Kathy Gibson reports from Huawei Connect – The South African government aims to ensure all citizens have access to digital technology and services by 2024.

Nonkqubela Jordan-Dyani, assistant director-general in the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies, says this ambitious plan means the e-government programme needs to be accelerated.

“We want to digitise and automate government services, and also bridge the digital divide,” she says. “Citizens must have the tools – both devices and access to information – so that all the information related to them in in their hands.”

The department partners with private sector companies to help it realise these goals. A memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Huawei focuses largely the provision of e-skills but the two parties are now also working on improving innovations within the country.

“One of our other goals in to ensure that South Africa becomes a digital manufacturing hub for the region, as well as an innovation centre,” Jordan-Dyani says. “We are also working with Huawei on this.”

In terms of e-skills, she says: “We are looking forward to training students and working with the private sector to be responsive in addressing challenges. We believe that partnering with private sector stakeholder can establish innovations like cloud computing that can benefit all of society.”

The department is responsible for implementing the national e-government strategy to better deliver services from government to citizens, businesses and employees as well as between government entities.

“The goal is to ensure we have digitised and automated services by 2024 that have the potential to cut the cost of doing business, build trust, privacy and security and build digital literacy to ensure more cost-effective services.”

Cloud will be a key part of digital service delivery, Jordan-Dyani says. “By adopting an agile digital transformation approach, we can achieve our vision of becoming a digitally-driven country. And working together with public and private security is the only way society can build this future, and establish technologies like cloud for the benefit of the people.”

The department’s digital economy masterplan outlines how all South African citizens would be digitally empowered to drive inclusion, employment, and the electronic transformation of all cities, towns and provinces.

“To achieve this agenda, we have to conclude the digital migration programme,” she adds. “We aim to migrate the country by 31 March 2022, which will release the high-demand spectrum that is critical for 5G.

“Huawei is one of the key partners we are working with to ensure South Africa builds on 5G.”

Eric Xu, rotating chairman, Huawei, comments: “So many organisations around the world have recognised the value of digital transformation and are moving ahead at full steam.

“Technologies like 5G, AI, and cloud are here already. And although these technological underpinnings are essentially the same for everyone, there’s no one path to get there. We still have a long way to go before we reach true digital transformation.

“You can’t have digital development without digital technology, and you can’t have digital technology if you don’t keep innovating and creating new value,” he adds.

In this regard, Xu points to the work Huawei is doing in a number of areas. Its native cloud service is, for instance, the fastest-growing in the world. Its artificial intelligence (AI) clusters, meanwhile are helping drive adoptions. Huawei is helping organisations transform their networks into what it calls autonomous driving networks – networks that run themselves.

It also recently set up a subsidiary called Huawei Digital Power that will focus exclusively on powering low-carbon development with digital technology.

All of these technologies have the potential to benefit South Africa.

“We believe that new growth opportunities have arrived – innovative technologies are increasingly being used in more industries and diversified ecosystems are driving a more dynamic market,” says Spawn Fan, CEO, Huawei South Africa. “Digital technologies are becoming an important measure to increase effective investment and stimulate the development of the digital economy.”

Explaining how Huawei is working to help players in both the public and private sectors, he points out that, “the fundamentals of digitalisation are connection technologies represented by 5G, all-optical communications and IoT, and intelligent data represented by technologies such as cloud, big data, and artificial intelligence.”