Generative AI in the SA economy: An AWS perspective

By Tracy Burrows, ITWeb contributor.
Johannesburg, 10 Apr 2024
Chris Erasmus, country GM, AWS SA.
Chris Erasmus, country GM, AWS SA.

AI and specifically generative AI has become a huge focus point for South African businesses, and may even be a catalyst for businesses moving to digital maturity.

This is according to Chris Erasmus, Country Manager, South Africa at AWS, who spoke ahead of the ITWeb AI Summit, scheduled for 25 April 2024. AWS is the lead sponsor of the event.

Erasmus said, “Globally, and in South Africa specifically, generative AI is the most prominent topic on the lips of our customers today. They want to understand what is needed to properly adopt it, and how they can leverage it to drive value.”

He said the most mature customers who have their cloud houses in order are able to leverage generative AI fastest, but he noted the will to adopt generative AI has prompted less digitally mature companies to transform. Generative AI has become the forcing function that makes companies more mature, since they need optimal cloud environments and robust data strategies in place first, to harness generative AI, said Erasmus.

While demand has grown – building, training, and running generative AI could come at a significant cost. It requires extensive compute, storage and networking resources and skills that are hard to find.

AWS addressed these challenges by helping customers transform, and democratising AI to enable any company to become an AI company, Erasmus said. He said the AWS approach has four key components: model choice, the ability for customers to securely customise models with their own data, easy to use tools that enhance employee productivity, low cost, and low latency.

“Model choice is paramount, choosing the right model for the right use case is crucial, since no one model suits every use case,” he said. “It is also vital that organisations have the ability to securely customise the models with their own company data, as opposed to using data that is out in the open. The tools need to be easy for employees to use, and organisations need low cost and low latency to return responses quickly. AWS and our partners make it easy for organisations to build and scale generative AI, customised for their own data, use cases and customers.”

Erasmus said AWS democratises generative AI through its advanced infrastructure, cloud storage, accelerated computing portfolio and AWS technologies that simplify, fast track and reduce the costs of generative AI development.

Addressing possible security and compliance concerns, Erasmus said, “With AWS, you inherit our privacy and security best practices. You’re bringing the model to your own environment, where you can secure it and control access. We help to implement guardrails and tooling to lock it all down. Data security isn’t limited to generative AI; it is a key part of the broader data strategy. We spend a lot of time working with customers to ensure responsible adoption.”

AWS tools for generative AI democratisation

AWS enables responsible, reliable, and trustworthy generative AI for organisations across three layers, Erasmus said. AWS has purpose-built infrastructure to run AI workloads, and tools and pretrained foundation models for customers to build and scale AI with managed services to leverage AWS or partner models.

“We take away the heavy lifting, the need for extensive skilled resources to train models, and the cost and compute power required. Further up the stack or we provide applications with built-in generative AI,” said Erasmus.

He provided examples of AWS tools best suited to help bring businesses into the generative AI revolution:

  • Amazon Bedrock is a fully managed service that offers a choice of high-performing foundation models (FMs) from leading AI companies like AI21 Labs, Anthropic, Cohere, Meta, Mistral AI, Stability AI, and Amazon via a single API, along with a broad set of capabilities needed to build generative AI applications with security, privacy, and responsible AI.
  • Amazon SageMaker allows organisations to build, train, and deploy machine learning models for any use case with fully managed infrastructure, tools, and workflows.
  • Amazon PartyRock, described as the Amazon Bedrock playground, is a fun generative AI app-building experimentation zone where anyone can learn the techniques and capabilities needed to take full advantage of generative AI, including experimenting with various foundation models, building intuition with text-based prompting, and chaining prompts together.
  • AWS provides powerful applications, like Amazon Q and Amazon CodeWhisperer, to help boost productivity, streamline coding, and simplify business intelligence.

Transforming SA business

Erasmus said leading South African enterprises and innovators have been harnessing AWS infrastructure and tools to deploy generative AI in a range of use cases, ranging from startups to retail to financial services and other industries, to name a few.

Erasmus provided some key examples of AWS customers turned generative AI innovators:

TymeBank makes extensive use of AI, which made it possible for customers to onboard in under five minutes. The onboarding process is completely digital and paperless, verification is done using Machine Learning (ML). TymeBank also has a separate financial education app called TymeCoach, which helps users make better decisions with their money. The app has a chatbot which uses AI to answer financial management queries and provide clients with their credit report information., a MLOps consultancy founded in 2019 to make AI frictionless, joined the AWS Equity Equivalent Investment Program in 2022,where they gained access to the AWS Partner Transformation Program(PTP), headcount funding, market development funding and AWS training and certification. Melio AI specialises in designing and building data analytics, data science, and machine learning solutions.

Pick n Pay moved away from a managed service model and migrated its ecommerce, data analytics systems, and mobile customer application to AWS, giving the retail giant increased agility, improved performance, reliability, and cost savings. The success of the migration also led the company to move their SAP Business Warehouse systems to certified AWS X1 instances.

Erasmus noted that the sky's the limit for generative AI use cases. “Just about any industry or use case is possible. We are seeing it transforming customer experience, making call centres more interactive, and simplifying the drafting of documents,” he said.

In South Africa, he said this technology has transformed language translations within apps, making them more accurate and more aware of their context. It has improved conversational chatbots to support the underbanked, simplified legal documents, and provided students with flexible and interactive ways to learn. For entrepreneurs and innovators, businesses like AWS have removed barriers to entry in terms of access to infrastructure and tools so they can take advantage of the potential of generative AI.

Erasmus will deliver a keynote at the ITWeb AI Summit, entitled ‘A leader's guide to generative AI’. He will highlight trends and considerations, and how lessons learned from past technological shifts can inform successful adoption of generative AI today.

The ITWeb AI Summit 2024 will be held at The Forum in Bryanston on 25 April. For more information, and to register for this event, visit