Small Businesses in South Africa will be Critical to the 4th Industrial Revolution

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Siemens, a Berlin-based global technology powerhouse, has said that small businesses will be critical to South Africa in the 4th industrial revolution while access to information will revolutionize education.

This was highlighted at an insightful panel discussion in Midrand, South Africa on Thursday 5th July, 2018.

Panel speakers included Siemens Southern and Eastern Africa CEO, Sabine Dall’Omo; Dr Daniel Visser Research and Development Strategy Manager for the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), South Africa’s central and premier scientific research and development organization; and South African Airways (SAA) CEO, Vuyani Jarana. They discussed whether South Africa was ready for the 4th Industrial Revolution.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is the fourth major industrial era since the initial Industrial Revolution of the 18th century. It is marked by emerging technology breakthroughs in a number of fields, including robotics, artificial intelligence, blockchain, nanotechnology, quantum computing, biotechnology, The Internet of Things, 3D printing and autonomous vehicles.

The discussion, hosted collaboratively by Siemens and CNBC Africa, explored effects ‘Industry 4.0’ – a popular term for the fourth industrial revolution – would have on the country. Delegates from business and government heard that shying away from connectivity and artificial intelligence was not the answer. Yes, the robots are rising but they will never replace humans.

“Industry 4.0 is drastically changing the work landscape, how we live and how we do things but with the involvement of academic institutions, government, private institutions and the South African society, we can ensure that this digital revolution will only impact the country positively,” Dall’Omo explained.

“There is no place to hide from connectivity. South Africa cannot step aside and not participate.  We need to actively participate and shape South African industries to be more competitive in the global market,” Dall’Omo said.

“This revolution is not only for big fishes. We want to help smaller companies get involved and apply technologies in their businesses. This will contribute to a stronger GDP,” Sabine added.

Delegates heard that this revolution was not triggered by profitability.  It emerged that the movement is not an invention but a set of paradigms because of a technology revolution.

Panelists agreed that one of the major impacts industry 4.0 will have on the country remains its effects on the country’s workforce and industry. But this technological revolution means some jobs of today will not be in existence in the near future and a completely new set of jobs will emerge. This means that there are possibilities to gain new skills so as to fulfill these exciting new roles.

“People need basic computer skills in this revolution. Africa must not lose out. By moving forward, there will be certain jobs that will be lost forever, but new ones created too,” Dr. Visser explained, emphasizing that South Africa needed to embrace innovation and become “people-centric”.

“The 4th industrial revolution is not an American strategy. It’s happening because technology is evolving and everybody must be included…One thing robots cannot be is human,” he said.

He noted that South Africa was likely to see small businesses become critical in this revolution, particularly in the manufacturing sector.

“Our young people are born into an era of technology. They understand it and know it; they upskill themselves purely by access to information. So access to information will revolutionise education and small businesses must be able to access these technologies,” Dr. Visser continued.

Delegates heard that people were scared of automation, artificial intelligence and the revolution had the potential to widen the gap between income groups.

“Automation and artificial intelligence is scary but we are not looking at replacing jobs. We need to augment jobs. This revolution is more about convergence and collaboration,” he said.

Panelists accepted that for this to work, relevant individuals from government, business and societal groups needed to be sitting at the same table at the same time.

Meanwhile, Jarana said skills for this revolution were critical so that no one is left behind.  He said poor children needed access to the same digital education as rich children, and that pragmatic action was required from government to move forward.

He added that this revolution would likely challenge international trade agreements, and an advisory council dealing with different parts of the economy may be established.

“This revolution is underway and South Africa needs to embrace mobile connectivity, artificial intelligence, big data and the Internet of Things (IoT), which will make use of machines that will optimize the processing of goods, making manufacturing more efficient. The production and delivery of quality goods and services will become much faster and cost-effective, and therefore requires an enabling environment,” Siemens said in a statement following the event.

Siemens is a leading supplier of efficient power generation and power transmission solutions and a pioneer in infrastructure solutions as well as automation, drive and software solutions for industry.

The company is active around the globe, focusing on the areas of electrification, automation, and digitalization.

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