Innovation key to solving socioeconomic challenges in SA A new digital chapter in the story of a resilient Rainbow Nation can now be written, believes BCX, Africa’s leading premier ICT solutions and service provider. It is a tale of innovation and unexpected performance, and it starts with what we know.

This is because the world’s markets have seen rapid technological changes due to Covid-19. South Africa has faced increased challenges due to the pandemic. This may seem overwhelming. However, BCX believes the negative outlook may, in fact, be the catalyst for innovative SA-First thinking that creates a paradigm shift — a country whose future is strengthened by a digital ecosystem that fosters innovation, with the role of government and private partnership driving lasting change. The plot twist is that the local economy may have been recently presented with the ideal environment to foster large-scale innovation — a galvanizing mix between opportunity and crisis. Already, according the BCX Innovation Report 2022Around 30% of local businesses have made investments in AI, Robotics and Cognitive Automation. Another 58% of local companies have already invested in Blockchain technology or plan to do so in the next 24 hours. These challenges can be seen as opportunities. They can be used to rebuild the economy, address social problems and keep the country competitive in a technologically driven global marketplace. It is time to plan for a unique path to prosperity. “In South Africa, there is an additional element that needs to be taken into consideration when measuring our progress and the impact of digital innovation. Although the country boasts a strong infrastructure, a stable financial system, and vast natural resources, there are still many socio-economic issues such as high unemployment and poor public services. “The socio-economic impact of digital innovation, therefore, also needs to be taken into consideration as both the private and the public sector need to push for the financial inclusion of marginalized sections of the population,” says Jonas Bogoshi, BCX chief executive.

Positive change is possible

Digital innovation plays an important role in increasing competition, creating value, increasing productivity, and ultimately, it is a key component of increasing competitiveness. South African companies are embracing cloud computing, insights-driven data, and artificial intelligence (AI) as part of a gradual approach to digitalizing. This connects with the government’s vision and policy plans until 2030, which clearly indicate a greater focus on infrastructure development, an accelerated transition to clean energy and a move to digitalization. The pandemic was a catalyst for positive change across many fields. Digital innovation is often the common thread. South Africa can learn a lot from other countries that have overcome similar socio-economic difficulties. China, for example, has transitioned in a very short span of time from an analogue society to becoming one of the world’s largest digital economies. As Mandisa Ntloko-Petersen, BCX chief marketing officer and innovation champion, states, “Consider how China has managed to embed digital innovation across multiple industries by establishing a joint, bold ambition for all stakeholders to strive toward. It is a national initiative that spans the entire ecosystem. This is what South Africa should aim for. That is how we should galvanize the country for large-scale digital innovation.” South African policymakers are known for adopting best practices from other countries after policies have been implemented elsewhere. This kind of reactive policy-making does not suit the digital age.

Innovative policy-making

Innovative policy-making is also required to foster digital innovation. It is essential to take a proactive approach to ensure universal and affordable internet access, manage spectrum, and promote healthy market competition. There is a great opportunity to transform society through technology. Highlighted in BCX’s Innovation Report were successful local examples of innovation that creates meaningful change. Telehealth was an emerging tool that healthcare professionals have not yet discovered. Virtual visit services will continue to grow as a result of the pandemic. As the pandemic drives the need for one-stop solutions and remote patient monitoring, virtual visit providers and virtual visits will be integrated. Tele-health will generate the most revenue from mobile health (mHealth). In 2021, the mHealth revenue is expected to increase by 38.4%. But, in order to be successful with digital innovation, businesses must also commit. If the right investments are made, the country can reap the benefits of digitally-savvy decision-makers who have the ability to combine their commercial experience with digital innovation ideas. When applied across an entire organization, but driven by the top, it can make all the differences. This is not the case for many players. To that end, Africa’s fixation on university qualifications must give way for more practical, digitally focused vocational training. If data is the new oil, and Africa is the last growth frontier, then we are, yet again, sitting on one of the world’s largest untapped future commodities. Already, regardless of South Africa’s digital maturity, many South African organisations accelerated their digital initiatives during the pandemic, increasing resource allocation and reducing implementation timelines to access expected benefits and help organisations cope with an array of internal and external challenges. A recent survey by Dell Technologies revealed that 79% of organisations in South Africa had fast-tracked digital transformation programmes by the end of 2020. Clearly, the offshoots of a “digital spring” are evident. South Africa has a strong economic and financial framework. This is complemented by an urban infrastructure that provides a backbone for digital infrastructure. South Africa has set several goals to encourage innovation and benefit from the advances in digital economy. These objectives can be achieved, but more must be done. Although political will is communicated at higher levels frequently, there are still ways to improve the alignment of stakeholder groups, support mechanisms, as well as policies for driving digital innovation. Given the complex and interconnected nature of the digital economy these elements are vital to South Africa’s ability to participate in the global digital ecosystem. A story of innovation and inspiration will follow.

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