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Africa dare not ignore social value innovation

Africa dare not ignore social value innovation

While economically Africa, by 2025, represents a US$5.6-trillian business opportunity, global ICT solutions and service providers like NEC XON are acutely aware of the real challenges the continent faces. The company believes its role is to contribute towards social value innovation, specifically in the areas of safety, security, efficiency and equality.

This is according to Eugene le Roux, chief executive officer NEC XON Africa, who spoke at the company's 2019 Summit hosted this week at Sun City in South Africa's North West Province.

Le Roux said while international markets are generally positive towards Africa and see the potential, underpinned by a largely young population and the future adopters of technology, but there are challenges.

"You have a lot of countries with unstable growth and some of the big markets in Africa have low-growing economies at this time, however there are a lot of stable growers in East Africa and Francophone region looking to drive that growth ... and we saw with the oil price decline, that Africa's GDP has come back a little bit to about 4.4 at this stage, so we've got our work cut out to follow the expectation of the rest of the world," said le Roux.

NEX XON believes safety, security, efficiency and equality represent areas with the most opportunity.

"Our conference theme this year orchestrating a brighter world ... what this really means to us is utilising technology to create social value innovations of which we categorise them into safety, security, efficiency and equality. These four themes mean many things to many people and it would depend in which market we operate as to how the application of that vision would look like," le Roux added.

Safe secure urbanisation

According to NEC XON, urbanisation is driving the adoption of technology that underpins safety and security across African cities.

There are currently 33 so-called megacities worldwide. These, said le Roux, are cities with over 10 million inhabitants that perform a key regional or country role from a development perspective.

Le Roux said in Africa, there are four cities that fall into this category including Cairo, Dar es Salaam, Lagos and Luanda.

He also referenced the Safe City Index 2019 and its rating system, and said only four countries from the continent feature within the top 60.

He said based on KPIs, there are significant gaps between leading cities and those that are trailing, adding pressure on Africa to respond.

For NEC XON, digital security represents a key market.

"We've done a lot of work in the security space... we see ourselves as a security technology orchestrator. What this really means is we are utilising technology to try to solve this problem of safety and security on the continent. One of our initiatives, our cyber centre, is driven by the demand for digital security services in Africa. I think Africa has only recently become awake to the threat to digital assets and as we are moving through digital transformation and increasing those digital assets, digital security is becoming more and more important," said le Roux.

He added that in countries like South Africa and more recently Kenya, the insurance space is looking to insure digital assets.

The company's cyber centre is in its third year of operation. Although it is relatively new, NEC XON global has run these cyber defence centres worldwide in advanced markets for many years and recently inspected Africa's cyber centre operation.

"They realised we have something really unique and that is our ability to help service providers and mobile operators secure their digital assets. As a result of that, they are now going to invest more into our cyber centre with a view to utilise this into targeting service providers, even outside our continent," le Roux added.

The cyber centre processes about 398 000 incidents per month and includes services like vulnerability assessment.

"We have automated the entire incident response process and we can even extend that to the mediation and patch management, which helps a lot with the response times as well as the efficiency, and obviously balancing the labour cost against the service. We offer this as a complete managed service to our customers," said le Roux.

He added that AI will play a critical role in helping to address problems, but AI in and of itself cannot simply be applied to instantly solve challenges.

"It's all about the teaching. In order to teach these algorithms, you need big data and you need to utilise this data to create the learning of these AI algorithms so that they can serve the job of predication and even prevention into the future. In order to do so, we believe the right way of addressing infrastructure inefficiency is looking at the digital twin."

Le Roux said according to Gartner, by 2021 half of the large industries are going to utilise digital twins and efficiency of up to 10% could be garnered by this.

Africa's other challenge - internet penetration and connectivity - remains a topic of ongoing debate.

Le Roux said while the penetration level for the continent was at 39% in June 2019, there is still a great deal of work to do to address inequality issues and access.

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