When discussing emerging markets and the future of work and profit, “Data is the new oil” is an expression that has solidified its place in the conversation. If data is the new oil, as the popular phrase goes, then data is our most valuable resource, it powers almost everything we use today to work, move and live, and it is virtually unusable if unrefined.
Innovating beyond proprietary data is becoming more and more important. This is especially true in Africa, the continent that some of the world’s youngest and fastest growing economies call home, where business intelligence and revenue models are calling for a new framework of doing business. This framework, the open innovation ecosystem – where a good number of leap-frog innovations are necessary – requires the need for speed through collaboration from not just the private sector, but the public sector and its stakeholders – such as universities and innovation agencies – as well as the agility and prowess of startups.
Companies across the continent are using external data in addition to their internal data, to better understand and pursue new business developments in the continent’s innovation ecosystem. Here, we’ll explore how African corporates are innovating intelligently which is resulting in the ability to make better business decisions.
How It’s Being Played Out IRL
In his book Outside Insight: Navigating a World Drowning in Data, Meltwater’s founder, Jorn Lyseggen, unpacks the edge of the intelligence and value that both proprietary and third-party data has an impact in, in what he calls the “new decision paradigm,” giving corporates a competitive advantage and enhancing their decision making.
One of South Africa’s oldest banks recently invested in Cape Town-based aerial data-analytics startup, Aerobotics, which makes use of aerial imagery and machine learning algorithms to solve problems in the agriculture industry. Of course, the options for using the same technology and concept across industries like finance and insurance, are endless. This bet on the technology of drones and data science was a deliberate focus on the strategy of the future of agri-finance for the major bank, understanding and recognising that in an aim to win more business, the third party data and use of Aerobotics technology will be a shift in new business and product development across customers and competitors for the corporate.
And, with technological trends like artificial intelligence (AI), advanced analytics and cloud computing, one way in which Accenture in South Africa is making and informing industry with their data, and leveling up competitive intelligence is through thought leadership positioning. This has enabled Accenture to create and enable themselves and other companies to change how people work and live beyond industry, like platform economies through their intelligence, and thus influencing the business intelligence of industry through data.
African businesses are thinking about ways to truly innovate under a framework of open innovation, even though the resources and capabilities may not always be plentiful. Accenture’s Technology Vision 2018, revealed that “ … South African executives (73%) agree with their global counterparts (79%) that organisations are basing their most critical systems and strategies on data, yet many have not invested in the capabilities to verify the truth within it.” Herein lies the opportunity to better scope the future of African innovation.
2020, 2025 and 2030 agendas set by organisations and corporates are not too far from actualisation, and the reality is that innovation is not self-driving but it’s a social concept that needs humans to execute visions. The appetite and curiosity for this new oil that is data and operating through the framework of open innovation is at its peak for intelligent enterprise, so how do we prepare for such innovation?
These present future institutions are the pipeline of talent that will be nurturing the future of work in businesses and its tools in order for us to be technology ready, and to have a workforce that is future-proof.
According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), the latest report for South Africa has revealed that the country’s entrepreneurial activity is as its highest level since 2013; this is good news, and in order for SMMEs to continue playing their role in the economy, we need to cultivate the space.
Perhaps more entrepreneurs are needed, my argument lies in the kind of capital that’s invested to groom and scale the current businesses that we have to produce the quality entrepreneurs that the country needs. A matter of quality of quantity. In order for this space to thrive, more capital, intentional collaboration and a government enabling and agile platform needs to be enabled.
Open Innovation Culture
The new kind of innovation that’s occurring across industries is able to be done through collaboration. This kind of culture allows for more opportunities to develop products, new customers, charter new territories of innovation and technology, add value to proprietary data and so many new possibilities.
Keep Learning, Keep Going
Lastly, in order to truly crack the code of innovation, this opportunity needs to be taken from a systematic, actionable perspective. Modest investments are being made to continue to study the strategic, operational, regulatory and societal implications of data and intelligence in South Africa’s industries and more capital needs to influence policy. In order for South Africa to participate in such an economy, more research needs to conducted so as to play the game and create an environment where intra-trade may happen.
The Future of Africa
The biggest, oldest and most established companies are most vulnerable to disruption and innovation and the way to beat archaic systems and not end up like a Blackberry or Kodak is to not just look at a company’s proprietary resources and capabilities, but to establish an innovation culture that’s for the present future. In order for Africa to truly be at the forefront of innovation globally, and be prepared for such, all stakeholders will need to realise that innovation requires the trust of stakeholders to collaborate, and the risk appetite for new technology and data to penetrate businesses and the lives of customers to enhance them and make intelligent paradigm-shifting decisions.
This article was first published on Meltwater.
On the 2nd of May, Thomson Reuters Labs – Cape Town, in partnership with The Durban Innovation Hub and The Makerspace, and supported by the World Economic Forum Global Shapers hosted an Africa 4.0 Innovation Breakfast Experience with a focus on The Power of Co-creation and Africa 4.0 as a pre-cursor to The World Economic Forum (WEF) Africa 2017.
Unpacking Africa 4.0
The breakfast brought together corporate innovation panellists from Grinrod, Thomson Reuters and Kusini Water to unpack Africa 4.0 and provide insights into Africa’s data scarcity gap, how corporate innovation has its role to growing the continent and exploring where Africa is going. Thought leader of industry and founder of WEF, Klaus Schwab describes the Fourth Industrial Revolution as a revolution that is empowering and human centred that is driven by the convergence of new technologies with the physical, digital and biological worlds. It is a revolution that will impact economies and industries, and will stretch itself to challenge ideas in how we communicate, consume and produce.
What does investing in the Fourth industrial revolution mean for Africa - dubbed Africa 4.0?
In understanding what Africa 4.0 is and its impact, Thomson Reuters’ SVP, Head of Innovation for Africa, Saidah Nash Carter kickstarted the discussion by unraveling what was at the centre of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. “Humanity and the impact that technology has on people is the ultimately the heart of the latest revolution, and our role as Thomson Reuters can be to leverage its proven strength in data innovation to convene and empower the increasingly interconnected ecosystem.” Nash Carter expanded on the concept, talking to the opportunity that Africa 4.0 presents for inclusive growth for developing markets.
Tapping the opportunity of Shared Business Value creation through Africa 4.0
“It is possible to do good business, profit and social impact are not mutually exclusive.” Using the Port Maputo in Mozambique as a case study, panelist Cathie Lewis, Group Company Secretary of Grinrod, expressed the concern about shared business value creation when engaging in the commercial value of corporate innovation. Grinrod is a global holding company that operates in the freight logistics, shipping and financial services, and does so with the unique objective of servicing Africa trade flows.
Speaking to the company’s customer relationship with Maputo Port, Lewis expressed the opportunity to create a shared business value chain in Mozambique since the aid-reliant country’s financial aid cut by a couple of donors in 2016 meant unstable economic growth and activity. The opportunity in shared business value creation is in the World Bank’s Mozambique’s strategy in reinvesting the natural wealth and the country’s build environment asset of the Port and decentralize it for human and institutional capital and do good business.
The value created from solutions of such challenges lies at the intersection of Africa 4.0 and its technologies and recognizing that value add needs to come from the corner of multi-stakeholder engagement. This ecosystem is one that recognises the stakeholders at Port Maputo, the Mozambican government to workers, and immediate communities. The objective of Africa 4.0 should aim to look at how we can harness these new technologies to share business value creation for all stakeholders involved
Investing in multi-stakeholder cooperation across all industry
Bringing the conversation to multi-stakeholder investments, Nash Carter recognised the value of entrepreneurs in empowering communities and economies, just as Murendeni Mafumo is with Kusini Water. Using nano-technology and solar power to produce water, Kusini Water thrives on sustainable business models of lease agreements, pay per litre of water used and sale of the systems. A passionate water scientist and entrepreneur, Mafumo echoed his conviction of decentralization of resources in industries, and using the opportunity of collaboration as a tool of accelerating innovation, and shared business value.
Collaboration of startups, private and public sectors is at the heart of innovation, this value creation should not only be empowering, but be built on self-sustaining models like Mafuno's business.
Harnessing the power of Africa 4.0
With a defined term of Africa 4.0 for us to understand, how do we leverage the potential of this revolution of humanity to achieve SDGs, Vision 2030 and the agendas of all stakeholders involved? This can be enabled with disruptive leadership that is both responsive and responsible, and continued investments in push strategies of partnerships that share the same purpose in value creation and empowerment for everyone involved in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.