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Digitization: Key to shaping Africa’s future success

By Habib Mahakian
02 December 2019   |   3:06 am
The world as we know it is dramatically shifting as a result of technology. As an accelerator of development, it is also highly disruptive, redefining jobs and skills while also reshaping industries.

The world as we know it is dramatically shifting as a result of technology. As an accelerator of development, it is also highly disruptive, redefining jobs and skills while also reshaping industries. As technology has evolved, so have we. The way we live, work and connect with one another has changed dramatically and this fusion of technologies means that over the next decade, every successful business will need to be digital at heart.

Given the reach of digital technology and the change it promises, organizations across Emerging Africa are in a race to become digital businesses. Some companies are leapfrogging into the future as they have fewer legacy challenges to deal with, while some are running the risk of being left behind.

Today, digital transformation is no longer a luxury or nice-to-have. It has become a necessity, spurred by those who set its development agendas. Specifically, digitization has become the pillar that is driving growth and shaping the future success and growth of economies in the continent.

For example, the Government of Morocco has put in place a new set of policies and reforms in the Morocco Digital 2020 strategy that aims to shift the country’s focus to positioning itself as a digital economy to promote the effective use of and access to technology across various sectors. Similarly, countries across East, West and Central Africa such as Nigeria, Kenya, and Côte d’Ivoire, have plans to accelerate the adoption of advanced technologies to transform and facilitate economic and social inclusion.

While the importance of digitization and the development of digital economies cannot be overstated, it is also important to recognize that this transformation cannot happen unless the barriers to growth are reduced or even fully removed. From challenges in regulatory policies to lack of infrastructure and basic access to electricity, phones and the internet – there are still cities and countries in Africa that are more complex than we usually imagine.

For instance, access to reliable and high-quality bandwidth is a critical factor in bringing the benefits of technology to businesses and therefore investment in telecommunications infrastructure is key to becoming a digitally enabled economy. The continent’s growing populations and lack of legacy technology infrastructure can be turned to advantage if countries adopt new technologies straight away and use them to leapfrog into the 21st century. According to the International Monetary Fund, the digital economy already accounts for more than 5% of gross domestic product (GDP) in some African nations. This could be more than doubled to 12-20% if countries harness the economic potential of digital technology.

Digitization also spurs the development of new industries as in the case of e-commerce, mobile financial services, IoT, and cloud computing. These contribute to national GDP in multiple ways while also promoting the growth of allied industries such as logistics, infrastructure, and payments. These opportunities are not only limited to the ICT industry, but also disrupts traditional industries to unlock speed, lower costs, and ensure higher quality. As an example, the banking and finance sector across Africa continues to evolve and transform with several digital banking initiatives being introduced that is increasing financial inclusion. This, in turn, leads to an increase in a country’s productivity and competitiveness – lowering unemployment rates, increasing access to technology-enabled services for citizens and creating higher-wage and higher-impact jobs.

Therefore, what organizations and governments need to understand is that digital transformation is not a destination, but a never-ending journey. With the right infrastructure, policies, and connectivity in place, businesses can expand, jobs can be created, and economic diversification will accelerate – promoting growth, inclusion and improving citizen experiences.

There is also another aspect of digital transformation that is of critical importance and that is around using technology to transform societies. Every economy and country globally and in Africa, are looking for the skills and talent around technology to succeed in the digital world. So, we must enable youth to drive the digital future, use technology to accelerate equality in the workplace and empower gender diversity and champion access and opportunity for all. By cultivating inclusion, we unlock innovation and the ability to thrive and progress.

In summary, the digital sector in Emerging Africa region is poised for success like no other, with the tremendous push for digital transformation coming from governments, with the end goal of improving citizen experiences and fueling economic growth. These digital transformation agendas represent the nation’s efforts towards unlocking the region’s potential to radically improve healthcare, banking, education, public services, among others. But in order to win in the digital economy, the public and private sector must work together to ensure that the infrastructure, key policy principles and regulatory frameworks are put in place, in order to build an ecosystem of innovation.

There is no doubt that technology is changing the ways in which we work, live, and play, and this will only get more evident in the future. We should be excited by the power and potential of technology to change lives for the better and help us move beyond inefficiencies towards inclusive prosperity. A new chapter in technology-led human progress is within our grasp, waiting to be unlocked. It is simply a matter of choice – do we want to wait and fall behind, or do we want to be the digital disruptors within the context of future emerging economies in the world.

Mahakian is Vice-President, Emerging Africa at Dell Technologies