Johannesburg, 30 Nov 2023
Doing business in South Africa comes with a side serving of challenges – as anyone who does business here knows. But South African business owners are also courageous and resilient, and technology is helping them thrive in a post-pandemic world.
South Africa is one of the most entrepreneurial countries in Africa, with businesses optimistic despite the difficult conditions of the past few years. A recent report entitled: ‘Small Business, Big Opportunity’, revealed that confidence in South African small to medium-sized businesses is 10% higher than the global average, and that most of these enterprises expect both their employee numbers and revenue to increase this year.
“South African businesses are incredibly agile and have demonstrated their ability to navigate multiple challenges time and again,” says David Farquharson, founder and CEO of iONLINE ISP, a South African-born company that provides global private LTE/5G IOT connectivity solutions. “By incorporating technology as a cornerstone for progress, South African businesses can and will become global leaders.”
Accelerating the tech uptake
Technology, and the many opportunities it enables, is set to fuel business growth. In fact, the ‘Small Business, Big Opportunity’ report said business owners see technology as a crucial part of their success. Nearly half of the South African small and medium businesses surveyed said they intend to increase their current investment in technology – specifically into areas like 5G, artificial intelligence and robotics.
Accelerating the implementation and use of digital technologies will help to create jobs and boost economic growth in the country and will also unlock new opportunities outside of it.
“Broadening access to digital technologies opens up enormous potential for businesses,” says Farquharson. “Some industries have only just begun to explore the vast possibilities that technology, connectivity and the internet of things (IOT) herald. As far as possible, we need to leverage digital technology to enable smarter enterprises. In today’s world, every business is a tech business; every business is built on and powered by technology. And connectivity underpins all of that. Connectivity is the foundation for agility and adaptability. It is what grows your market share and customer base, and it's how you unlock profitability and achieve scale.”
A connected economy
With technology being so crucial to economic growth in South Africa, just how open are businesses to it, and how connected is the population?
Africa as a continent has embraced technology, with internet penetration increasing from 1% in 2000 to around 40% currently. In South Africa, the current rate of penetration is 78%, according to Statista, but is projected to reach 98% by 2028.
One sector that is doing particularly well when it comes to embracing technology is logistics and supply chain, where the use of drones, mobile phone apps and distributed ledger technology in the form of blockchain is driving innovation. Technologies like cloud, IOT and machine learning are further fuelling this growth. The healthcare sector is experiencing a similar revolution, kick-started by the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw the availability and popularity of telehealth services surge. During lockdown, these services met a very real need, and patient care was made easier thanks to supporting business and administration services like electronic record-keeping and paperless data, which are heavily dependent on technology and secure connectivity.
While South Africa is one of Africa’s leaders in terms of the digital economy, it falls short of more developed countries. The goal of the Digital Economy for Africa Initiative, launched in 2018 through a collaboration between the African Union and the World Bank, is to ensure that every individual, business and government in Africa is digitally enabled by 2030. The digital economy for Africa targets laid out for South Africa, although ambitious, are within reach – if the current momentum is maintained.
“The full potential of technology and connectivity is yet to be unlocked – we've only scratched the surface of what could be achieved. In this digital age, the possibilities are infinite,” says Farquharson. “Imagine a South Africa where every business owner, no matter how remote their business, has the power of global connectivity at their fingertips to build and expand their business. Imagine the growth and transformation we would see!”