South African businesses are experiencing a significant impact in their information technology (IT) departments due to the recent wave of digitalisation.

By Lebohang Monaheng, senior manager: applications and digital solutions at Sizwe Africa IT Group

According to McKinsey research, the adoption of digital technologies could more than double the growth in per capita income, triple productivity, and add more than one percentage point to South Africa’s real GDP growth rate over the next decade.

However, government departments and municipalities, as well as small and medium-sized businesses in South Africa have low levels of information and communication technology (ICT) adoption, which may hinder their competitiveness.

The country faces issues with the quality of internet connectivity, slow speeds, and excessive prices compared to other nations. The National Integrated ICT Policy White Paper and the Digital Economic Master Plan 2025 have been developed to promote access, spectrum management, postal service reform, institutional frameworks, leverage digital technologies, stimulate economic development, create jobs, and enhance social inclusion.

Although the digitisation of companies and government entities presents numerous opportunities, such as increased productivity and profitability, the skills deficit remains a challenge in this space.

The overall shortage of personnel with the necessary knowledge and skills to design and implement digital solutions is a challenge. The lack of access to up-to-date digital infrastructure in rural communities is another significant obstacle in the process of digitising businesses in remote areas and municipalities in these areas, leading to inequalities, inefficiencies, and restricted enterprise expansion. This is further exacerbated by the lack of integration skills and capability to bring the various components of digitization together.

To overcome these challenges, South African businesses need to invest in their human resources, including reskilling programs and fostering innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystems. In addition, the government should invest in infrastructure and programs to promote digital inclusion and access for all segments of society, particularly rural and low-income populations.

For municipalities, digitalisation presents significant opportunities for improved service delivery, increased efficiency, and significant cost reduction. However, it is essential that they invest in the necessary skills, infrastructure, and partnerships to ensure that they can effectively leverage digital technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), intelligent automation and business intelligence (BI).

Through e-government services, municipalities can enhance their online service offerings to make it easier for residents to interact with their local government and have effective communication around challenges such loadshedding and water shortages. This enhancement can also reduce the need for physical visits and the long queues that the community experiences in several municipalities across the country.

Furthermore, digitalisation can enable the deployment of smart infrastructure, such as smart streetlights, traffic lights, and waste management systems. Data collected from these systems can be used to support municipalities in making informed decisions to improve service delivery. Geographic information systems and technologies can be used to map infrastructure, service delivery points, and risks for better planning and much more effective management of municipal services such as water, electricity, and sanitation. In turn, this can improve turnaround times in response to emergencies.

Digitalisation could lead to more opportunities for job creation and productivity development in South Africa, however, it is essential to prepare for the changes that digitalisation will bring to the future of work and to ensure that investments are made in the necessary skills, infrastructure, and partnerships to effectively leverage these digital technologies.