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Digital can deal with Africa’s legacy problems

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Many businesses are grappling with the challenges posed by digitalisation as fears mount on the impact on jobs and growth. However, this view overlooks the real economic value that a digital industry will bring, writes WILLIAM MZIMBA of Accenture.

However, this myopic view of the future comes with a significant risk as it overlooks the real economic value that digitally driven industry initiatives will bring to growth, development, jobs and society at large. While research has generally been scarce on exactly what this means in rands and cents, the World Economic Forum launched the Digital Transformation Initiative (DTI) in 2015, in collaboration with Accenture, to maximize opportunities for businesses and society stemming from digital technologies.

Since then the DTI has assessed how digitalization in 13 major industries is transforming business and wider society. This work has brought us into direct contact with more than 1,000 executives, policy makers and experts, who have helped uncover some key themes for ensuring the value of digitalization is captured by both business and society.

Thanks to this initiative it is now possible to more adequately determine how these initiatives can make an extremely positive contribution over the next decade if harnessed early enough.

While embracing something new is always hard to do and a desire to stick to your knitting is only natural, key role players in Africa must realise they are on the cusp of a real game changer and by embracing digital change in a strategic fashion they can leapfrog many legacy problems they face.

It certainly won’t happen overnight but the first step is for business, labour and government to understand the potential and to work together on making changes that matter.

Many are too quick to focus on the negatives as a reason for not taking action – for instance, estimates of global job losses due to digitalization range from 2 million to as high as 2 billion by 2030.

Could it be they have never actually been able to quantify the benefits in their sector? If that is so, a white paper by the World Economic Forum in collaboration with Accenture, throws considerable light on the potential value for industry due to digital transformation. To date, the research has confirmed that digitalization has immense potential: we estimate it could deliver around $100 trillion in value to business and society over the next decade.

There is therefore little doubt DTI represents an immense opportunity for new value creation and lead in the new, often against a backdrop of a stagnating market, regulatory pressures, or changing consumer preferences.

What is urgently needed, however, is a new framework for public-private dialogue, as we are still at the early stages of discovery about the true benefits of DTI. It is no use paying lip service to these realities and far more discussion and input is required from all stakeholders as this journey unfolds.

Breaking down traditional barriers to entry and expansion will be key and our DTI research across the automotive, consumer, electricity and logistics sectors estimates the value of DTI in the region of $8.4 trillion; and value for society of approximately $12.7 trillion, between 2016 and 2025.

Zoning in on a specific industry of critical importance to Africa – electricity – optimizing the grid to manage real-time supply and demand is worth $191 billion for electricity companies, while the value this could deliver to society is three times as much ($623 billion). This is derived from cost savings for customers (offering an incentive to postpone consumption during peak hours), lower fuel emissions and jobs created.

Nothing could be more important in Africa today than making a difference to broader society. The dialogue I mentioned above needs to take numerous realities into account if the benefits are to be realised. For instance, in many instances, digital initiatives are projected to deliver high value to business and society. This means that no intervention is likely needed to realize those benefits – industry has a clear incentive to act of its own accord. For example, omni-channel retail is likely to deliver such huge benefits to industry (estimated at $1.4 trillion) and to society (from a $5 trillion reduction in costs and productivity improvement, amounting to 300 billion hours saved), that there would appear to be little need for policy/regulatory intervention.

However, in logistics the value to society of shared warehousing is equivalent to approximately 500 times the value to industry. In the automotive industry, the value to society of automotive partners agreeing on usage-based insurance to help reduce road deaths, insurance premiums and crash costs is worth approximately 200 times the value to industry. This is where multi-stakeholder collaboration is needed and, potentially, new incentives required to change the direction of the market.

The bottom line is DTI needs to be used to augment and fast track growth, development and education in Africa, but this will require significant buy-in from all stakeholders. That journey needs to start today.

* William Mzimba, Chief Executive of Accenture South Africa and Chairman of Accenture sub-Saharan Africa

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Money talks and electronic gaming evolves

Computer gaming has evolved dramatically in the last two years, as it follows the money, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series.

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The clue that gaming has become big business in South Africa was delivered by a non-gaming brand. When Comic Con, an American popular culture convention that has become a mecca for comics enthusiasts, was hosted in South Arica for the first time last month, it used gaming as the major drawcard. More than 45 000 people attended.

The event and its attendance was expected to be a major dampener for the annual rAge gaming expo, which took place just weeks later. Instead, rAge saw only a marginal fall in visitor numbers. No less than 34 000 people descended on the Ticketpro Dome for the chaos of cosplay, LAN gaming, virtual reality, board gaming and new video games. 

It proved not only that there was room for more than one major gaming event, but also that a massive market exists for the sector in South Africa. And with a large market, one also found numerous gaming niches that either emerged afresh or will keep going over the years. One of these, LAN (for Local Area Network) gaming, which sees hordes of players camping out at the venue for three days to play each other on elaborate computer rigs, was back as strong as ever at rAge.

MWeb provided an 8Gbps line to the expo, to connect all these gamers, and recorded 120TB in downloads and 15Tb in uploads – a total that would have used up the entire country’s bandwidth a few years ago.

“LANs are supposed to be a thing of the past, yet we buck the trend each year,” says Michael James, senior project manager and owner of rAge. “It is more of a spectacle than a simple LAN, so I can understand.”

New phenomena, often associated with the flavour of the moment, also emerge every year.

“Fortnite is a good example this year of how we evolve,” says James. “It’s a crazy huge phenomenon and nobody was servicing the demand from a tournament point of view. So rAge and Xbox created a casual LAN tournament that anyone could enter and win a prize. I think the top 10 people got something each round.”

Read on to see how esports is starting to make an impact in gaming.

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Blockchain unpacked

Blockchain is generally associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, says ESET Southern Africa.

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This technology was originally conceived in 1991, when Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta described their first work on a chain of cryptographically secured blocks, but only gained notoriety in 2008, when it became popular with the arrival of Bitcoin. It is currently gaining demand in other commercial applications and its annual growth is expected to reach 51% by 2022 in numerous markets, such as those of financial institutions and the Internet of Things (IoT), according to MarketWatch.

What is blockchain?

A blockchain is a unique, consensual record that is distributed over multiple network nodes. In the case of cryptocurrencies, think of it as the accounting ledger where each transaction is recorded.

A blockchain transaction is complex and can be difficult to understand if you delve into the inner details of how it works, but the basic idea is simple to follow.

Each block stores:

–           A number of valid records or transactions.
–           Information referring to that block.
–           A link to the previous block and next block through the hash of each block—a unique code that can be thought of as the block’s fingerprint.

Accordingly, each block has a specific and immovable place within the chain, since each block contains information from the hash of the previous block. The entire chain is stored in each network node that makes up the blockchain, so an exact copy of the chain is stored in all network participants.

As new records are created, they are first verified and validated by the network nodes and then added to a new block that is linked to the chain.

How is blockchain so secure?

Being a distributed technology in which each network node stores an exact copy of the chain, the availability of the information is guaranteed at all times. So if an attacker wanted to cause a denial-of-service attack, they would have to annul all network nodes since it only takes one node to be operative for the information to be available.

Besides that, since each record is consensual, and all nodes contain the same information, it is almost impossible to alter it, ensuring its integrity. If an attacker wanted to modify the information in a blockchain, they would have to modify the entire chain in at least 51% of the nodes.

In blockchain, data is distributed across all network nodes. With no central node, all participate equally, storing, and validating all information. It is a very powerful tool for transmitting and storing information in a reliable way; a decentralised model in which the information belongs to us, since we do not need a company to provide the service.

What else can blockchain be used for?

Essentially, blockchain can be used to store any type of information that must be kept intact and remain available in a secure, decentralised and cheaper way than through intermediaries. Moreover, since the information stored is encrypted, its confidentiality can be guaranteed, as only those who have the encryption key can access it.

Use of blockchain in healthcare

Health records could be consolidated and stored in blockchain, for instance. This would mean that the medical history of each patient would be safe and, at the same time, available to each doctor authorised, regardless of the health centre where the patient was treated. Even the pharmaceutical industry could use this technology to verify medicines and prevent counterfeiting.

Use of blockchain for documents

Blockchain would also be very useful for managing digital assets and documentation. Up to now, the problem with digital is that everything is easy to copy, but Blockchain allows you to record purchases, deeds, documents, or any other type of online asset without them being falsified.

Other blockchain uses

This technology could also revolutionise the Internet of Things  (IoT) market where the challenge lies in the millions of devices connected to the internet that must be managed by the supplier companies. In a few years’ time, the centralised model won’t be able to support so many devices, not to mention the fact that many of these are not secure enough. With blockchain, devices can communicate through the network directly, safely, and reliably with no need for intermediaries.

Blockchain allows you to verify, validate, track, and store all types of information, from digital certificates, democratic voting systems, logistics and messaging services, to intelligent contracts and, of course, money and financial transactions.

Without doubt, blockchain has turned the immutable and decentralized layer the internet has always dreamed about into a reality. This technology takes reliance out of the equation and replaces it with mathematical fact.

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