Is 4IR a re-inventing of the wheel or a modernising of it?
As South Africa’s digital transformation continues apace during these difficult times, the maxim that the fourth industrial revolution is a journey and not a destination is a mantra that will serve the country well.
While digitisation is a sea-change of approach for some, that does not necessarily mean businesses need to approach 4IR and their technology systems as though they are reinventing the wheel. It is as much about the modernisation of systems and structure to introduce the necessary competences that will see them well on this journey.
“The exciting thing for me, in our sphere, is that people we do business with are IT aware already,” said Vish Rajpal, Chief of Digital Platform Solutions at BCX. “And I think that’s a function of where we find ourselves now in the passage from the third to the fourth industrial revolution.
“They already have technology systems and skills in place. What they need is advice, direction and innovative edge expertise to be able to increase the capability of those systems, to upskill staff, and to ensure their businesses are future proof. At BCX, we talk of ecosystems that provide effortless innovation. They must be adaptable and agile, because those are the traits modern business requires now and for the future.
“This is important because businesses are looking at us not to help them, for example, reduce costs. The cost-efficiency conversation is still there – keeping the lights on, managing applications – but they really want us to help them generate additional revenue and increase demand for the products and services they are selling.”
There is a perception that digital transformation and 4IR requires substantial capital investment, but how companies spend their money on technology is changing. Much of the cost is being borne by service providers.
“The conversation around 4IR and digitisation at board level is happening between capital expenditure (capex) and operational expenditure (opex). What 4IR is doing for us, is moving that pendulum towards an opex conversation. We as IT companies are doing the investment in large assets – transformational outsources, digital platforms, data centres, connectivity, network, etc – and businesses are consuming those services from us at an operational perspective rather than them going out and investing a significant amount of capital on large assets. We are doing it for them,” said Rajpal.
In August, BCX launched Exa, a division to advise and co-create digital transformation solutions for its clients. It has worked with the Department of Health to produce the ground-breaking COVIDconnect solution. Exa, said Rajpal, is a symbol of what is possible in South Africa’s 4IR journey in how people work, learn and live. The team now have produced a ground-breaking disease management platform. South Africa has the technology and the capabilities to provide innovative and, sometimes, simple solutions that look ahead to a future that will continue to require effortless innovation.
“Collaboration, co-creation, cooperation, connectedness, cross-functionality, capability, customer-centric and commitment, these are the traits that businesses should be looking at in their transformation.
“Within our Digital Platforms business, we are working with customers on the journey of 4IR to modernise, automate and transform businesses to ensure they can benefit from 4IR. We have to spend time. We, as Africans, were left behind in the last three industrial revolutions. There is no reason why we should be left behind in the fourth,” said Rajpal.
“We don’t want to wait for government to be able to help us. BCX has taken on the task to develop a department that will work together with higher education and our customers. Let’s do on-the-job training, let’s work with our customers and drive digital transformation.”
Some businesses have IT legacy systems that were built years ago, and that are an integral part of their infrastructure and culture but are not based on the open architecture systems needed to integrate with 4IR. For some, change will require a sea change in approach and a willingness to implement the necessary shift to be part of the 4IR journey. It will be a key challenge for, as someone recently put it, “How do you service a jumbo jet when it is in the air?”
The 4IR will be a continually evolving journey of innovation that has no fixed end point. Businesses and society should not approach it as a linear programme with a series of deadliness. It is a multi-layered transformation, a modernisation of the way we once did things, concluded Rajpal
“It’s vital for us not to think this is a sequential thing. That something must happen before we must invest, for example. We have to execute and do things in parallel. COVID-19 has shown us what is possible. It has proven that we as Africans have the infrastructure to transform quickly and effortlessly, for example, allowing people to work productively from home. We have the capability, and people are using the technology. There is no need for South Africans to wait. We will be dragged kicking and screaming into 4IR if we think this is something we have to wait to make happen.”
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