As the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) begins to mature globally, opportunities in the fields of industrial robotics, digital sales and cybersecurity are likely to open-up in South Africa. This is according to South African information and communications technology (ICT) giant Vodacom’s terminal managing executive Davide Tacchino.
Tacchino explains that big data, 5G and cloud computing are also likely to become increasingly common features of everyday life in the country. “Solutions within the security and automation space using the Internet of Things (IoT) are also likely to become more readily available” notes Tacchino.
Tacchino tells the Italian Chamber that Vodacom, a patron member at ItalCham, has a massive number of projects and initiatives using 4IR technology. There are already finalized projects, in the field of big data and Artificial Intelligence (AI), digital sales and logistics, digital customer care and AI, including Vodacom’s very own TOBi, a chatbot answering questions from customers.
“There are other very advanced companies in terms of 4IR and in general it seems SA is progressing forward from third Industrial Revolution technologies with ongoing developments in automation and digital marketing” Tacchino notes. Several promising signs are nevertheless apparent, not least the fact that South Africa is home to the world's largest 3D printer, an initiative funded by the Department of Science and Technology and undertaken by the Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research in partnership with South African firm Aerosud Innovation Centre. Since 2016, the Government has adopted the Additive Manufacturing Strategy which incorporates and integrates new technologies in the sector.
In 2019 a Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution has been established, while the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition has adopted the strategy for industrial production and future technologies with a focus on emerging digital technologies. Moreover, government has backed the use of blockchain technology as a sector that can ameliorate the country’s employment crisis and the country is developing innovative technologies in the field of drones, including for SMEs. In the communications sector, there are around 161 telephone subscriptions for every 100 people.
South Africa is among the 40 states that invest most heavily in Research and Development. More than twenty academic institutions have a technology transfer office, with nine of its national universities appearing in the QS World University Ranking. South Africa is one of the strongest economic leaders on the continent and despite its slow pace in embracing the Fourth Industrial Revolution it boasts one of the largest innovative ecosystems in Africa. The Swot Analysis below shows South Africa's strengths and weaknesses in terms of its ability to embrace 4IR technology.
The SWOT analysis shows that on one hand the ground for a fourth industrial revolution has been set. Solidity from a legal, banking and financial point of view, and a policy aimed at internationalization and cooperation with other countries both act in SA’s favor in terms of technology uptake. Challenges that the country faces include bureaucratic inefficiency, poor education, digital illiteracy, and skills mismatching
Italy-South Africa Partnership
Italcham has strategically identified the 4IR sector as a key area of focus between Italy and South Africa. Italy’s excellence in this field, the relatively low uptake in 4IR technology in SA and the South African government’s focus on improvement in this field all constitute strong motivations for the growth of Italy-SA partnership in this field. To this effect the Chamber has set-up a working group to identify and develop opportunities in the field of 4IR.
The prospects for the growth of the sector are bolstered by the excellent institutional relations between Italy and South Africa. The activities of the Italian cooperation with South Africa have been regulated since 1996 by a Memorandum of Understanding and over the years numerous initiatives have been carried out in the fields of governance, environment, support to education and health. Furthermore, one of the roles of the Italian Embassy in South Africa is to promote bilateral cooperation in the field of scientific and technological research, support the excellence of the Italian research system abroad and establish and maintain solid relations with the community of Italian scientists abroad.
The scientific and technological cooperation between Italy and South Africa develops on the guidelines defined through the bilateral agreement that was signed in 1998 and 2000. The relationship between Italy and South Africa is renewed by the Call for Proposals released by the Italy South Africa Joint Research Program (ISARP) for the years 2018/ 2020, in which they were awarded projects that are consistent with the strategic priorities of both countries.
Finally, a vital feature of the ongoing cooperation between South Africa and Italy’s technological frontiers is represented by the Italy-South Africa Summit held in Johannesburg for the last six years and organized by Italian think tank The Europe House – Ambrosetti. Last year’s event hosted the I am Tech Africa exhibition, an annual forum where production and other product innovations are presented.
This Article was initially published in the Italian South African Chamber of Trade and Industries’ Annual Directory. Click here to see the full version of the publication.