Local data centres could have a dramatic effect on skills development and unemployment. South Africa’s sluggish economic growth continues to be roundly outpaced by our population growth, as business confidence remains uncertain and job creation falters. One of the effects is a rising unemployment level, which according to Stats SA, has now reached a 14-year high of 27, 7%.
Amidst these downward trends, it is easy to focus on the negatives. However, there are still a number of ways to arrest these worrying trends. There is still time to turn it all around.
Some encouraging news, that broke in 2017, revealed that certain large global technology companies will soon deliver hyper-scale Cloud services from local data centres in South Africa.
With local access to this scale of computing power, local organisations will be able to explore opportunities presented by the fourth industrial revolution. With latency speeds in the milliseconds (rather than the hundreds of milliseconds) a world of new business opportunities opens up. Think of augmented reality, autonomous vehicles, real-time data analytics and machine-driven decision making, artificial intelligence, and other emergent technologies.
New skills for the future
This will not only accelerate the levels of innovation and digitisation within South African companies, but (perhaps most importantly) it will present new opportunities for individuals. Opportunities to re-learn the digital world and re-skill for the future workplace.
Various trend-spotting firms, futurists and analysts predict that a high percentage of today’s jobs will not exist 10 to 20 years into the future. These jobs will be replaced by new vocations such as those listed by FastCompany*: digital death managers, 3D printing handymen, microbial balancers, “urban shepherds” and “corporate disorganisers”.
Most encouragingly, having local cloud platforms will ensure that we can retain skills in the country, including data-centre management and other ICT infrastructure skills, and growth into the likes of data science, big data-driven business modelling, IoT solutions design, and more.
It’s time for urgent and decisive moves, from corporates, government, training authorities, and higher learning institutions. By focusing on re-skilling, particularly young people, we can leverage this opportunity.
Cracking open the innovation landscape
The availability of local hyper-scale Cloud platforms finally cracks open the innovation landscape in SA. We’re entering a truly exciting era, where there are no longer any reasons to hold back with radical digitisation plans.
Local companies can unlock new routes to global markets, get involved in new value-chains, and start offering the kinds of services that are only possible in countries with powerful enterprise computing platforms close at hand.
Our tertiary institutions can now access world-class infrastructure and high-speed data analysis services, helping to advance a number of specialised fields in academia, medicine, technology and industry.
Conducting in-depth scientific and academic research at scale requires powerful computing resources. In the ‘pre-Cloud’ era, accessing this kind of computing power was very expensive. It was difficult to roll-out more broadly through a given academic institution, and often the access to these services became the exclusive preserve of a select few academics or researchers. But with the Cloud, these services become available to far more individuals.
We need to look beyond the local economy, or our local politics, and see the opportunities at a broader, global level. As the likes of Google, Uber and Netflix have shown, with the right Cloud platforms, we can create digital services that can be scaled limitlessly, exported anywhere across the world.
This is certainly more than just a pipe-dream. Generally speaking, Africa already has a strong reputation for solution-based innovation – to tackle various everyday challenges on the continent. With this mindset, and now with the power of industrial-grade Cloud platforms, we can broaden and enrich the scope of our innovation – and channel our creative energies in new ways.
Cloud-based tools will unlock a world of new innovations across Africa. From intelligent soil sensors and automated irrigation systems, to IV monitoring tools that address shortages in nursing care, to 3D-printed prosthetics in South Sudan, the solution-focused approach of African innovators is visible everywhere.
The Cloud will only stimulate further creativity, innovation and problem-solving – as we look to overcome the challenges that affect our daily lives.
We can travel to Rwanda to see an excellent example of this solution-focused mindset. The need to quickly transport life-saving blood across Rwanda’s mountainous regions led to the adoption of long-distance drone technology, which will culminate in the world’s first fully-fledged drone airport. Without powerful Cloud services, piloting this legion of drones would never be possible.
It’s time to think ambitiously, to take some bold, calculated risks, and transform ourselves into the digital enterprises of the future. Align this with the widespread re-skilling initiatives I mentioned earlier, and we may just find that our economic and unemployment woes will improve.
Mpumi Nhlapo is Head of T-Systems’ South Africa’s IT Portfolio and Solution Sales