Johannesburg, 30 Jun 2023
Businesses in South Africa need to move quickly to embrace emerging trends such as the fusing of digital and physical worlds, and exponential progress in AI.
This is according to Kgomotso Lebele, Managing Director at Accenture and Technology Lead for Africa, who was commenting on Accenture’s new Technology Vision 2023 report. The latest annual report highlights the theme: "When atoms meet bits". It outlines four key focus areas, including how digital identity is the catalyst for innovation, the importance of data transparency, the capabilities and opportunities of a new generation of AI and the acceleration of the feedback loop between science and technology.
Lebele notes that the Accenture Technology Vision report and forecasts are typically proven accurate, but says the timeframes involved have shortened. “In the past, we looked at trends that would shape organisations, governments and society over the next 10 years. For example, our 2013 Technology Vision report predicted that every business would become a digital business, and now everyone has digitised their processes. What we argue now, with the exponential change and adoption of new trends and technologies, we expect to see the changes we predict taking place in as little as two to four years,” he says.
Lebele believes all four trends and focus areas in the latest report will be felt in South Africa; however, digital identity is particularly relevant. “In a country like ours, with big gaps between those who have and those who don’t, it has been cautioned that unless we solve the digital identity problem, gaps will remain,” he says. The report notes that the market for digital identity is expected to swell from $27.9 billion in 2022 to $70.7 billion by 2027, with emerging forms of digital ID breaking down the walls that divide enterprises and people’s physical and digital lives. The report says “digital identity isn’t just about shoring up oversights of the past, but also future-proofing the enterprise for a world where data sharing and ownership is dramatically different”.
“It is very important from a South African perspective that we take digital identity very seriously,” Lebele says.
“The report also says that one of the biggest differentiators going forward will be transparency of data. Consumers need to be able to trust that organisations are protecting their data and using it responsibly. Therefore, we must build trust between organisations and customers, and within communities,” he says.
The report also notes that many of today’s emerging technologies have the potential to accelerate the science-technology feedback loop. Lebele says: “What has changed is how you move from information technology to operation technology and now to science technology, and how the three are integrated to drive dramatic opportunities and solutions.” According to the report, 83% of executives believe science-tech capabilities could help address societal grand challenges of health-related issues and diseases, while 75% believe science-tech capabilities could also help address poverty and inequality.
Another trend highly relevant to South Africa is the changing AI landscape, he says. “Large language models and generative AI that understand context and create content offer new opportunities. AI won’t take away jobs – it will in effect provide humans with ‘superpowers’. It will help improve productivity, support creators, help improve compliance and enable companies to become more innovative in sectors ranging from manufacturing to banking services. It will create jobs and opportunities – for example, you might not know how to code, but with the help of AI, you could offer your services as a website developer. I see it as an opportunity for us to create new jobs.”
South African organisations cannot afford to ignore the changing landscape, he says. “There was a time when organisations thought social media was a fad, and now it’s a crucial, multibillion-dollar industry. Now we see ChatGPT achieving 100 million new users in just two months, faster than any social media platform. Businesses must get ready for these trends. They must think about their strategy and architecture and invest in their people.”
To prepare to harness the emerging opportunities, Lebele says: “For individuals, if you have the foundations to start learning, you need to pivot, invest in yourself and learn to use the new technologies to stay relevant. The government needs to look at the curricula in schools to prepare our children, and it needs to ensure access to services. Private and public sector organisations must transform and reinvent themselves and have a clear strategy to align with trends and bring the physical and digital world together,” he says.