Public sector ICT decision-makers urged to demystify 4IR

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Dr Puleng Makhoalibe, CEO of Alchemy Inspiration.
Dr Puleng Makhoalibe, CEO of Alchemy Inspiration.

If we are going to launch into the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) and create from that space, we need to establish a completely new supporting culture.

This is the word from Dr Puleng Makhoalibe, facilitator, published author and CEO of Alchemy Inspiration, delivering the keynote address at the Johannesburg chapter of the Public Sector ICT Forum this morning.

The event was hosted in hybrid form, with some attendees joining online and others in-person in Morningside, Johannesburg. The theme for the event was: “Accelerated digital transformation and inclusion as drivers for economic growth”.

During her talk, titled: “The alchemy of innovation and creativity for ICT leaders in the public sector”, Makhoalibe pointed out that organisations have leaders, employees, staff and teams that are very frustrated.

“We have people who are really feeling overburdened with big terminologies that we use as we transition into the 4IR space.”

Referencing a programme she is working on with ICT leaders in municipalities in the Eastern Cape, the creativity and innovation specialist said they aim to demystify 4IR and the “big terms” being touted.

“Let’s talk about the Internet of things in a way that is applicable to a farmer in the Eastern Cape, and have conversations about artificial intelligence with drivers, people who own car washes, and with people who are on the streets, and stop using these big words.

“Let’s demystify them and bring them to our context – reimagine them because that is innovation. Reframe them in ways that will allow us to communicate with one another.”

During this time, she revealed, there’ve been instances where some participants said they’ve been asked to implement cloud technologies when they don’t even know what cloud is, or where to even start. “How about we shift those conversations and harness the understanding of what is cloud, what does it mean in our context, what does it facilitate – how can we create, how can we use and how can it serve this future vision that we have in order to serve the public sector.”

Responding to Makhoalibe’s thoughts on demystifying ICT, Veronica Motloutsi, ICT and digital advisor to the minister of justice and correctional services, and board member of the Digital Council Africa, said this is very important in digital inclusion.

“We have created this world of terminologies and complexities; it’s about time that we start to simplify everything and to engage with the people we’re supposed to be really servicing. Simplify our language, our interactions as well as our engagement.”

Norbit Williams, director of ICT at the Department of Small Business Development, added: “Being able to move away from traditionalist to innovative IT, we find ourselves in a place where business as usual is now business unusual.

“For our SMMEs and entrepreneurs, the whole business model now needs to adapt and change. With that adaptability, it also means that from the perspective of tech houses, we need to be able to adapt the necessary technologies to suit the needs of small businesses and entrepreneurs because they need to keep up with what is happening within the greater world.

“The focus on SMMEs being the primary driver of our economy is paramount to aligning our economy to survive through the COVID period.”

Boxed innovation?

Makhoalibe invited attendees not to “box” innovation, as innovation can’t be defined. “If we could define it, then we would box it into a space.

“If we define it and say this is what it is…and this is how we define it and manifest it, we might just stop ourselves from being innovative,” she stated.

“Innovation has got to be innovative; it demands us to open part of our brain or a part of our perception that allows us to continually open and create new insights. We can’t box it in and say this is what innovation is, it has to keep changing.

“It’s more than just ideation, it’s more than experimentation, it’s more than just research and development and it’s more than just an improvement.”

Makhoalibe said innovation is not just about technology. “It’s not about deploying the next technology. Back then when we developed that first Web site for a country, for a bank or a ministry, it was amazing; it was something new and innovative. It was transitioning into a completely different space and existing in a different space…that’s no longer innovative.

“It’s not about just deploying another that works elsewhere into your context, and it’s not just about product or an organisation. It’s not a person or a department.”

Innovation has to be built as a capability and not just about building a department, and deploying those with degrees in innovation, who are going to drive strategy for the company.

“I have seen organisations building what they call an innovation department somewhere in the corner of the business…I think it’s got to be more than just that. It’s got to infiltrate the entire organisation and our way of manifesting whatever it is that we are manifesting on a daily basis more than just a select few who are equipped with tools to innovate.”

She concluded: “We in the world of innovation believe that if you spend a considerable amount of time understanding the context of a problem and getting to the bottom of the iceberg, and unpacking and understanding it from depth, that’s going to help you engage better with the problem and come up with the solution.”

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