A number of countries have successfully embraced digitalisation and automation as a tool to enable further development both in their business and their economy. South Africa, however, has fallen behind. Why is this? What barriers are preventing South Africa from adopting digitalisation?
1. Inadequate infrastructure
South Africa’s current ICT infrastructure will not be able to support fully automated ICT environments. SA’s networks are often unstable and even basic infrastructure such as electricity and bandwidth is unreliable. Without reliable and sophisticated infrastructure, it is very difficult to implement automated processes. World Wide Worx found that poor connectivity was one of the top obstacles companies faced in automating their businesses processes. As the ICT sector is the main driver in digital transformation, a drive to further develop South Africa’s infrastructure is imminent.
2. Lack of skilled individuals
The ICT skill gap in South Africa continues to widen at an alarming rate. The dynamic nature of ICT makes the skills shortage difficult to address as new technology is continually emerging. Skilled employees are needed to maintain, manage, audit, and analyse automated processes to ensure that they are running smoothly. South Africa also continues to lose highly skilled ICT individuals to international companies. According to the South African ICT Skills Survey, in 2019, the percentage of respondent employers recruiting overseas had risen to 37%. This report further stated that the skills that are scarce are associated with emerging technologies, such as automation, the internet of things, data science, artificial intelligence, and programming.
3. Non-trusting nature
Employees often adopt a mindset that is resistant to change and is non-trusting in nature. Implementing digitalisation and automation tools disrupts the ‘old’ way of doing things. New technologies also present a learning curve – the ICT team leaders need to take the time to understand how the software works and relay that in training to their teams. The implementation of new technologies also presents the perceived threat of job displacement, which further encourages employees to remain set in their ways. Digitalisation and automation do pose significant changes to the workforce and teams that are not open to change or welcoming of new learning will find it difficult to make the transfer to digital solutions.
4. Exchange rates
The majority of technologies that are currently in place to support South Africa’s ICT industry are not homegrown. These technologies have been purchased and imported from overseas manufacturers. The dollar-to-rand exchange rate has placed significant financial pressure on the ICT industry thus making it more costly to adopt automation in South Africa.. South Africa’s ICT sector has shown incredible growth and sophistication in their solutions. Therefore, there needs to be a shift to using local technology and solutions, rather than overseas technology.
Despite each of these hindering factors, South African businesses have seen the need to begin their journey with automation to ‘future-proof’ their businesses.