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Tech change drivers to push economic growth in MICT sector

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Professor Barry Dwolatzky, director of the Joburg Centre for Software Engineering.
Professor Barry Dwolatzky, director of the Joburg Centre for Software Engineering.

While economic growth is sluggish in the local media and ICT (MICT) sector, five key technology change drivers will play a significant role in driving growth in the sector in the next year.

This was the word from professor Barry Dwolatzky, director of the Joburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE), speaking last week at the announcement of the 10th edition of the South African ICT Skills Survey results.

Dwolatzky provided an overview of the MICT sector and highlighted the key technology trends, or change drivers, that are expected to push economic growth in the sector. These include cloud computing, Internet of things (IOT), virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), big data analytics, information security, artificial intelligence (AI) and vendor programmes.

He also emphasised the shift from scarce and critical skills to hard-to-fill-vacancies, as published in the MICT SETA Sector Skills Plan 2018 report.

“The MICT sector is estimated to have a combined GDP exceeding R300 billion – almost 10% of the national GDP,” explained Dwolatzky.

“While the sector contributes positively to the GDP, economic growth has been lagging. The film and electronic media, as well as the electronics sub-sectors, have been vibrant; however, the other sub-sectors have not performed as they might have been expected to.”

The MICT sector is made up of almost 29 000 companies spread across five subsectors. About 50% of the sector employer base consists of organisations in the IT sub-sector, followed by telecommunications with 18%, electronics with 14% and advertising with 11%. Contributing the least from the sectors is the film and electronic media with 7%, he noted.

“There is also a general perception that there has been an adverse trend on the MICT labour market, with employer data submitted in 2018 reflecting employment at 193 604, down from 238 785 people employed in 2017.”

The 10th edition of the South African ICT Skills Survey, carried out by the JCSE at Wits University, in partnership with the Institute of Information Technology Professionals South Africa, reveals the fourth industrial revolution has not yet had a significant impact on the South African ICT skills landscape, with skills associated with the current set of emerging technologies, such as AI, IOT, blockchain, automation, data science and programming, found to be the scarcest.

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“The MICT sector in SA is an important cog of the national economy. The sector is increasingly operating in an ever-changing environment where new trends are emerging all the time. That means gaps exist for old technologies where new entrants lack such skills, as well as for all the new technologies being rapidly introduced,” said Dwolatzky.

With SA pushing to be an e-skilled economy as outlined in the National Development Plan, Vision 2030, Dwolatzky noted: “Cloud computing is a key driver of digital transformation in SA. It is a disruptive delivery model of IT services based on a business model that is flexible and on-demand.

“The manner in which cloud computing evolves puts pressure on skills development, not only in SA, but globally. For example, cloud computing has been taken to another level where, instead of deploying the software on the application, experts have a new type of technology called Kubernetes. People with the skills to design and deploy such technology are in high demand and are often poached by global companies.”

A study by the International Data Corporation reveals that in SA more than 90% of organisations are either already engaged in developing these skills, or are in the process of planning for development of such skills.

“The IOT is another change driver in the MICT sector that comes with the fourth industrial revolution. The IOT will continue to grow as the cloud computing and cloud apps offering space expands in the coming years. In certain industries, the emergence of IOT technology is likely to result in job losses as certain processes performed by humans are automated through Internet connectivity.“

With continuous efforts to solve social and economic problems daily, lines between VR and AR are becoming increasingly blurred, he continued.

“Although experts highlight that with AR and VR, new skills sets will become available without the need for qualified professionals to always be physically present, there will be increased demand for multimedia designers who can develop AR and VR functionality.”

Increasing digitisation has come with greater security risks and the supply of cyber security experts is lagging not only in SA but globally.

“Given the increasing dependency on ICT systems, and the growing complexity of connected environments, there is strong demand for and diffusion of software and tools to ensure IT systems security at all levels. South African organisations are experiencing challenges with cyber crimes. Law enforcement agencies currently lack the ability to swiftly investigate and prosecute these crimes, whilst organisations have to constantly improve their security features to fend off potential attacks.”

He referenced a report published by PwC, which revealed that about 19% of local organisations have had to spend up to 10 times as much on cyber security investigations as they do on technology solutions.

The significant demand for improving or adding to ICT skills is also highly pinned on vendor programmes, he continued.

“Vendor programmes are usually short courses offered by software and hardware companies and designed to introduce new technologies to those already in the industry. However, vendor programmes can be longer courses that include generic skills and may be offered by TVET colleges and HEIs,” he concluded.

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