23 August 2019
Opening address by Deputy Minister Pinky Kekana: Experience Micro Focus Universe 2019, Johannesburg, South Africa
The world is changing more rapidly than at any other time in human history. We live in a fast, disruptive, technology-driven world where concepts like digital transformation and industry 4.0 have influence on everything we do as individuals, and in the shaping of our cities, countries, and the world.
The Internet of Things or IoT, mobility, cloud, big data, augmented reality, Blockchain, AI, Fintech, social media, etc are shifting companies, organisations and governments, to the next level of digital engagement and IT-enabled business processes, products, and services. Across industries, digital technologies are bringing about unprecedented transformation and radically changing our work and lives in ways we never anticipated.
Digital technology is integrated into every aspect of today’s businesses, and those businesses that fail to set an efficient digital strategy and maximize the impact of digitisation risk being left behind. Digital technologies transform industries in completely new ways, offering fundamental improvements in personalisation, efficiency, and safety. However, we have only started exploring the digital opportunities, digital transformation has only JUST begun. In the near future, as 4IR becomes more and more of a reality for us, digital innovations and initiatives will take us into new transformation phases, bringing exciting changes to our lives and reshaping the global economy.
Digital transformation relies heavily on the pace of human development. It is not a fixed concept. It is ever-evolving and swiftly evolving. I’m an avid reader of Jeremy Rifkin, a US economist, futurist, and sociologist, who has analysed the shifts in society due to technology, over a period of many decades, and has written extensively about this topic. He was one of the first to unpack the impact of digital technologies on major industrial shifts.
In his 2011 book, “The Third Industrial Revolution: How Lateral Power is Transforming Energy, the Economy, and the World” he writes about the 3rd industrial revolution, suggesting that revolutions essentially happen when there is a confluence of 3 new things, namely : new communications technology, new forms of energy supply, and new transportation mechanisms. His argument is that when these three processes mature, they will enhance their collective efficiency, and trigger a profound shift in our society. My question to you would be whether you would agree with his assessments and suggestions of the evolution of revolutions. I’ll leave you to ponder that!
Klaus Schwab, the founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, describes the 4th Industrial Revolution as it being “characterized by a range of new technologies that are fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds, impacting all disciplines, economies and industries, and even challenging ideas about what it means to be human”. These are collectively referred to as cyber-physical systems.
The drivers of 4IR have the potential to radically change our economic models, increase productivity, and improve our lives. As far as can be seen 4IR results from an increasingly quick digital transformation happening in the world, which brought us many evident benefits, and we are now in the next stage that brings us to the verge of a whole new set of important challenges, especially the issue of job losses, and the radical transformation of what we understand as work, and how that defines our identity as humans.
It is clear how the way we work and live has changed so much over the past few decades; this change will only increase in the coming months and years. In the first stage, 4IR will impact primarily the lives of manual operators and menial task workers, but job loss is expected to expand to all kinds of areas, at various times. This is a development that has sparked much public concern and that governments across the world, as a collective, cannot ignore or delay anymore.
According to a recent research by McKinsey, the sectors that will be mostly affected by Digital Transformation right now are Banking, Media and Entertainment, Pharma, Retail, Hospitality and Travel, Insurance and Public Sector. We have already seen the beginnings of this in reality, and I urge industries to prepare their employees for these eventualities. We need to do a better job at preparing our people, by awareness of the impacts, reskilling and upskilling.
The impact of digital transformation is not only economical. It also questions our existing culture and way of thinking, doing, communicating, and the governance and management models that we embraced over the last 200 years. At this point I want to raise the issue of women in this 4IR. Advancing gender equality is crucial to ensure a sustainable future. I want to highlight the word ‘crucial’ in that statement.
Hear this … If women, who account for HALF the world’s working-age population, do not achieve their full economic potential, the global economy will suffer. Think about it … if we let patriarchy get in the way of purpose, everyone suffers because you are not allowing 50% of the working population to contribute to an economy – that is like tying our hands up, on purpose.
So, my take on it is if there are no significant presence by women, there will be no success of our 4IR legacy. As we navigate the 4th Industrial Revolution, the challenge is urgent. I would like to believe that nobody marginalises women and specifically African women from the digital age and socio-economic benefits, but unfortunately it’s true!
Culture, tradition, and poverty have left women out of the internet revolution either by choice or involuntarily, and it is approximately 200 million African women across the continent that have been unable to reap the rewards of eCommerce, eLearning, DigiEducation, and even telemedicine. Access to information and value adds gives rise to making a living and living with dignity.
So, as you have panel discussions today, my challenge to moderators and panelists is this, ‘How do we ensure equal ACCESS to digital transformation? And, how can we increase access to skills, to ensure the previously and currently disadvantaged, specifically women and girls, are fully empowered to participate in this revolution and the ones to come.
This is a world filled with promise and opportunities but only if we overcome our challenges with intention and purpose. I wish you a good day of discussions and deliberations and I look forward to your response to my question about creating access and opportunities for all, through this game-changing thing we call Digital Transformation.