SA STUCK IN THE THIRD REVOLUTION

State will need to hasten the implementation of 2017 e-Government Strategy

AROUND 5000 BC, drums, smoke signals, and writing were the main types of communication technology in the world, during a period popularly known as the agricultural revolution.
During the first three industrial revolutions, communications technology evolved into a convergence of lino-type and press, telegraphy, telephony and media as well as digital and networking.
The 2019 Davos World Economic Forum’s theme was Globalisation 4.0, which is driven by the Fourth Industrial Revolution. In South Africa, there is a big buzz about the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Sadly, reality shows that South Africa is still stuck on the Third Industrial Revolution, if not the second, especially when it comes to communications technology. South Africa has been on par with the rest of the world when it comes to Information and Communication Technology (ICT) since the start of the first three industrial revolutions.
The first newspaper published in sub-Saharan Africa appeared in Cape Town in 1800. The first telegraph in South Africa was launched on December 2, 1859. The first telephones were installed in Cape Town in 1878. Computers in South Africa date back to 1921. The internet in South Africa started in 1991, cellphones in 1994, MS Windows 95 – in 1995. The only setback in this evolution of ICT in South Africa has been the growing inequality since the dawn of democracy. By the World Bank’s estimate, South Africa is the world’s most unequal country, divided by ethnic inequality and discrepancies in the level of development between sectors. These obstacles result in disparities in access to information and communications technology (ICT). To address this, the South African government and the private sector need to deeply sink their teeth into the Third Industrial Revolution to grow and improve the lives of its people.
The First and Second Industrial Revolutions’ success was enriched by the communication/energy/transportation matrix and accompanying infrastructure that comprised the general-purpose technology that firms connected. Third Industrial Revolution ICT is about the internet, digital transformation and innovation. Both the government and private sector are lagging in all three areas. To speed up internet access, the government has to make sweeping telecoms reform by fully implementing its ICT policies regulatory system, and quickly release spectrum by creating a wholesale open-access network that has a clear shareholding, funding, decision-making and operating model. The radio frequency spectrum targets for mobile broadband should target 90% coverage country-wide. Prasa, Eskom, Telkom, Sentech, Broadband Infraco, Post Office, Sita, Salga, CSIR and Industry Associations, together with Communications, Telecommunications, and the Postal Services minister, should have an imbizo to unpack how they can eliminate silo mentality, collaborate, and share the existing infrastructure to fast tack broadband connectivity in the country, especially in rural areas. The Third Industrial Revolution (1969 - 2015) is the digital revolution. Digital transformation (application of digital technologies to fundamentally impact all aspects of business and society) is the next stage of advancement for this revolution. Artificial Intelligence (AI), automation, robotics and the Internet of Things are key focus areas in terms of harnessing digital transformation to drive performance and productivity. Just 8% of South African businesses are Digital Leaders, according to the 2018 Dell Technologies Digital Transformation Index. Just one provincial government out of nine provinces takes digital transformation seriously. The private sector as well needs to have a clear digital vision and strategies to support digital transformation and culture. The government should speed up the implementation of the 2017 e-Government strategy. South Africa has the lowest share of young firms among emerging economies globally, where elsewhere, young, high-growth firms known as “gazelles” are playing a leading role in innovation. Most South African startups operate at a small scale, few have international customers or ambitions contributing to the low number of “unicorns” in South Africa. Innovation is the lifeblood of every organisation, so for digital transformation to drive performance and productivity businesses need to innovate faster, develop bigger ideas that reach a broader audience and ensure their speed to market is significantly quicker. The wait-and-see approach by South African corporates is the path to business suicide. It was sobering to hear a Nigerian delegate in Davos WFF saying they are somewhere between the Second and Third Industrial Revolutions. This buzz about the Fourth Industrial Revolution is misleading and a misinterpretation of the current Third Industrial Revolution. The South African government and the private sector need to address the challenges mentioned above before thinking about the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

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