With the lurking uncertainty of when the imposed new regulations, intended on reducing the spread of Corona-virus (COVID19) will be lifted it’s clear why everyone is on edge. These safety measures are not only reducing the spread of the virus, but they are also changing the way we do business. One sure thing is that this pandemic is going to have lasting effects on the already fragile South African economy. COVID19 has forced countries to rely on themselves, will our saving grace be our digital platforms or will this crisis just expose the digital gap between countries and societies. If so, is there any light at the end of the tunnel?
Did you in your wildest dreams ever imagine that a time would come when the creative industries such as entertainment, gaming, online magazines, e-books, social media applications and any other creative digital platforms would gain more popularity and generate more revenue than the traditional corporate careers that require regular working hours in the office? The modern era is evidence that praise and respect should be given to each and every sector, as today one sector might be leading in making the largest contribution to the GDP and tomorrow a completely different one will assume that same role. The Covid-19 pandemic will reshape all sectors in the near future and adjust the area’s resources are allocated to and career choices for years to come.
If there was ever a time to say the digital economy is developing rapidly worldwide, it would be now. The Covid-19 crisis has accelerated the uptake of digital solutions, tools and services speeding up the global transition towards a more digital economy. At the moment technology is our main tool to maintain business life and continuity. Inability to incorporate digital technology in any business could prove fatal.
With government enforcing the lockdown and the economy re-opening in phases, technology such as video conferencing, cloud computing, gaming, video on demand, social media platforms have increased in use. Online shopping is one of the notable beneficiaries of the pandemic as people turned to online shopping instead of going to crowded public spaces.The virus has highlighted digital opportunities for significant localised innovation in several sectors. However the education sector, the health sector and retail sector are among the areas that have experienced the biggest shake-up.
Before the pandemic entertainment was more of a luxury than a basic need, the lockdown has since changed that. Analysts agree that the streaming services have been among the four categories of technology businesses that have experienced a massive boom in the advent of social distancing and lockdowns globally. Digital platforms that are thriving right now include the following: Entertainment and streaming services like Netflix, whose interest has grown by 142% amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Showmax says the unfolding of the virus situation, has significantly impacted viewing behaviour and the number of active users is up to 50%.
One thing this pandemic has excelled in doing is exposing our interdependence across sectors, as it is affecting everyone’s life and livelihood. It is also showing us that we need to be more digitally equipped as a nation. The digital economy is the single most important driver of innovation, competitiveness and growth and holds huge potential for entrepreneurs and SME’s.
Universities across South Africa are getting ready to switch to remote online learning, in an effort to salvage the academic year. From the 20th of April, Wits University will adapt the academic programme to go online, mainly via the university’s learning management systems. Rhodes University will do the same, gradually introducing online teaching and learning from the 20th of April.
Wits say the University has established a mobile computing bank for qualifying students who cannot access appropriate mobile learning devices to loan basic devices pre-loaded with required learning resources before being delivered to the South African Post Office then sent off to students. The University has finalised an agreement with four telecommunications services providers: Telkom, MTN, Vodacom and Cell C to zero-rate Wits library and learning management sites from 15 April 2020.
Chair of the institutional committee, Prof. Stan du Plessis says Stellenbosch University is going to loan computers and internet connectivity devices not donate. A deposit to the value of the equipment will be charged to the student’s fee account, at the end of the 2020 academic year-end, if the equipment is returned the deposit will be reversed on the student’s account.
Institutions like the University of Cape Town and the University of Pretoria have managed to secure zero-rated access for their respective teaching and learning websites and content.
However going digital in education comes with its on set of challenges, not every student has internet access or the necessary smart mobile devices to connect to the internet. In some remote areas, it is extremely difficult to get cell reception. Institutions like the University of Fort Hare, that feel there is a major unevenness with regards to access to online platforms, have a real concern about students lacking connectivity, devices and adequate workspace to successfully engage in online learning. So, they instead opted to place a moratorium on any assessments during the lockdown.
Applications like Snapplify have offered to give South African students free e-textbooks for the rest of the year. Snapplify partnered with top South African educational publishers to launch Free Access, which provides over 5000 IEB, EB and CAPS- aligned e-books for free to anyone who needs them for remote learning while schools are closed. This free access will be available until the 31st of December.
Industry experts say the digitisation of healthcare is a reality that is streamlining aspects like dispensing medication, patient intake, record sharing, patient tracking and treatment. Law Firm Webber Wentzel says technology in healthcare is already assisting patients who may have been affected by the Covid-19 lockdown. Patients are getting some reprieve through telemedicine, as it allows them to consult with healthcare practitioners without either patient or provider travelling or leaving their homes.
Telemedicine is the delivery of healthcare and the transfer of health information across distances using information and communication technologies such as e-mail, telephone calls, video links and social networks. According to the firm, this is a totally compliant lockdown solution which has been recently given a limited stamp of approval by the Health Professions Council of South Africa. Telemedicine has proved invaluable in the management of the deadly Virus, with many governments and healthcare systems advocating digital healthcare tools and virtual consults as the first step and primary means of healthcare support during the Covid-19 outbreak.
Many companies are bringing out different solutions, Vodacom and Discovery announced a partnership to deliver what they call a simple but powerful online healthcare platform, for the benefit of all South Africans during the COVID19 pandemic. This platform will provide easy access for all South Africans to a COVID19 risk tool, to help understand your personal risk for the virus and where needed to immediately schedule virtual healthcare professional consultations and advice.
When the lockdown was enforced Right ePharmacy made an announcement that its patients that reside in and around Johannesburg and Bloemfontein can now collect their monthly medicines from extremely advanced “ATM pharmacies”. The company says these ATM pharmacies are chronic medicine collection points which robotically dispense medication. MD of Right ePharmacy, Fanie Hendriksz says: “We have seen a steep increase in patient numbers at our ATM pharmacies over the last couple of weeks and we have geared up for the increase”.
Its clear that telemedicine is coming to its own during this crisis, pharmacists are servicing patients remotely, some of their ATM pharmacies are based in Centurion and they appear on screen to service and assist patients whether they are in Soweto, Diepsloot, Alexandra or Bloemfontein.
In the retail sector, Shoprite is showing major strategic commitment towards the fight against COVID19. It is constantly looking for ways to keep its stores, customers and employees safe, Shoprite customers will now be able to pay for groceries with their phones, the retail group is introducing QR payments at some of its stores across SA.
The retail group says it the first food retailer to offer dynamic QR payments, which allow customers to scan the QR code at the till point with their phones and pay using their phones, clients can pay with Masterpass, SnapScan, Zapper, FNB Pay or Nedbank Pay in any of its stores. Shoprite Group says QR payments are currently available in 29 Checkers stores and will be rolled out across all Shoprite, U Save, Checkers and Checkers Hyper stores within the next two months.
Shopping centers were already under threat from the growth of online and weak consumer disposable incomes. Edgars and jet could close for good as Edcon Holdings Ltd South Africa’s second-biggest clothing retailer said it may not be able to re-open after the shutdown. Chief Executive Officer, Grant Pattison told media that the company’s sales dropped to 45% when the lockdown was announced, if their March revenue fails to meet sales targets, this could mean that the business only has sufficient liquidity to pay salaries.
What does all this mean for the future of South Africa post Covid-19? Well, the evidence above should give you a clear perspective of what you need to do to get ahead. There is hope for those willing to incorporate the latest technology in their businesses, those unable will face the risk of complete annihilation. Mainly because the unemployment rate is going to skyrocket and the economy might shrink between 2% and 7% this year. It’s very uncertain at this point the extent to which the pandemic will shape our economy but the digital evolution is already changing how we do business.
Instead of paying thousands of rands in office rental space, people are successfully working from home, instead of paying thousands of rand in transport and fuel money, to get to the office, people are doing the exact same job in the comfort of their homes. Instead of companies flying workers to different countries for meetings and securing business deals in person, having to pay for food and accommodation, companies are realising that these same objectives can be achieved through video calls.