SA prepares for digital revolution

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Government leaders, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) doyens, academics, researchers, exhibitors and industry geeks with an interest in all things technological, recently converged in the sunny, seaside city of Durban.

Their mission? To ponder the way the Fourth Industrial Revolution will reshape the way governments all over the world work, writes Nosihle Shelembe.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Telecom World Conference 2018, held for the first time on African soil, gave governments and industry leaders an opportunity to explore challenges, partnerships, solutions, investment opportunities and best practices for socio-economic development through ICTs.

South Africa, as the host, had the added advantage of positioning the country as a leader in Africa in the ICT development space.

The conference supported the African Union (AU) Agenda 2063 call to support the continent’s  accelerated growth, technological transformation, and for the attainment of a well-developed ICT and digital economy.

This goal is aligned to South Africa’s very own National Development Plan (NDP) 2030 vision of transforming the country into an inclusive and innovative digital and knowledge society. This, through the promotion of leadership and partnership, to tackle the triple challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality.

South Africa used the opportunity to promote its business, scientific and academic research projects and showcased its innovation.

The conference attracted more than 3100 participants from 94 countries. Among these were over 200 ICT leaders from 74 countries, including 33 ministers, and 125 Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) from emerging and developed markets alike.

The event brought together an impressive line-up of top-level government representatives, influential industry leaders – from established players to small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and from emerging and developed markets.

The conference was hosted for the first time on the continent in order to increase the participation of other African countries, thereby increasing the possibilities of investment in ICT on the continent.

One of the strategic values in hosting the conference was that government, together with its sponsors, provided support to over 50 Small, Medium and Micro-sized Enterprises (SMMEs) to exhibit at the conference. The entrepreneurs were mentored on how to pitch their ideas to investors.

“The SMMEs we supported as government and our partners to showcase their work will not only be known at this conference… global businesses are looking at those technologies. This is a huge marketing opportunity for them,” the Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services Siyabonga Cwele told SAnews.

More money from honey

One of those businesses that exhibited its technology at the conference was Beedale, a family business that developed an application that informs the bee farmer when the honey in the hive is ready. This application is linked to a bee box.

Member of the family business, Nicky Worthmann, says beekeepers generally get one reaping of honey from one box per season.

“With this technology they can get up to three just by knowing when the honey is ready to take out of the bee box,” Worthmann says.

This technology will result in bee farmers saving money as they will no longer need to travel to check on whether the hive is ready.

The application also has a temperature probe, demonstrating how technology can be used to improved agricultural production, because if the temperature drops, the bees can get sick or they can fly out of the hive, leaving the box empty.

Beedale also wants to put a QR code at the back of the honey bottle to inform consumers which farmer produced the honey and the types of flowers that were in season when the honey was produced.

Worthmann says being at the conference has been a great opportunity as potential investors from Malawi and Zimbabwe have expressed interest in the application.

Incubation programmes to assist SMMEs

Noting the talent of SMMEs who exhibited their products at the conference, Minister Cwele says the technologies that emerged at the conference will make it easier for South Africa to be at the forefront of the digital economy and digital revolution.

In an effort to create an enabling environment for entrepreneurs to thrive, the department and its partners intend to set-up Tech SMME Incubation centres at the Dube Trade Port in KwaZulu-Natal and at the Innovation Hub in Pretoria.

The incubation centres will assist SMMEs to develop their business ideas from an infancy stage. The businesses will be offered support and guidance as they produce new technologies.

Incubation programmes are aimed at improving the early-stage survival and long-term growth prospects of SMMEs, to ensure that they remain sustainable.

“These centres will be hosted in an environment which will enable the building of solutions, and the ability to transform innovative ideas of SMMEs into real projects. The facility will grow into a space that allows sponsored SMMEs to build and stage their ideas,” says the Minister.

SMMEs using the facilities will be contracted on an agreed timeline to get their ideas to prototype level.

“Through various partnerships, the department and Cisco hopes to develop current and cultivate new SMMEs in the ICT space and help them enter, grow and compete in the market,” the Minister says.

Forum to bring it all together

In preparation for the digital revolution, South Africa has committed to train women, children, people with disabilities and SMMEs.

These programmes include digital literacy training for 100 women per province.

In October, the department will launch a multi-stakeholder consultative forum to devise a strategy towards collaborating for the programme.

The objective of the multi-stakeholder forum is to determine how best to ensure that opportunities and facilities are widely commuted, accessible to SMMEs, women and youth-owned organisations.

It’s also aimed at addressing gaps identified by government to bridge the digital divide, transform the industry and close the growing unemployment gap.

As of 2019, government will train one million young people to be data scientists until 2030.

Bridging the digital divide

The South Africa Government has emphasised that the digital revolution must respond to the needs of the developing world by assisting it to overcome unemployment, as well as bridge the digital divide.

According to the Minister, government through the SA Connect programme, is making progress in the rollout of broadband. 

“Broadband Infraco continues to bring fibre closer to small villages which makes the 3G and 4G network work much faster. The fibre also makes the Wi-Fi networks work faster,” he says.

The department together with National Treasury as well as the Development Bank of Southern Africa are looking at affordable and sustainable Public Private Partnership models in an effort to get funding to rollout the programme throughout the country.

“We are not going to have the R88 billion we need to rollout this project throughout the country so we are going to have to do it in partnership with the private sector,” the Minister says.

Great strides have also been made in the implementation of the e-government services which will see citizens waiting for shorter periods in queues.

The service intends to simplify government procedures, improve access to information by citizens, and improve service delivery, as well as strengthen accountability and transparency.

In addition, government has finalised consultations with the telecommunications industry and other stakeholders to ensure that allocation of spectrum reduces barriers to entry, promotes competition and reduces costs to consumers.

Government has decided to accelerate the licensing of the radio frequency spectrum in the 2.6Ghz, 700Mhz and 800Mhz bands to hasten the growth of mobile communications.

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) is now preparing to licence available high demand spectrum.

Furthermore, South Africa has begun work in preparation for 5G spectrum licensing as part of its efforts to build a smarter digital economy.

The various initiatives by government demonstrate a commitment to meet the demands of the digital revolution and build an inclusive economy. –