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How digital skills boost economy

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A recent study by Accenture has shown that the smarter use of digital skills and technology could boost the global economic output by up to $2 trillion by 2020.

Optimizing the use of digital skills and technologies could generate $2 trillion of additional global economic output by 2020, according to a new study by Accenture (NYSE: ACN).  The study also reveals the vast role digital plays in economic activity, with more than one-fifth of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) attributed to some form of digital skills, capital and goods and services.

The Accenture Strategy report, Digital Disruption: the Growth Multiplier, provides a new and comprehensive measure of the scale of the digital economy in 11 major countries. It estimates the value added to GDP by hardware, software and related technologies and by workers who need these digital assets to do their jobs. It also calculates the value of intermediate digital goods and services used in production.

A little more than one-fifth (22 percent) of world output is linked to this digital economy of skills and capital. The US is the world’s most digital economy, with existing digital investments accounting for 33 percent of its output. Forty-three percent of the U.S. labour force and 26 percent of its accumulated capital are capable of supporting digital related activity. The digital economy in other markets varies from more than 30 percent in the UK and Australia to 13 percent in China.

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“Businesses and governments are turning to digital to secure faster growth amid an uncertain global economic outlook, but the size of the digital economy is no guarantee of growth,” said Mark Knickrehm, group chief executive, Accenture Strategy. “Organizations need to act aggressively in shifting the focus of their digital talent and technology from making efficiencies to creating entirely new business models. That requires not just greater digital investments, but broader organizational and cultural transformation in order to yield the greatest returns.”

The report states that in order to generate higher rates of growth, companies will need to improve their Accenture Strategy Digital Density score, which tracks the extent to which digital penetrates a country’s businesses and economy. This includes digital skills and technology, as well as broader enabling factors such as the ease of access to finance and the openness of a country’s regulatory environment.

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For example, a 10 point increase in the overall digital density of the U.S. economy would result in a $368 billion uplift to 2020 GDP, 1.8 percent higher than current forecasts. But Accenture Strategy calculates that an optimal combination of improvements to digital skills, capital and other accelerators could lift U.S. GDP by an even greater $421 billion by 2020, representing a 2.1 percent boost.   The countries with the greatest opportunity for improving their overall digital performance are Brazil (6.6 percent), Italy, (4.2 percent), China (3.7 percent) and Japan (3.3 percent).

The study shows how each national economy could best prioritize its extra efforts to achieve the greatest boost to revenues and economic output. For example, 70 percent of Brazil’s extra digital efforts should be focused on the improved application of technology, such as cloud and analytics, whereas greater efforts in digital skills would generate less of an economic return. In the US, however, just 10 percent of extra digital efforts need to be injected into technology, while a greater return will be gained from boosting digital skills and broader enabling factors.

Platform based models are the key to growth

According to the report, platform business models represent one of the greatest opportunities for digitally driven growth. These models allow organizations to create new markets and uncover value by bringing partners and customers together across a common digital platform. In many cases, platform players can enjoy strong growth without having to own or manage assets, helping them expand with low marginal costs.

While ‘born digital companies’ dominate the platform economy today, the Accenture Strategy report suggests  that traditional industry incumbents could be among the greatest beneficiaries of platform strategies by combining their customer reach and product portfolios with the networking power of the platform.

“The high growth rates experienced by many digital companies can now be enjoyed by traditional industry incumbents if they apply platform models to create an ecosystem of partners and customers in which they can offer new value added services,” said Bruno Berthon, managing director, Accenture Strategy.  “Companies need to shape their platform strategies and define their role as platform leaders or participants before aggressively forming partnerships that can deliver new value.”

The report recommends three broad actions that can improve the application of digital business models to drive higher levels of productivity and growth:

·         Prioritize digital investments based on value opportunities:  Assess carefully the balance of digital investments so that an optimal combination of improvements to skills and technology can maximize returns on digital investments

·         Compete using an industry-specific digital strategy: Be clear on which platform, what roles, and which data are fundamental to compete successfully in your industry.

·         Create the right environment for digital transformation: Improve your “digital IQ,” teaming with government to open up cross-industry relationships and change the rules of competition.

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Smart home arrives in SA

The smart home is no longer a distant vision confined to advanced economies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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The smart home is a wonderful vision for controlling every aspect of one’s living environment via remote control, apps and sensors. But, because it is both complex and expensive, there has been little appetite for it in South Africa.

The two main routes for smart home installation are both fraught with peril – financial and technical.

The first is to call on a specialist installation company. Surprisingly, there are many in South Africa. Google “smart home” +”South Africa”, and thousands of results appear. The problem is that, because the industry is so new, few have built up solid track records and reputations. Costs vary wildly, few standards exist, and the cost of after-sales service will turn out to be more important than the upfront price.

The second route is to assemble the components of a smart home, and attempt self-installation. For the non-technical, this is often a non-starter. Not only does one need a fairly good knowledge of Wi-Fi configuration, but also a broad understanding of the Internet of Things (IoT) – the ability for devices to sense their environment, connect to each other, and share information.

The good news, though, is that it is getting easier and more cost effective all the time.

My first efforts in this direction started a few years ago with finding smart plugs on Amazon.com. These are power adaptors that turn regular sockets into “smart sockets” by adding Wi-Fi and an on-off switch, among other. A smart lightbulb was sourced from Gearbest in China. At the time, these were the cheapest and most basic elements for a starter smart home environment.

Via a smartphone app, the light could be switched on from the other side of the world. It sounds trivial and silly, but on such basic functions the future is slowly built.

Fast forward a year or two, and these components are available from hundreds of outlets, they have plummeted in cost, and the range of options is bewildering. That, of course, makes the quest even more bewildering. Who can be trusted for quality, fulfilment and after-sales support? Which products will be obsolete in the next year or two as technology advances even more rapidly?

These are some of the challenges that a leading South African technology distributor, Syntech, decided to address in adding smart home products to its portfolio. It selected LifeSmart, a global brand with proven expertise in both IoT and smart home products.

Equally significantly, LifeSmart combines IoT with artificial intelligence and machine learning, meaning that the devices “learn” the best ways of connecting, sharing and integrating new elements. Because they all fall under the same brand, they are designed to integrate with the LifeSmart app, which is available for Android and iOS phones, as well as Android TV.

Click here to read about how LifeSmart makes installing smart home devices easier.

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Matrics must prepare for AI

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By Vian Chinner, CEO and founder of Xineoh.

Many in the matric class of 2018 are currently weighing up their options for the future. With the country’s high unemployment rate casting a shadow on their opportunities, these future jobseekers have been encouraged to look into which skills are required by the market, tailoring their occupational training to align with demand and thereby improving their chances of finding a job, writes Vian Chinner – a South African innovator, data scientist and CEO of the machine learning company specialising in consumer behaviour prediction, Xineoh.

With rapid innovation and development in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), all careers – including high-demand professions like engineers, teachers and electricians – will look significantly different in the years to come.

Notably, the third wave of internet connectivity, whereby our physical world begins to merge with that of the internet, is upon us. This is evident in how widespread AI is being implemented across industries as well as in our homes with the use of automation solutions and bots like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. So much data is collected from the physical world every day and AI makes sense of it all.

Not only do new industries related to technology like AI open new career paths, such as those specialising in data science, but it will also modify those which already exist. 

So, what should matriculants be considering when deciding what route to take?

For highly academic individuals, who are exceptionally strong in mathematics, data science is definitely the way to go. There is, and will continue to be, massive demand internationally as well as locally, with Element-AI noting that there are only between 0 and 100 data scientists in South Africa, with the true number being closer to 0.

In terms of getting a foot in the door to become a successful data scientist, practical experience, working with an AI-focused business, is essential. Students should consider getting an internship while they are studying or going straight into an internship, learning on the job and taking specialist online courses from institutions like Stanford University and MIT as they go.

This career path is, however, limited to the highly academic and mathematically gifted, but the technology is inevitably going to overlap with all other professions and so, those who are looking to begin their careers should take note of which skills will be in demand in future, versus which will be made redundant by AI.

In the next few years, technicians who are able to install and maintain new technology will be highly sought after. On the other hand, many entry level jobs will likely be taken care of by AI – from the slicing and dicing currently done by assistant chefs, to the laying of bricks by labourers in the building sector.

As a rule, students should be looking at the skills required for the job one step up from an entry level position and working towards developing these. Those training to be journalists, for instance, should work towards the skill level of an editor and a bookkeeping trainee, the role of financial consultant.

This also means that new workforce entrants should be prepared to walk into a more demanding role, with more responsibility, than perhaps previously anticipated and that the country’s education and training system should adapt to the shift in required skills.

The matric classes of 2018 have completed their schooling in the information age and we should be equipping them, and future generations, for the future market – AI is central to this.

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