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Monday, May 27th

Skills essential if SA is to survive 'digital tsunami'

Skills essential if SA is to survive 'digital tsunami'

Businesses have no choice but to accept 'the digital tsunami' and position themselves to leverage the potential of 5G, AI, robotics and machine learning. However, success will depend on skills availability, collaboration between government and academic institutions and the availability of funding to support innovation.

It was not coincidental that the first presentation at the annual Southern Africa Telecommunication Networks and Applications Conference (SATNAC) 2018 this week in Hermanus, Western Cape, focused on education and skills development.

John Lewis, SDN Engineer and SATNAC Technical Chair, Openserve, (himself a 'product' of the Telkom Centres of Excellence (COE) programme), said there are 15 research centres across the country and more engineers and skilled ICT practitioners are needed to strengthen local telecommunications.

The theme of this year's event is the data tsunami – enabled through software defined transformation, and centered on 5G, cloud, AI, data analytics and machine learning.

Among several statistics pointed out at the event are that globally 2.5 quintillion bytes of data is generated per day, data is expected to grow to 44 zetabytes by 2020, 156 million emails are sent every minute and 80% of organisations today adopt cloud-first strategies.

But if it is to be a part of the 4th industrial revolution and leverage this 'tsunami', South Africa needs more skills.

Interestingly, the discussion took place at almost as news broke of South Africa slipping into an economic recession. Media reports quote statistics which showed that the country's GDP fell by 0.7% in Q2 2018.

Tradeeconomics.com states that the country's unemployment rate increased to 27.2% in Q2 2018, up from 26.7% in the previous period.

Organisers acknowledged the concern over whether or not widespread adoption of AI will result in job-loss.

Jaco Dippenaar, Data and Artificial Intelligence Lead, Microsoft Azure, said it would be the case in in certain instances - but the technology is expected to create jobs such as virtual space designers, biohackers and IOT data analysts.

Society re-imagined

Professor Adam Habib, Vice Chancellor and Principal, University of the Witwatersrand, said that businesses actually have no choice but to integrate technology within the workplace in order to enhance operations and boost productivity. But there is a responsibility to re-imagine society and deal with South Africa's core challenge of poverty and inequality, he warned.

According to Habib today South Africa produces approximately 1800 PHDs per year. "For a country our size, we should produce approximately 6 000... we are in a serious crisis."

"The jobs that exist today, many of them will not exist tomorrow ... if we do not get at the front end of this tech revolution, not only are we going to irreparably damage this company, we will irreparably damage this country and this continent. SA has its own challenges, at the core of our society, our core challenge is poverty and inequality. We don't have the skills at multiple levels of society."

Habib said that there needs to be more emphasis on ICT literacy (especially coding) at school level and for the continent to develop, innovate and progress, it requires collaboration and partnerships – between academic institutions, businesses and government – those that 'feed the system'.

'Suck in talent'

Habib said Africa needs to learn from the US model and "suck in talent" and then reproduce it and export to reinvest the value.

Rapelang Rabana, Chief Digital Officer at BCX, focused on shared value of innovation and the digital economy, and what it means to be 'a digital master'.

"The world of tomorrow requires you to create value across all your stakeholders... the digital mastery statement is to solve grand socio-economic problems using innovation to win with others and make a profit. The capacity for innovation isn't linked to study, but rather with life experience, a state of awareness and the ability to notice and learn from what you see."

The formula, said Rabana, is summarised by the statement: 'sustainable digital mastery through innovation combined with shared value and then ruthless execution.'

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