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.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted on the website, and between work, school and the new role with Circle of Young Intrapreneurs as Chapter Lead, an incredible global organisation for young intrapreneurs, it’s been a tough balance but I want to thank you for the continued support and constant resharing and engagement with the content. As such, I thought it only fair to share on some of the activities that’s been keeping me busy on these streets which includes some speaking, mentoring and some contributions on other platforms.
Some speaking engagements included:
1. Facilitating the Cape Innovation Technology Initiative Tech Skills Readiness Programme with their Software Engineering cohort as they embark on their careers. This is a great programme that looks at aspiring software engineering students largely from previously disadvantaged backgrounds, and seeds knowledge and skills so as to cultivate the STEM future workforce for South Africa! An incredible knowledge sharing afternoon it was.
2. When this email came into my inbox, I couldn’t stop beaming. It was the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation and what made me happier was the request to mentor for the day and share my journey was with their Youth@Work and their 60 phenomenal young women, who looked like me and came from the same township and a desire for knowledge and access was there. The opportunity was to engage with these young women on finding employment and choosing a career path – which as we all know how intimidating it can be when you’re still in your late teens. I’m so honoured to be able to get the constant opportunity to engage with young, black women and use my platform for such, to empower with information and access more than anything - be it through work or otherwise. I was left inspired ?❤
3. About two weeks ago, I flew to Pretoria to facilitate a panel discussion on Power and Influence of Young Trailblazers in Corporate and Business that had fellow One Young World Ambassador Farai Mubaiwa on the panel. The Young Corporate Leader‘s Women’s Day celebrations included a keynote addresses by Ipeleng Mkhari and Dr Matete Madiba, just to mention a few of the phenomenal women who got to use their platforms and engage with us. Well done to fellow Ambassador Kamogelo Lesabe for pulling this stunning event together with your team
4. I really do enjoy spending my time with my peers and those even younger, especially still in their teens and impressionable when it comes to making impactful decisions like what subject choices and the career choices that are available for their choosing – of course the bias in me leans towards STEM careers, especially in the age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. I got to have some time with these students at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) recently. Mmaki Jantjies, Head of Information Systems at UWC shared the experience.
Associate Professor at SARChI, Chair of African Diplomacy and Foreign Policy, University of Johannesburg on his podcast. In it, we looked at the role of Venture Capital as well as other ingredients for start-up success in South Africa, which can be found in this link - https://soundcloud.com/mzukisiq/start-up-opportunities-and-venture-capital , aswell as a feature on Daily Maverick on South Africa’s Silent Start-Up Revolution which he authoured
One the most impactful and growing technology entrepreneurial schools in Africa is Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST), which over the years has premise in Ghana and recently Nigeria and South Africa, with plans to launch in Ivory Coast and Kenya soon. I had the opportunity to host a session on Open Innovation and Community Building at one of their Community Conversations in Cape Town, as well as share some of the nuggets from the experience and my journey as a junior executive in corporate innovation- https://meltwater.org/open-innovation-and-community-building-with-vuyolwethu-dubese/
One of the most exciting things to be at this age is to be young (by age and mind), African and being a part of an organisation at forefront of contributing to the knowledge economy and leveraging the power of data and technology to empower economies and communities. We’re also at a time where the emerging market that is Africa has the opportunity to craft its own the Fourth Industrial revolution perception through not only commodity prices, but to diversify away from these resources and move into sectors which will leverage the opportunity to use open innovation as a tool to shape Africa’s Future Agenda.
Open Innovation is a term coined and promoted by Henry Chesbrough, professor and executive director at the Center for Open Innovation at Berkeley . The professor described it as “ … a paradigm that assumes that firms can and should use external ideas as well as internal ideas, and internal and external paths to market, as the firms look to advance their technology. The boundaries between a firm and its environment have become more permeable; innovations can easily transfer inward and outward. The central idea behind open innovation is that in a world of widely distributed knowledge, companies cannot afford to rely entirely on their own research, but should instead buy or license processes or inventions (e.g. patents) from other companies.”
The holistic idea of open innovation relates to creating profit and community from technology convergence of perceptions and an efficient way to operate and find solutions.And although outlined what it is, it is NOT Just crowdsourcing and one dimensional transactions, it’s to foster accelerate creative and business value for all stakeholders involved.
The Global Innovation Index is created and published by INSEAD, the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) and Cornell University and it covers 127 economies around the world and uses 81 indicators across a range of themes. Although no African countries emerged in the Top 10 of the list, Kenya (80) and Tanzania (96) represented the sub-Saharan African region as innovation players to be on the lookout for. Products and innovations like MPesa, Jumia, Ushahidi and Obami are incredible examples of the type of innovation that can and has come out of the continent.
My argument stems at how better accelerated in proving the concept and taking the product to market could these products have been, had the application of open innovation been applied.
Is it not about time that Africa heightened the advocacy and importance of open innovation? And at that, not just leaving it to one sector, but push collaborative open innovation – the interconnectedness needed to scale a Future Africa Agenda .
One of the most fascinating cases for me is the idea of a Sandbox, which is a cloud based capability that provides access to samples of organisations content and tools and where there’s tangible value for all stakeholders part of the transactions. On Africa’s potential alike, I believe we’re ready for a sandbox, and to this point, not only because Africa data is costly but finding credible sources of data has proven to be incredibly difficult.
Organisations like Fintech Sandbox have shown the value of a sandbox for startup partnerships in Boston, CodeSandbox Live in providing value for real collaboration between developers and Any API which has over 500 open APIs that have benefitted many entities. These entities show us what is possible with the world of open innovation in both emerging ad developed markets.
With the many 2020, 2030 and future plans that Africa has for itself, the concept of open innovation to drive Africa’s Future Agenda is a tool that not only invites the strengthening of intra-African and global knowledge trade , but the opportunity to collaborate with stakeholders in the private, NGOs and public sectors to empower Africa’s success.
Images : EOH and Schema Open Innovation
Time flies when you’re innovating, and doing so at the intersection of user (customer) experience, business and (emerging) technology. Integrating into the system of product management is more than processes, data and advanced technologies, it’s the people that essentially ensure that there’s strategy for elimination decisions, de-risking and development for new products. And I’ve been fortunate to do this in an environment that is, as we’ve termed in the Labs, “inno-positive” for all this innovation to take place.
I joined the company as a contractor, specifically in the innovation and enterprise space. When I came on board, I did so as a project manager, the first one being the Land Hackathon that looked at how we can use emerging technology to create transparency with land administration and digitization of processes. The successful outcome of this project lead me to take on one of the biggest projects I’ve ever done, which was to lead the launch of the Thomson Reuters Labs™ - Cape Town in October 2016 with an incredible team and the support from our other global network of Labs. With the growth of the Labs, meant that so did the work, relationships, content and responsibility, and so did my role.
I then transitioned into the role of Innovation Programme Manager which leveraged on my experience in working with startups, being a dot connector with the network of the business to the data and innovation Labs and ensuring that we have a community that we can collaborate with when a particular customer-led opportunity came along, this across sub-Sahara Africa.
My expansive role now as Ecosystem Manager requires me to manage and build relationships that we have with customers, partners, ecosystem stakeholders and startups; being the connective tissue in engaging the business with Africa’s startup and technology and innovation ecosystem. With these relationships, comes the architecture of business innovation strategies that'll engage the work that we do, this externally and internally. Once these relationships are forged and the excitement of kickstarting to build a new product gets underway, it’s at times easy to get lost in the enthusiasm of it all.
Scope and Defining at High Level
Coming up with an idea can take a few minutes, days or hours of light bulb moments, connecting opportunities and challenges to existing products or product development is where product management begins. From the conversations, the idea needs to be defined, and usually organisations want a high level overview of the deliverables without scoping the project’s life cycle, but understandably, because cost and schedule for stakeholders involved is on the line. To work from this point of perspective (high level to granular) has usually worked in most cases, but each case is as unique as the innovation.
With the unique positioning of the Labs being to develop products that are customer led, engaging and gathering the voice of the customer is part and parcel of what drives impactful and creative business solutions. Corporate innovation requires a high frequency of customer centricity so as to experience and determining the feasibility of the product being worked on. Once the right customer representative is brought into the conversation and ideas are birthed, engaging them in (every) step of the process is ideal to having a successful proof-of-concepts proven.
Evangelise within the Company
The one thing that I’ve learnt with corporate innovation and working inside a large company, is that you cannot do it alone, especially in a network that’s over 45000 strong, globally. You need to know which departments, executive sponsors and in my case, Labs buddies (connecting with someone in other Thomson Reuters Labs across the work) to network and connect to. You cannot do it alone!
Product management is a team effort. It takes a corporate innovation village in order to ensure that we’re connected to the right markets, holding conversations with the right customer departments, partnering with the right internal teams, and so much more. It’s been an awesome year in product management, one with a couple of successes paired with failures that you learn to do very fast and pick yourself up again.
Here’s another year of innovation!
My time is currently being seduced by Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, the ultimate feminist intelligence-backed and manifesto for women in the world (who are fortunate enough to access this kind of resource) engaging their will in lead in the workplace and outside of it. The book is authored on the foundation of not only Sandberg and her experiences, but the data that supports the reality of feminism as much as it exposes the world’s commitment to keeping feminism as a promise, and nothing else. The reality is that in the workplace and outside, women’s voices are not heard equally, and the rallying cry of this book, is calling women (and men) to lean in.
It’s no secret that the space of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) is a white, male dominated space, and in every capital technology city and corporate one encounters. This is why I’m obsessed with being a Mentor and Sponsor advocate – so many young women professionals need this knowledge sharing. A 2012 McKinsey report surveying more than 4000 employees of leading companies found that 36% of men wanted to reach the C-suite level of jobs compared to only 18% of women. Admittedly, I cringed when I came across this finding. Granted, not every woman aspires to be a CEO of a company, but for young ambitious women like me who would, representation matters, and we need more of them to be there and so that we can lean in. And, because of having such representation in my network, I ended up hacking my first lean in.
I had just penned my first resignation from a digital agency and wanted to immerse myself into a job and career with more of STEM and startup focus, not knowing that a responsibility of two months would lead me to it. Immediately after my resignation, I had an advisory meeting with my mentor, where I expressed to her my current state of thinking and the direction that I wanted my life to take. A few days later she told me about an opportunity to assist her at coordinating a hackathon for “a company, you’ll see it when we get to the meeting, but I know it’s right up your alley”, and indeed it was, also the company turned out to be Thomson Reuters (no biggie, right?). A week later my mentor received a call that she needed to be in London for about 5 weeks with Mozilla, and told me that she and my current boss had decided that they’re entrusting me to be capable enough to handle being the project manager of the hackathon. The first thing that went through my mind was nothing, because my insecurities arrested my mind, and secondly, it was a Thomson Reuters hackathon, were these two women insane? The fact that they, whom together have almost 45 years in the technology, product development, digital and innovation industries entrusted my capabilities to execute this job was eclipsed by my insecurity. You’d think with the experience they bring to the table, I’d trust their decision to trust me, and whatever potential they saw in me. I didn’t feel deserving, as though they were doing me a favour as opposed to deciding on merit. Sound familiar? I wanted to pay a penalty for my potential with doubt. I wanted to silence myself, even though I wanted to lead with ambition. The job I was entrusted with couldn’t house both feelings, something had to give.
It was the latter that I gave up. I ended up working with an incredible team of women (with one man on the team) who hacked my insecurities and enabled an environment of thriving and leaning in. The execution of the hackathon was a success and my nervousness to fail that was on cue, lost its way to my expectations of the two day event. Through the hackathon we managed to mine some great ideas about land transparency through ICT, trended on social media on both days and enriched both civil, private and public sectors through knowledge sharing and engaging with creative business solutions.
The opportunity was mine to lose. And to be honest with you, spending time with these two women in the two weeks we had before the mentors’ London trip, and hearing their vision for young, black women in STEM and the private sector, their discussions were the answers to what I would do if I wasn’t afraid. It was knowing that there had to be more to life than stereotype threats, and having the confidence and humility to know that the women who invited me to the table, entrusted me to lean in and lead. This is why I’ve created this platform, so that I could lean in, by sharing my experiences, thoughts and conversations as a young woman in STEM on the continent, we need more of us in this space, a more normalised picture of women leading in this industry.
I was 21, and orchestrated my first life hack(athon). It was the audition that opened the door to the job that I enjoy doing the most, being an Innovation Project Manager with an opportunity to engage with private and public sector, together with startups to innovate with the mission to add business value and create social impact.
Hack it till you feel it, and believe it. Then embody it, and run away with the will to lead, and to feel deservingly have your mark made.