The pandemic has presented the ICT sector opportunities to drive and imbed a true, lasting, and effective digital transformation in South Africa, writes Jonas Bogoshi
With worst of the storm and hard knocks of the pandemic almost weathered, the technology and information industry must, and, indeed, is already working towards guiding their customers on the journey from the urgent sprint for immediate solutions, to a deeper awareness of their needs, situation and aims in a post-Covid-19 world.
The pandemic has presented the ICT sector opportunities to drive and imbed a true, lasting, and effective digital transformation in South Africa. We have looked after the patients, our customers, during the early emergency days. How we manage them on the path to and during the Covid-19 recovery will be the differential that defines us, not only as an industry, but as individual companies.
The ICT market showed resilience during 2020 after a year of good growth in 2019, but a December 2020 International Data Corporation (IDC) report found that the Covid-19 economic lockdowns will have a “profound impact on the South African ICT market for years to come”. There was resilience in spend on IT, but projects suffered as enterprises opted to ensure continuity of their levels of service.
It was a tightrope walk for many: balancing a planned future with the unknown of the present of the pandemic. Investing in the now, and the capabilities to fight the hit of an economy already in a hard place with more to come, while also considering the necessity of the future digital transformation they desire and need.
And yet, those positions were not diametrically opposed during the pandemic. They were needed and have established opened doors of understanding and established lines of partnerships that will serve the ICT industry well in our recovery.
The ICT market grew 6.1% in 2019, the move from project-based to management services already underway. Even before the pandemic hit, we saw a trend for customers to outsource to service providers to negate the risk of the outlay of capital expenditure on developing their own systems.
It makes sense. It is a trend that will not only continue to grow but will increasingly become the norm.
A quick scan of the IDC numbers up until 2024 sees a compound annual growth rate on IT spend of 3.5% over the period from 2020-2024. That relates to R131,141.69-million in 2024. It’s a downgrade, but it need not be so.
The opportunities for the industry, an expected shift in Rand-dollar exchange rates, the will of Government for a digital future and the wealth of South African expertise available positions us perfectly to come out of the pandemic a stronger industry and a better country.
Above and beyond all else, it will require the ICT industry to have a greater awareness of the customer. Having the technology and the solutions is the perfect start, but it is only a start.
Knowing what they need, how they have fared during the pandemic, what they want to achieve, their supply chain and workplace hurdles and, most importantly, how their customers are changing and what they require, will define the solutions they require and what we offer.
As the IDC reported, hybrid infrastructure is the “new normal”, one of many new normals we have spoken about. Integrating multiple cloud services and being more flexible and agile to ensure capability combined with increased security. Embracing innovation, from AI to IoT and machine learning, is a big step for many because of the skills and specialisation they require.
The way South Africans have embraced the cloud is heartening, particularly public services, a vital sector of everyday life that could benefit exponentially from a shift to data and a system that is instantly and always accessible by themselves and their users.
There is a demonstrable will by President Cyril Ramaphosa to digitally transform the country, and the possibilities and realities of cloud integration offer many advantages. Greater efficiencies, co-ordination within and across public departments that would result on the necessary cost savings government requires and needs.
Cloud use aligns with the objectives of the National Development Plan in improving the delivery of services to all, not just those with access. We are moving from a zero-cloud mindset to hybrid, multiple-cloud solutions that are agile and able to deal with the challenges of managing a country that should be at the forefront of digital transformation in Africa.
All of this must come with an understanding of a global political and economic landscape that is volatile and uncertain. Relationships between the United States and China, and what that means for the supply and development of technology and chips, to name perhaps the most important one.
What role can India and China play in their forages into Africa, and what will it bring with its continued investment into ICT, particularly in terms of hyperscalers, WOAN, 5G, FTTH, etc?
BCX has seen a lot in the technology industry in our 25 years, which we celebrate in 2021. When we started, most of Africa had no internet and Apple was a company in decline.
We have seen so much since then and been an integral part of the transformation of companies in our country. As an ICT company and sector, we have moved from “have you switched it off and switched it on again” to “are you ready to recover?” South Africa, we believe, is.