by Shannon Manuel

Industry 4.0

A digitally connected world

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Industry 4.0 is widely seen as the gateway to a world of opportunity and collectively describes the innovative technologies that integrate digital technologies and artificial intelligence (AI) in industries globally

South Africa stands on the threshold of opportunity, with enormous potential for accelerated social and economic transformation. Paramount for the nation will be the prioritisation of investment in information and communication technology to enable it to embrace the next wave of digitalisation in the form of the Internet of Things (IoT) and the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

IoT has already changed our world. In the future, anything that can be connected will be and every machine will be connected with the aim to improve lives and positively impact businesses. Global predictions vary, with the expectation of anything from 12 billion to 30 billion IoT devices being connected to the Internet by 2020.

South Africa is very rapidly entering into a dynamic technological era, and the increase in connected devices will benefit a wide range of industries and vertical sectors, including manufacturing, transportation, oil and gas, utilities, the government, healthcare, sports and entertainment and education in terms of increased efficiency and reduced costs.

Digital transformation is generating a fierce debate among policymakers, economists and industry leaders about its societal impact. As digitalisation disrupts society ever more profoundly, the concern is growing about how it is affecting issues such as jobs, wages, inequality, health, resource efficiency and security.

An event tackling these debates is the Internet of Things Forum Africa, taking place on 26 to 27 March in Johannesburg. Abe Wakama, the CEO of the African Innovator Group, publishers of IT News Africa and African Innovator Magazine provides his insights. A speaker at the forum, his focus will be on how IoT is not only helping companies improve cost efficiencies, product quality and service levels, but driving completely new revenue streams and business models.

“With IoT, we now have the ability to measure, sense and see the exact condition of practically anything. People, systems and objects can communicate and interact with each other in entirely new ways. There is no question: the Internet of Things is here and we cannot ignore it, however, there are major threats such as security and privacy,” he says.

Wakama explains that the goal of the forum is to bring together all the major players in the ecosystem to discuss the opportunities and challenges that IoT presents and, ultimately, encourage the adoption of this game-changing technology by public and private players.

“The forum will serve as host to a number of industry leaders. We are going to have a keynote presentation by Johanna Juselius from Helsinki Smart Region in Finland. Johanna is a Senior Adviser on the project and is set to give us some valuable insight into what they are doing to make not only the city but the whole region smart.

That’s one presentation not to be missed as I’m sure many African cities will learn a lot about how to improve service delivery with technology,” he says.

For Wakama the term “Internet of Things” means “possibilities”. “The ability to connect to “things” and glean insights to improve the way we work, live and do business is mindblowing.

The Internet of Things has the potential to positively impact many of the challenges this continent faces—be it in healthcare, agriculture, energy, transportation or even monitoring water usage in Cape Town—the potential of IoT is truly limitless.

“I view this as an exciting and scary time with the Fourth Industrial Revolution phenomenon and the creation of new technologies, as we are all yet to fully understand how technology trends such as IoT, AI and robotics will impact all of us.

“Will these new technologies make some professions redundant, will AI and robotics cause unemployment, how do we prepare our children for the future? How will we know when we’re interacting with a machine or a human? With all this data floating about, what about security and privacy concerns? Should there be ethical standards or regulation for healthcare wearable devices, for instance? These are all questions that make the prospect of the Fourth Industrial Revolution daunting and immensely exhilarating,” he explains.

Wakama says that IoT will have an impact on many key sectors but that the healthcare sector is one area that it will definitely transform exponentially. “From tracking bed occupancy in hospitals, remote health monitoring, tracking staff and patients…to pills containing microscopic sensors that can send signals to external devices—the possibilities are truly endless.

“In terms of its general benefits and opportunities across all sectors, the primary benefit of IoT is that it infuses efficiency and increases productivity. IoT now allows us, with the help of sensors placed in production systems, assembly lines and vehicles, for instance, to monitor the flow of operations remotely and improve product performance. With near real-time information gleaned from sensors and IoT systems, we can gain in-depth insights into the performance of systems and processes, allowing us to adapt and innovate quickly, or even anticipate potential problems and take action accordingly.

He further explains that IoT will impact how we live and interact with our environment. “Quality of life will definitely improve. With smart water meters, smart traffic signals that adjust to traffic volumes, energy-efficient buildings and smart city lighting that contributes to crime prevention, the social impact will be felt by all,” says Wakama.

Where he sees IoT having an impact on infrastructure growth is in the area of monitoring critical infrastructure, explaining that sensors can be built into road and bridge surfaces to measure temperature, humidity and corrosion—elements that negatively affect concrete structures. This data can then be transmitted to engineers for continuous monitoring and assessment, making such infrastructure “smart” in order to extend durability and, therefore, reduce maintenance, delays and potential hazards.

As new technologies and digitalisation are completely restructuring some sectors, an example being the finance industry, concerns have been raised about the cost of digitalisation and access—consequently, asking if those who are not able to finance big technologies will fall behind?

“From a cost point of view, like any new technology, it starts out expensive but will reduce in price over time.

“Having said that, the cost of connectivity could be an issue but the cost of sensors and analytics software, as well as all the other components, is not prohibitive for most small businesses. There are definitely low-cost options out there,” says Wakama.

With regard to what will happen in terms of jobs losses and skills as IoT makes devices and robots more intelligent, Wakama admits that this is indeed a big worry, particularly in Africa.

“However, I have faith in our ability as a species to adapt to change. As old professions, jobs and business models die, new ones will be created. The question is…are we preparing our children for the new work opportunities that AI and robotics will present?”

Wakama believes without a doubt that digital transformation is the only way forward, as transforming the way we do business with technology is a must. “It reduces costs and increases efficiency.

“Any business that refuses to transform will be left behind by more agile digital businesses. The taxi operators vs Uber example readily comes to mind—it’s almost a cliché now but you don’t want to be “Ubered” out of business by your competitors. South Africa cannot afford not to invest in digital technologies,” he says.

There has been debate about whether South Africa is keeping up with digital transformation and innovation, with some saying that we are falling behind due to the lack of a clear digital vision and strategy to support digital transformation.

In order for South Africa to embrace the Internet of Everything (IoE), it must become fully digitised. Becoming digital requires an agile IT model and the ability to rethink core processes for the digital era. It will require disruptive thinking and working differently.

“South Africa is not where it should be in terms of technology adoption but what gives me comfort is the fact that, from President Ramaphosa’s SONA, it would seem that the government has woken up to the potential benefits of digital transformation.

“With the announcement of the Presidential Committee on the Fourth Industrial Revolution, there seems to be political will on the part of the government to get to grips with this phenomenon,” says Wakama.

The Presidential Committee has been appointed to ensure that South Africa effectively and with greater urgency, harnesses technological change in pursuit of inclusive growth and social development, and will serve as a national overarching advisory mechanism on digital transformation.

The commission will be comprised of eminent persons drawn from different sectors of society and will identify and recommend policies, strategies and plans that will position South Africa as a globally competitive player within the digital revolution space.

Digital disruption has the potential to rapidly reshape South Africa and it is imperative that organisations drive their own digital business transformations or risk getting left behind.

Those that do will be pulled toward a ‘digital centre’ in which business models, offerings, and value chains are digitised, driving new revenue streams and substantive business outcomes.

At its core, country digitalisation is the process of planning and, ultimately, building a sophisticated and forward-thinking IT network ecosystem that will allow for greater connectivity, productivity and security to drive this positive impact. Digitalisation has the potential to create a sustainable and positive impact for every area of society in South Africa. 

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