Members of 4IR commission hard at work

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 26 Aug 2019
Joseph Ndaba, CEO of the Mahikeng Innovation Hub and member of the presidential commission on 4IR.
Joseph Ndaba, CEO of the Mahikeng Innovation Hub and member of the presidential commission on 4IR.

The members of the presidential commission on the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) are working on a document that will provide a framework for implementation of a multi-sectoral 4IR strategy in SA.

This was the word from Joseph Ndaba, CEO of the Mahikeng Innovation Hub and member of the commission, speaking to ITWeb on the side-lines of the Oracle Systems Forum in Johannesburg last week.

Ndaba explained the commission has been busy since its establishment, engaging local firms and stakeholders to identify challenges and opportunities presented by the 4IR.

In April, the Presidency announced the 4IR commission, which comprises representatives of a cross-section of stakeholders, including the public sector, business, telecoms, academia and research institutions, finance and SMMEs.

The 30-member commission is mandated to advise government on 4IR policies, develop a framework for implementation of a multi-sectoral 4IR strategy, and coordinate, monitor and evaluate multi-sectoral initiatives that will position SA as a globally competitive player in 4IR.

President Cyril Ramaphosa chairs the commission, while professor Tshilidzi Marwala, vice-chancellor at the University of Johannesburg, serves as deputy chairman.

“As commissioner, my focus is on working on how we can reposition SA to positively respond to the requirements of the 4IR,” said Ndaba.

“Right now, 4IR is a buzzword but the question is: Do people and businesses understand what this revolution means and what impact it will have on us? How do we adequately prepare for it? How will it be affected by current policies?

“The establishment of the commission is our way of responding to the 4IR and working on the best way to provide 4IR plans, policies, strategies and initiatives, to move this country forward.”

The commission has assigned various work streams aimed at focusing on different aspects of the 4IR: infrastructure and resources; research, technology and innovation; economic and social impact; human capital, the future of work; industrialisation and commercialisation; and the policy and legislation work stream.

SA missed the first, second and third revolution, and therefore cannot afford to be left behind again during the fourth revolution, Ndaba warned.

“At the moment, we are busy engaging and meeting with businesses and stakeholders from different sectors, such as mining, agriculture and various other industries, to understand their focus and analyse the policies currently hindering their digital transformation strategies.

“As someone who is in the research, technology and innovation work stream, I work mostly with companies in the tech space, observing what they are doing in their digital transformation journey,” Ndaba added.

“The commission has committed to produce a 4IR blue print to guide SA’s 4IR vision in the next few months; therefore, we are looking at what SMEs require from government in order to be able to be active participants in the 4IR.”

Mark Walker, IDC associate VP for Sub-Saharan Africa, told ITWeb in April that the commission’s goals and priorities need to be strongly aligned to translate into a practical policy.

The next digital revolution, he added, is a very complex environment both technologically and strategically, with multiple stakeholders and possible outcomes. "A commission will hopefully help to navigate these wisely."

Trailing behind digital transformation

The members of the commission meet on a regular basis to provide feedback on their engagements with local firms and establish a roadmap towards developing SA’s 4IR strategy, noted Ndaba.

“The majority of local companies don’t have a set digital transformation strategy in place, which means most businesses will fail going forward.

“Some government departments are also falling behind; for instance, the Department of Correctional Services, the Department of Social Development and, in some instances, the Department of Home Affairs, are all still using a lot of paper. Government should be moving away from paper-based solutions, and part of our role as the commission is to provide direction on how this will be implemented.”

The commissioners are also identifying old legislative frameworks and policies that could hinder digital transformation within both the government and private sectors.

“The first thing we need to do is to release the 5G spectrum. The good thing is that the 5G policy is already out; now the important thing is for everyone to have access to it. The sooner we release the spectrum, the better for our country, and if we are still sitting on 3G and we don’t take advantage of 5G, then SA will never be able to march into the 4IR,” he concluded.