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SA’s SMEs must benchmark with BRICS peers in digital economy

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Sunil Geness, chairperson of the South African BRICS Business Council Deregulation Working Group.
Sunil Geness, chairperson of the South African BRICS Business Council Deregulation Working Group.

South African small and medium enterprises (SMEs) need to benchmark their success with peer countries in the BRICS community if they are to prosper in the digital economy, according to the South African BRICS Business Council (SABBC).

Speaking from Russia, Sunil Geness, who is representing SABBC at the BRICS XI International IT Forum, said technology will enable future growth in SMEs in South Africa and collaborations among the BRICS countries are important and must be encouraged.

“There is a big focus here on bringing the SMEs into the digital economy and leveraging the benefits of the fourth industrial revolution. Our representation and participation ensure South Africa has a voice among the developing nations in agenda-setting for the digital economy,” he said.

Geness is chairperson of the South African BRICS Business Council Deregulation Working Group. He is also former president of the Information Technology Association and played a vital role on the ICT Job Summit Task Team to get commitment from the industry to create 75 000 jobs in the next three years. He is a member of SAP's Global Digital Government team.

Tech catalyst

South African SMEs are already reeling under the fast-changing digital innovations, which are causing massive market disruptions.

The most recent research by Ricoh revealed SMEs in the country are in danger of falling victim to digital disruption, regulatory requirements and economic shifts that are fundamentally changing their markets. 34% of the 3 300 SME leaders surveyed from across 23 countries, including SA, said they will go out of business by 2020 if they fail to innovate in response to these changes.

Geness, who opened the IT for Development Exhibition with the deputy governor of Russian town Khanty-Mansisky, pointed out that in focus at the gathering was artificial intelligence (AI), which he urged businesses in SA to understand better.

He explained: “We have had bilateral discussions, talks on new technological developments, artificial intelligence, and technology transfers, which our people should take advantage of, even embarking on exchange programmes to learn some more on the innovations and how they will impact on their business. AI is important; if we learn we will be competitive across the world.”

The 11th conference of the BRICS and SCO countries focuses on digital transformation, smart cities, cyber economics and e-business, with 52 countries participating.

Geness explained the BRICS countries have all acknowledged the importance of technology that decides their future, and it is time for business, including SMEs, to set a clear direction in terms of participation in the digital economy, benchmarking and collaborations.

"It’s good that we have some business leaders who are here in Russia with us, who are witnessing how technology and innovation can assist them in their own markets. We advise that it’s time for businesses across South Africa to take a more active position and be part of the digital economy. We shall also be addressing harmonisation of the legal frameworks in the economic sector, with a key focus on the digital economy,” he said.

Further, Geness said: “We are also exploring ways BRICS and SCO countries can forge greater digital trade.”

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