Industry 4.0

Africa needs to prepare for Industry 4.0


Africa is forever, going to be a source of raw materials and cheap labour unless there is sustained political will to empower its population–the youth–with information and communication technology, says IT expert Damian Muswere

“Most of Africa’s population is being left behind for good when it comes to embracing information technology, and such people can only be relevant as cheap labour in the not too distant future as Industry 4.0 takes over,” Muswere said in an interview with Leadership Magazine.

“The problem with Africa is poverty which alienates much of the population from gadgets such as computers and smart phones. The problem is worsened by the uncaring attitude of most African leaders whose priority seems to be the filling of their own pockets, and not the empowerment of their people. Unfortunately at the pace at which information technology is unfolding, most Africans are going to be left on the periphery of industrial development, and thus will be relevant only as cheap labour to be used where machines cannot be used.

“This also means that Africa will not be able to mine its own mineral resources and beneficiate them. Its resources will therefore continue to be mined by foreign companies, be processed outside Africa, thus creating jobs on foreign lands while Africa will continue to have the highest unemployment rate in the world,” Muswere said.

Muswere said for most of Africa, talking about business intelligence and office automation is jumping the gun as most of the population needs to be equipped with basic information technology literacy, starting with computer literacy and the ability to use smart phones. For this to succeed, the youth need to be empowered from school level by teaching them mathematics and science subjects so that they can be competent enough to study information technology at tertiary level, he said.

He said even countries like South Africa which were considered advanced by African standards, still lagged behind badly, as most of the children take maths literacy at school instead of proper mathematics. “They get to university already disadvantaged compared to their counterparts who would have studied proper mathematics,” Muswere said, adding that the saddest thing was that there seemed to be very little political will to correct this.

He said most African leaders were good at talking about things the populace wanted to hear, but they did not walk the talk. He felt corruption was endemic in Africa, and that resources meant for noble causes could easily be diverted to private pockets. Muswere urged African governments to stop worsening the cost of data by being greedy and charging unreasonable taxes on data because data was one of the cornerstones of information technology.

He said companies the world over were serious about office automation and business intelligence, and that those which did not embrace the two would get left behind in this world of cut-throat competition.

Office automation refers to the varied computer machinery and software used to digitally create, collect, store, manipulate, and relay office information needed for accomplishing basic tasks. Raw data storage, electronic transfer and the management of electronic business information comprise the basic activities of an office automation system. Office automation helps in optimising or automating existing office procedures and is necessary before a company can implement business intelligence systems.

Office automation can get many tasks accomplished faster. It eliminates the need for a large staff complement, less storage is required to store data and multiple people can update data simultaneously in the event of changes in schedule.

As Industry 4.0 takes root, smart new automation tools and technologies are rapidly changing the face of manufacturing and industry around the world. Without a concerted effort to change industry processes and infrastructure, and up-skill the workforce, South Africa which is comparatively advanced risks falling behind the world in its efforts to become a player in the global manufacturing market.

Commenting ahead of Africa Automation Fair 2019, which took place in Johannesburg in June, industry leaders said aligning with the global Industry 4.0 revolution would demand a great deal of change and progress in South Africa. A key priority has to be skills, they said.

Dave Wibberley, managing director at Adroit Technologies, noted that Industry 4.0 in itself is not a ‘silver bullet’ that will change manufacturing.

“Industry 4.0 refers to a set of tools and services. To be effective, these tools and services depend on the necessary resources and knowledge being in place in production processes. You need to achieve world-class manufacturing and tooling first,” he says.

Frikkie Streicher, business development manager at process instrumentation manufacturer, Vega, says a greater effort is needed to develop the automation engineering skills pipeline, to allow the South African industry to prepare for Industry 4.0:

“Automation engineering is not yet recognised as a separate field in South Africa. We need to step up our focus on automation engineering if South Africa is to achieve its ambitions of becoming a manufacturing giant in Africa,” Streicher said.

Annemarie van Coller, president of the Society for Automation, Instrumentation, Measurement and Control (SAIMC), says that while automation presents massive economic growth opportunities, it does threaten the current environment’s workforce structure.

“If you look at the current ‘triangle of training’, we have a small number of engineers at the apex, and a large number of artisans at the bottom. We need to invert this triangle, and produce a far greater number of engineers capable of supporting automation in future,” she says.

Business Intelligence (BI) is a set of methodologies, processes, architectures, and technologies that transform raw data into meaningful and useful information. It allows business users to make informed business decisions with real-time data that can put a company ahead of its competitors. Traditionally, core features like reporting and analytics have been the focus of BI technology choices, but as those features get commoditized, a whole new set of possibilities has emerged. Research has shown that technology is evolving and that enterprises on the cutting edge of these new trends can gain competitive advantage in their industries.

What is common across all BI solutions is that they utilise business data to support ad hoc and planned reporting and thus managerial decision making. Analysing sales trends and customer buying patterns are just two examples of analysis that can be done using BI software. Another defining attribute of all BI software solutions is that they need ICT to enable them. (Gendron, Michael S. Business Intelligence Applied)

According a book titled Theory, Systems and Industrial Applications, it is difficult for organisations to determine when and why ICT infrastructure should be built, and creating BI is just one reason to do so. The ICT value proposition is elusive, and, ironically, an organisation needs to create business intelligence in order to understand when and why ICT infrastructure should be built.

When deciding when and why to build an ICT infrastructure, an organisation should proceed in a planned way. Personnel with skills in a number of areas are required, and in fact the chief information officer (CIO), chief marketing officer (CMO), chief financial officer (CFO), chief operating officer (COO), and the chief executive officer (CEO) are but a few of the individuals who must be involved in determining when and why an ICT infrastructure should be built. ICT infrastructure is built to do everything, from supporting transaction processing to creating BI reports, and many other things in between, says the book which was jointly edited by Rausch, Peter, Sheta, Ayesh and Aladdin.

The purpose of business intelligence in a business is to help corporate executives, business managers, and other operational workers make better and more informed business decisions. Companies also use business intelligence to cut costs, identify new business opportunities, and spot inefficient business processes.

According to the book, 21st century business environments have become more complex and dynamic than ever before. Companies operate in a world of change influenced by globalisation, volatile markets, legal changes and technical progress. As a result, they have to handle growing volumes of data and therefore require fast storage, reliable data access, intelligent retrieval of information and automated decision-making mechanisms, all provided at the highest level of service quality.

Successful enterprises are aware of these challenges and efficiently respond to the dynamic environment in which their business operates. Business Intelligence (BI) and Performance Management (PM) offer solutions to these challenges and provide techniques to enable effective business change.

Advances in hardware and software technology enable the collection, storage and distribution of large quantities of data on a very large scale. Automatically discovering and extracting hidden knowledge in the form of patterns from these large data volumes is known as data mining. Data mining technology is not only a part of business intelligence, but is also used in many other application areas such as research, marketing and financial analytics.

For example medical scientists can use patterns extracted from historic patient data in order to determine if a new patient is likely to respond positively to a particular treatment or not; marketing analysts can use extracted patterns from customer data for future advertisement campaigns; finance experts have an interest in patterns that forecast the development of certain stock market shares for investment recommendations.

However, extracting knowledge in the form of patterns from massive data volumes imposes a number of computational challenges in terms of processing time, memory, band-width and power consumption. These challenges have led to the development of parallel and distributed data analysis approaches and the utilisation of Grid and Cloud computing.

According to Dominic Ienco, the advantages of cloud computing include high speed, meaning that valuable information and insights of cloud will be gained much faster, as big data will be analysed by computer machines. This will lead to time saving and consequently cost reduction, therefore increasing business’s profitability.

Companies which take advantage of business intelligence will stay on top of the industry.

According to Nathan Peterson of Middlesex, UK, cloud computing plays a major role in the simplification of BI. The Cloud is projected to be the de facto source for Big Data analytics in the coming years, while its low cost and extreme scalability is ideal for accessing BI from mobile devices. 

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