Digital economy in Africa

March 14, 2016

Those familiar with Sub Saharan Africa will agree with me that the past ten years have seen digital transformation in the continent from thanks to proliferation of digital technologies,that provides both challenges and opportunities.The biggest challenge so far for the region are security difficulties related to digital platforms. Africa has seen digital disruption influencing the way organisations in the region operate and conduct business on a day to day basis. This trend will continue for the foreseeable future.Thanks to technology business,I have been fortunate to travel around the East and Southern parts of the region to meet customers and partners, I have observed that while a growing number of businesses in the region have embarked on the digitisation journey especially in Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa, others continue to struggle with fully optimising the potential of digital technologies and making digital a core aspect of their organisational culture and operations with countries like Namibia, Botswana and Zambia lagging behind. Based on my observations,there areas for entrepreneurs to focus that will help them attain the maximum value from the digital economy.Digital transformation is the key ingredient in change management.It also influences not only strategic positioning but tasks, activities and processes at all levels of an organisation, and even beyond to the extended supply chain.Africa’s leadership need to enhance monitoring and challenge their organisations to be more adaptable and adopt digitisation practices in a timely manner.

The business as usual will not exist for long, either. Business leaders should also understand where and how the fundamentals of their current operations must change to adapt to the emergence of more agile digital star-ups and new digital business models. Any business that afford to ignore new digital disruptors are doing so at their own peril. Some will enter into partnerships with the upstarts, others will create similar services that are perhaps are much better or reinvent themselves with a different value proposition. In countries like Mauritius, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, digital technology is so pervasive that employees with the skills are taking advantage as they are needed well beyond the information technology department and being sought from across all industries.Recruitment agencies are focusing on looking to fill functions such as marketing, operations or customer service with people who know how to use a desktop computer for documentation or electronic communications and are comfortable with using the mobile devices, social platforms and analytical tools that companies need for digital transformation. The most marketable skills could include coding, understanding what data visualisations mean, the art of creating good infographics, videos, and presentations, website design, and social media savviness.Many of these new competencies are often overlooked as they are traditionally not considered to be necessary job skills and are rarely found in academic curricula in African countries.

Organisations in the region must address the challenge by developing existing talent even as they move forward on digital projects. The Internet of Things has generated excitement over the last few years, with governments, start-ups and established businesses all placing their eyes on the industry’s growth.Although Internet of Things certainly has had significant interest in the continent, developments on interoperability and hardware have progressed and earlier investments have begun to pay off with several projects in South Africa that am familiar with me being among those rewarding investors handsomely.In Cape Town, wearable fitness devices are gaining significant market share. I must admit that am in a project where we are developing supporting software for the Internet of Things and if all goes well, we will be able to reap a significant competitive advantage. A friend of mine is currently working on a software that analyses the massive volumes of data from Internet of Things devices and it then with precision accurately automates what is currently manual decision making.Going forward, businesses in Africa need to research and develop edge analytics, streaming analytics, decision support and other automation software and they need to understand how opportunities in the new digital landscape will impact their businesses. Preparing the ground for success will be critical and indications are that organisations are embracing digital transformation. Adopting the right best practices for digitisation in increasingly regionalised businesses is essential for organisations in Africa as well as implementing cost efficient and scalable technology.

Contador Harrison