New body to demystify space for business in SA

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The South African National Space Agency (SANSA) has launched ZASpace Inc, an inclusive community of business, government and academic institutions to exploit the benefits of space-based technologies.

According to SANSA, space technology has reached a point where almost every business can or does use it – often without even knowing it. “It’s no longer only relevant to the space industry – all this tech is now part of our everyday business life,” the space agency says.

It points out ZASpace is a broad-based industry forum designed to demystify space for business, while developing skills and funding innovation to propel the growth of the sector across the continent.

This as the convergence of Earth observation, space navigation and positioning, telecommunications and location intelligence is generating massive opportunities for companies in every sector.

According to ZASpace, observing the Earth, location and geospatial intelligence have rapidly gravitated to the core of digitisation and innovation.

“When we think of space, we generally think of Sci-Fi shows such as Star Trek, or humanity’s current plans to send manned missions to Mars. Most people don’t think about space as a business enabler, and yet that is exactly what it has become over the years,” says the organisation.

Geospatial intelligence

In fact, it adds, the geospatial intelligence domain across the world is set to grow exponentially as more and more business data is integrated with location information across enterprise-level functions.

This rapid rate of growth can be accredited to the continuous technology advancements in the industry, the democratisation of geospatial information and integration with advancing digital technologies, resulting in innovative business models.

Similarly, ZASpace notes, the Geographic Information System and spatial analytics market is expanding as it finds growing adoption in city planning, utilities management, e-governance, applications, the retail and logistic sector, disaster management and various other applications.

The African market for geospatial intelligence is estimated to be close to $12 billion by the end of 2020, a massive rate of growth relative to any emerging technology, the body says.

“However, our space sector remains highly fragmented, massively under-transformed and sub-optimally skilled and capacitated. Our levels of country readiness to truly benefit from these unprecedented growth rates need to be accelerated. The industry fabric required to facilitate structured investment in geospatial skills development as well as funding and incubation of geospatial innovation are not mature,” it adds.

Kamal Ramsingh, CEO of ZASpace, points out SA has had decades of missed opportunity, as the country outsourced and offshored technology needs.

“This has proved it’s a fallacy to assume the growth and transformation of the geospatial sector will be a natural consequence of increased demand for products and services. We require a deliberate strategy and committed execution to stitch together the vibrant industry fabric needed to capitalise on the promised growth – failing which, we will continue to export our demand to the many overseas firms with spare capacity and diminishing marketing growth rates,” Ramsingh says.

“This is why we felt the formation of ZASpace was essential, and why the time to put South Africa’s geospatial sector on the map is now. We believe ZASpace will not only provide a valuable tool to propel the growth of the sector across the continent, but will enable innovation, allowing us all to benefit from the opportunities that digital transformation and the fourth industrial revolution offer organisations at every level of our society.”

Innovation-based funding

The first of its kind in Africa, ZASpace says it will prioritise innovation-based funding for SMMEs and start-ups by creating opportunities for participation by private equity, venture capital and other funding institutions.

“ZASpace is of strategic importance to the future trajectory of the South African space sector. For the next five-year planning cycle, commencing 2020, South Africa will be charting a new strategic direction for our national space programme and ZASpace will be a critical partner in forging stronger public-private sector partnerships,” says Dr Valanathan Munsami, CEO of SANSA.

He adds the value of ZASpace was immediately apparent to stakeholders. Siyabonga Copiso, CEO of Amaya Space, which aims to launch SA’s first constellation of nano-satellites, pledged the use of the constellation to ZASpace at the launch event, and the Department of Trade and Industry also offered its backing, proposing to sit on the foundational ZASpace Working Committee.

The other members of the Working Committee include Charmaine Houvet from Cisco, Davis Cook from RIIS, Imraan Saloojee from SANSA, Pieter Coetzee from SelfTrack, Rebatho Madiba from Transnet, Robert van Zyl from Amaya Space, Seshan Krishnamurti from Dimension Data, Sives Govender from EIS Africa, Thuli Khanyile from NkaThuto Edupropeller, and Kamal Ramsingh from GeoInt.

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