young people need to come in to enthuse organisations with new enthusiasm and ways of doing things.”

One of the big challenges we need to overcome in the 4th industrial revolution is that undeniable fact that South Africa is still very much a digital colony.

This is largely a factor of belief, market access and funding, says Rapelang Rabana, chief digital officer at BCX.

“It is largely about our mindset,” she says. “We are more trusting of American technology; and without cultivating a belief in ourselves we are going to get stuck.”

A huge problem is that South African companies still habitually buy their technology – and other – solutions from international organisations.

“We simply don’t procure services from innovative startups,” Rabana says. “If they are not able to sell to big companies they will never get to scale.

“Until we look at our own procurement mechanisms, we will not be able to support the growth of a high-tech South Africa.”

Funding is always an issue, she adds, with the country’s pool of venture capital remaining prohibitively low.

Ruthless execution also has a big role to play, adds Dr Brian Armstrong, WBS chair at University of the Witwatersrand.

Jaco Dippenaar, data and artificial intelligence lead at Microsoft Azure, agrees that funding is an issue. “But we also need to believe in ourselves,” he says.

“I spent time in the US and was very surprised at how their technology in the banking industry was actually behind our own. We need to believe in ourselves, and know there are very smart people in this country doing innovative things.”

Ranchod thinks our mindset around innovation needs to shift from profit to purpose. “At the moment, the mindset that incubates the idea is the pursuit of profit rather than the pursuit of purpose.

“In South Africa there is no shortage of purpose; so if companies understand the needs people have, and develop a strong purpose towards the need – that purpose will drive execution until the funding comes.”

Panellists were asked what they would you do to ensure the 4th industrial revolution happens, if they were president for a day.

“We already have an amazing plan,” says Thaver. “We need to take the National Development Plan (NDP) and understand the implications of digital technology in enabling it.

“The plan has been stalled for a long time; but business and government need to now leapfrog and implement the NDP.”

Dippenaar believes education is the key. “I would relook the education systems and break down boundaries,” he says.

“We need to give students the ability and freedom to innovate.”

He recommends an overhaul of the syllabus, possibly combining arts and the sciences, as a way to address artificial boundaries.

Rabana agrees that education is vital, but would approach it from a different angle.

“I would define a new standard of intelligence,” she says. “Forget education, IT, degrees – rather give us a measure of the skills that are important.”

This new standard would address what we are going to need in the future, Rabana adds. “If we can teach kids to respond to whatever challenge comes at them, especially as things change, this would be useful.”

Ranchod would take a leaf out of what Rwanda did in 2000.

“The leadership of the country thought well beyond their term in office; they planned for 20 years ahead, and put in a deliberate plan to turn the economy into a knowledge economy.

“As a result, they are a great African success story.

“I think President Ramaphosa needs to think beyond his term of office,” Ranchod says. “He needs to put the policies in place, for instance around spectrum – and do it quickly so we are all empowered to make South Africa great.”