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SA must embrace innovation

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A recent survey has revealed that although we have the resources to innovate, we are not doing so, and if we do not begin to do so the consequences could be dire, writes WILLIAM MZIMBA, Chief Executive of Accenture SA & Chairman of Accenture Africa.

We are living in an era of abundance – we have all the resources required to solve humanity’s biggest challenges. The activating ingredient is the ability to innovate. However, in South Africa, the results of the Accenture’s 2017 Innovation Index show that we have not yet as a nation embraced innovation. If we don’t turn that around rapidly, the consequences will be dire.

South Africa faces key challenges such as poverty, low levels of education and employment, as well as an urgent need for economic growth. We still have more than seven million people in this country that go to bed without food. We have kids today that are not in the education system. We have adults and youth with no opportunity for employment. The status quo cannot prevail. We know that.

We also know that the rest of the world is not going to solve it for us, nor is the government going to do it for us. We have the resources, power, ability and capability to solve this together. But it is going to require new thinking.

Crowdsourcing solutions to global problems

I recently had the privilege of attending Peter Diamandis’ XPRIZE Visioneers Summit 2017 in Los Angeles – it represents some of the greatest crowdsourcing of innovation the world has ever seen – and a few things struck me:

  • We actually don’t have to think about our problems only within the confines of resources we have;
  • We have all the technology we need today to even mine comets; and
  • Through crowdsourcing we have access to the collective resources on this continent, including financial resources – it’s all we need to begin to solve the greatest challenges that we have.

However, we are collectively challenged: we haven’t yet as a nation understood that the Fourth Industrial Revolution has ushered in technologies that enable us to change the course of direction of humanity on this continent. If we don’t embrace these technologies and move at a speed, we are once again going to become the forgotten continent.

I believe that if we can collectively unleash the power of our collective genius – apply our resources and mind power, and leverage the available technologies – we can solve many of the challenges we face. This is the reason why year on year, since 2015, Accenture has run the Innovation Conference to ignite the ingenuity that we have within us and see how we can unleash innovation to solve the challenges we have on this continent.

Where are we falling short?

In a world of exponential potential and ability to grow and take giant leap steps, the Accenture Innovation Index shows that South Africa has moved ahead only a miniscule two points in its ability to innovate. We all talk about it, we all believe it’s important, we read the literature, we see what’s happening elsewhere in the world … but we fail to execute.

Our research shows that businesses agree that strategy is important, that there is a need for us to collectively and collaboratively go into an ideation process, that it is important for us to use data-driven innovation and open innovation for us to bring together a lot of ideas. But when it comes to prioritising those ideas and putting a budget behind them to get them to the execution space, we fail.

The biggest unicorns today – Airbnb, Alibaba, Google – are showing the way. These digitally-driven platform businesses have grown substantially in a very short time. Yet, as a nation, we still haven’t embraced the platform economy. We haven’t yet seen the need to disrupt our own businesses and to start operating on the basis of the value that can be derived from platform economics. Using open innovation in a collaborative way seeking to build businesses of scale requires us to adopt the key principles of platform dynamics.

Advantage of the platform

Platform businesses reflect a few fundamental characteristics. Key among them is that they adopt a differentiated value proposition, led by personalisation, analytics, big data, and market responsive pricing. I believe that this is the area of innovation for us.

When we think about the things that we need to innovate around, we should have at the centre of our thinking how we could begin to create platforms, because platforms, through their ability to scale, are going to allow us the opportunity to get to the growth trajectory that we need so desperately. They will also provide the ability to embrace ecosystems.

A great proposition, mass personalisation, responsive pricing, effective cyber protection, scaling their ecosystem and allowing the network effect to come together can, from today, help South African enterprises to start to migrate to a platform world. However, we are far from ready.

Ideas are worth nothing unless you are able to execute

Compared to G20 countries, South Africa ranks low in terms of platform readiness on the Innovation Index. This ranking was determined by the country’s digital user size and savviness, the entrepreneurship in our environment, our preparedness in terms of the technologies that will allow us to innovate, how open innovation is embraced in our environment and how the policy makers and regulators are enabling platform dynamics.

We need to take note. Innovation is fundamental within a platform economy but, to this world, ideas are worth nothing unless you are able to execute. We need to build that capability. How?

Accenture’s Innovation Architecture is built to take ideas to execution rapidly. It combines Research; a Venture component where we co-operate and coordinate a lot of initiatives with fintechs, insuretechs and startups; and our Accenture Labs where we prototype – we get ideas out of the starting block into something that people can see, feel and touch so that they can begin to understand how they can incorporate that into their processes. Once we have that, we can help our clients build it at speed, embed it and scale it.

However, we need to think about innovation in more than the conventional way.

Innovation is not just about invention

Steve Jobs did not invent the concept of a phone; he built a large platform for a something that already existed and perfected it.  He also got into the music business late, but today his $12 billion iTunes platform is the largest of its kind today. What did he see? He wanted to connect music producers with music consumers. He got into the middle.

This is the opportunity for us – to start to think about what exists out there and how we can repurpose it using our collective genius to come up with a market-defining innovation. Our challenges as a country and as a continent are large; incremental innovation is simply not going to get us there.

Alibaba offers another brilliant example. It is not just an ecommerce platform, it’s an infrastructure and a data company. This is its strength and future. It focusses on its big data capability, matching buyers and sellers on its platform and so offering ever more services on its platform. From the foundation of an ecommerce capability, it saw a great opportunity to connect people in the most rural of rural places in China with a huge market. It has the power to move goods from one place to the other – through Ali-pay it reduces friction in the value chain, and through its insurance offering that insures goods in transit it creates a trust equation between the goods producer and the buyer.

The insight? Alibaba has leveraged ‘exponentialising’ technologies in a combinatorial way to become – in just a few years – one of the largest enterprises today. We have the power to unleash the potential in this country in a similar way.

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Welcome to world of 2099

The world of 2099 will be unrecognisable from the world of today, but it can be predicted, says one visionary. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK met him in Singapore.

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Futuristic structures tower over the landscape. Giant, alien-looking trees light up with dazzling colours amid the hundreds of plant species that grow up their trunks. Cosmetic stores sell their wares via public touch-screens, with products delivered instantly in drawers below the screens.

This is not a vision of the future. It is a sample of Singapore today. But it is also an inkling of the world we may all experience in the future.

Singapore was the venue, last week, of the World Cities Summit, where engineers, politicians, investors and visionaries rubbed shoulders as they talked about the strategies and policies that would enhance urban living in the future.

As part of the Summit, global payment technologies leader Mastercard hosted a small media briefing by one of Singapore’s leading thinkers about the future, Dr Damian Tan, managing director of Vickers Venture Partners. The company’s slogan “We invest in the extraordinary,” offers a small clue to Tan’s perspective.

“We look as far forward as 2099 because, as a venture capital firm, we invest in the long term,” he tells a group of journalists from Africa and the Middle East. “Companies explode in growth because there is value in the future. If there is no growth, they won’t explode.”

The big question that the Smart Cities Summit and Mastercard are trying to help answer is, what will cities look like in the year 2099? Tan can’t give an exact answer, but he offers a framework that helps one approach the question.

“If you want to look at 81 years into the future, and understand the change that will come, you need to double that amount and look into the past. That takes us to 1856. The difference between then and now is the difference you can expect between now and 2099.”

Use the page links below to read about Tan’s vision of Soldiers and Health in 2099.

  •    Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube

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Win a Poster Heater with Gadget and Takealot.com

This winter Gadget and Takealot.com are giving away three Poster Heaters, which look like posters but become heaters when you plug them in.

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Three Gadget readers will each win a unit, valued at R550 each. To enter, follow @GadgetZA and @Takealot on Twitter and tell us on the @GadgetZA account how many Watts the heater consumes.

What’s the big deal about these heaters? Many of us are struggling to keep the balance between soaring electricity costs and the need to keep warm this winter.

However, the recently launched Poster Heater by EasyHeat and distributed in South Africa by Takealot.com is not only one of the most cost effective electric heaters currently on the market, it is also easy to setup and use.

As the name indicates, it is a poster similar to one you would hang on a wall. But, plug it in and it turns into a 300 Watt heater. The Poster Heater isn’t designed to heat hallways or large rooms, but rather smaller ones like a bedroom or a baby’s nursery or a dressing room.

It uses radiant heating, which means that it heats up in a couple of minutes and the heat is directed at the objects or people around it, quickly taking the chill out of the air and providing a comfortable ambient temperature.

The other advantage of radiant heating is that it doesn’t dry out the air like infrared or gas heaters. Users also don’t have to worry about their children or pets getting too close to it because, even though it gets hot, it can be touched.

To enter the competition follow the steps below:

Competition entry details:

1. Follow @GadgetZA and @Takealot on Twitter. (We will ONLY be accepting entries via Twitter, so please don’t enter through the comments section of this article.)

2. Tell us on Twitter, via @GadgetZA, mentioning @Takealot in your posting, how many Watts the Poster Heater consumes.

cleardot.gif3. The competition closes on 31 July 2018.

4. Winners will be notified via Twitter on 1 August and Takealot.com will be in touch to organise delivery.

5. The competition is only open to South African residents.

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