What is digital transformation? Why are we constantly being told that we are living in a digital revolution? How does it affect our lives? Books have been written about this, but to simplify—digital transformation is defined by Wikipedia as—“changes associated with application of digital technology to all aspects of human life”. Understand it or not, it already has, and will continue to change our lives daily.
You don’t believe me? Just a few examples; do you listen to music, or take photographs? Do you use online banking? Do you remember the days you had to go to a music shop and buy CDs, or take your film to a photo shop to get prints created of the photos you took? When was the last time you wrote and physically posted a letter to a distant friend or relative? These are some examples of how digitalisation is changing our lives daily on a personal basis.
In terms of business, what does it mean? It means the transformation of business processes—previously paper based—by capitalising on the opportunities offered by technology that connects people and machines with each other or with information.
It runs through every aspect of business practice, from finance, human resources, through to operations and technology, sales and marketing. An essential part of this transformation is the availability of efficient and fast network connectivity. As in our personal lives, with social networking, we expect—nay, demand—networks that enable us to communicate instantaneously with everyone, anytime and anywhere, to send and receive information, and access all of our applications and content at all times.
In Africa, and Malawi, we are seeing considerable investment in expanding connectivity, and this will continue for many years, as international (and some local) business look to capitalise on the African market. And believe me—the African market is a glittering prize for technology companies—with massive opportunities in health, education, development and the environment.
Whilst the market opportunities are high, there is also the opportunity for least developed countries to leapfrog the iterative process of technological development (just as we saw in internet network adoption) and adopt the latest and tested products for immediate benefit to the continent.
But we must also be aware of “digital colonisation” and prepare for this to ensure that the benefits of technology are retained in country. Examples of this do abound in Malawi, with international businesses importing a skilled workforce to maintain the services and products they offer.
Let us also not forget that digitalisation also opens up the global market to African business. There are two essential areas we must focus on to ensure maximum benefit to Africa and Africans. Firstly—a strong focus on ongoing skills development in the workforce is essential.
This has to be led by government and reflected in private enterprise in all areas. Africa has the advantage of a young and growing population and by 2034, the continent is expected to have a larger workforce than either China or India. Rwanda, Mauritius and a number of other African countries have led the way in this area—and the benefits are seen there in less than a decade, transforming their economies forever.
And more importantly we need far sighted, technologically aware and committed political leaders who will recognise and maintain momentum in our turbulent continent. Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda at the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa conference in Kigali put it very well.”The fourth industrial revolution builds on previous ones which largely passed Africa by.
As a result, our continent barely registers in global value chains. Africa can only claim its place at the table by earning it. Leapfrogging has its limits and we must remain mindful of the gaps that hold us back and be able to address them.
Africa should not still be playing catch up by the time the fifth industrial revolution comes around. If we can use this time together to look for ways to harness the fourth industrial revolution for everyone’s benefit based on the inherent dignity and value of each person then we really will have accomplished something useful.”