The internet of Things is a wave which presents a significant opportunity for Africa. It is safe to say that Africa didn’t profit as it could have from previous technology hype cycles such as the internet boom, cloud computing etc. However, this internet of things wave presents a very unique opportunity
We’ve all heard the analysts (we still believe you) positioning the IoT and the fourth industrial revolution as the new wave of capital expenditure and the fortunes that are to come from this. One listens with awe as one after another, the analysts prophesy the billions of devices to be connected and the trillions of dollars to be spent.
I am, however, tempted to look back in history for a moment only to realise that Africa was left behind in the 1stthe 2ndand the 3rdindustrial revolutions. With this background, I worry about Africa’s current ability and readiness to capture this revolution. Will we be left behind in this one too?
Quoting the great orator Patrick Lumumba in his recent speech at the Nelson Mandela annual lecture: ”how is it that our continent that is so endowed produces what it does not consume and consumes what it does not produce? He would have asked whether the continent of Africa is really liberated? (postulating a question from the late great Madiba). “
What problems are we solving?
The lustre of the billions of connected devices has been overshadowed by a healthy reality check. It is now more pertinent to understand why we are applying the IoT. Perhaps the challenge to how South Africa address this 4thIndustrial revolution and the adoption of IoT lies first in the humanity of it. It is clear that there are many opportunities that for continent to benefit from the IoT and 4IR, but will we be a net consumer of it or is there a way that we can innovate and perhaps export some of these new technologies. I believe that this is highly possibility. Africa is still largely considered a 3rdworld with unique problems that don’t manifest in the same way in the first world. This means that 1stworld solutions are often lacking their application in Africa. However, the reverse is often a very attractive proposition; “If it’s robust enough to work in Africa, it’ll work anywhere.”
African entrepreneurs should be looking at local problems and innovating to develop IoT solutions rather than looking to what exist in an import catalogue first. This requires deep meditation on the humanities (local and continental) and finding the crossroad between them and technology. Entrepreneurs should also harness the power of the network effect to drive mass adoption of these technologies. The value will not lie in the widget and the gadget but rather in the value that is derived by the mass adoption of it. This means that the widget should be delivered at the lowest possible cost, approaching free, with value being extracted from the pervasive use of the technology. This will soon be the pre-requisite to competing effectively in the global economy that we’re now living in.
Localise the ecosystem
It is an accepted truth that China is still worlds destination for all things manufacturing. However there are many competitive (quality and price) South African options where it comes to electronic manufacturing. It is important that engineers and innovators consider these options first before off-shoring their manufacturing.
Innovations in compact integrated circuits make it possible for these innovations to be done with a lego blocks approach. The key is to understand which pieces of value will be delivered by which components and include those in the design. This allows the average solution architect to piece together a solution with a feature set that delivers. Simple as that may sound, I would still reiterate the need to understand the application of the solution.
Our political leadership in South Africa (as in other African countries) have recognized this IOT and the 4thIndustrial revolution as both a threat and a significant opportunity and have placed it very high on the country’s economic agenda. However, it will take partnership between the government and business to leverage the opportunities that present themselves before us. Where it comes to IoT solutions, governments will certainly be ahead of the pack in respect to adoption of IoT solution. It will be great win if, locally developed solution would be prioritized.