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By Kabelo Makwane, managing director of the Accenture Cloud First business in Africa
Early February brought the Gauteng Provincial Government’s 2018 Technology Innovation Conference. The theme, Digital Innovation and Technological Disruption – Implications for Government, Industry & Civil Society, saw more than a thousand delegates converge for the two-day event.
Among those in attendance were some of the country’s foremost ICT experts, academics and decision makers. The focus was on unpacking advances in technology and digital, with particular emphasis on the challenges and opportunities emerging across both Africa and SA.
Gauteng’s development agenda
Consider the province of Gauteng in particular. The premier’s development agenda sees the province developing into an integrated city-region and leading economy. The trajectory involves digital in a major way – ICT has been identified as a key strategic lever for everything from the improvement of public service delivery to enhanced government accountability and job creation.
Of course, the question of jobs and job creation are particularly relevant when it comes to talk of tech anywhere in South Africa. A major theme here is change – namely how digital is remaking the future of work. By one popular estimate cited by the World Economic Forum, 65% of children entering primary education today will end up working in new (tech-related) job types that don't yet exist. More than this, the WEF notes current jobs are also set to change, with many likely to disappear in the coming decades as the face of work is remade – an outcome particularly critical to note in SA, where unemployment is already high.
Yet, digital hasn’t left us adrift. Far from it, in fact. At the conference, Gauteng’s premier noted that South Africa has witnessed a 20% increase in ICT-related jobs over the last decade. 85% of households have mobile phone access in Gauteng; 65% have internet access. All present opportunities for how government thinks about bringing services and technology closer to citizens, and how digital can be used to better people’s lives and improve employment.
Gauteng has already seen considerable strides in tech. Consider eKasiLabs, a project of The Innovation Hub and an initiative designed to foster entrepreneurship based on ICT in various townships in Gauteng. Then there is the Tshepo 1 Million project, which aims to find employment for youth, with ICT a major focus area. Further, there’s Braamfontein’s Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct and the considerable investments made by tech majors such as IBM and Microsoft in the province.
Against the backdrop of private and public sector tech transformation, the question then becomes: how do we best harness ICT and digital in South Africa? How do we create the frameworks and support structures that allow both government and the private sector to make the best use of technologies such as blockchain, The Internet of Things, machine learning and artificial intelligence? Can these technologies be used meaningfully to help solve challenges on the ground – including those related to service delivery, education, health, transportation, employment and government accountability and transparency?
The answer is yes. However, a critical first step is accelerated thinking around the regulation and policy required. For government and the private sector to be able to meaningfully embrace cloud technologies, a supportive digital environment is crucial. The UK government’s recent appointment of a CDIO (Chief Digital and Information Officer), for example, was a clear indicator of the direction of thinking at work. Further, the release of the EU’s GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) framework shows how governmental agencies elsewhere are also beginning to plan for a digital future in a major way. Embracing e-government is likely to be a trend we’ll witness more and more on a global scale.
Preparing the public and private sectors for a digital future is a top global priority. To keep pace with tech – and to be ready to take advantage of new opportunities as they arise – we need to begin to think meaningfully around creating the kinds of environment in which digital can flourish.