But many need a change in mindset and training and mentorship to be able to make the most of the opportunities. This is my main thought after reading CAJ News’ report on the address by South Africa Minister of Small Business Development, Lindiwe Zulu, to the Africa Tech Conference in Johannesburg (article here). While the government is making all the right noises as far as SMME development is concerned, it remains to be seen if more fine words can achieve long-standing goals.
Meanwhile, we do not need to – and should not – wait for any government to step in and help, as welcome as any help may be. We should be taking matters into our own hands. So, let’s get started.
Zulu refers to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or Industry 4.0 and the unprecedented rate of change it is causing. In South Africa, we should look at this as a chance to leapfrog other countries and take advantage of the opportunities offered by the so-called Internet of Things, or as we prefer, the Internet of Everything.
This distinction itself is symbolic of the rate of change, and something that many – outside of South Africa as well – fail to appreciate. I could spend the rest of this article (and many more!) talking about this alone, but basically it concerns the maturation of the internet and what Steve Case, who brought the internet to the masses with AOL, calls The Third Wave. The first wave involved connectivity and sharing of information – building the internet, in essence. The second wave, from the turn of the century, saw the creation of social media, enhanced search and e-commerce, with smartphones and apps exploding onto the scene. The new wave sees “things connected to the internet” to the possibility that everything can – and eventually will – be connected.
The implications of the idea that everything will (or at least can) be connected to the internet are fundamental to our society and how we live and new hi-tech startups are making plenty of waves that are already threatening to wash away established industry giants. Looking beyond the obvious case studies of Uber (and their at best questionable governance) and Airbnb, many stars of the Third Wave are people like you and me, who have understood how technology can be harnessed to make our lives better and found a solution to a particular problem – often without raising much, if any outside capital and/or using crowdfunding to bring their ideas to market.
Take the Ellipse, from a startup called Lattis. Birthed with the help of an incubator, Highway1, this smart, solar-powered bicycle lock takes tech from smartphones and applies it to address the huge problem of bicycle theft. While other manufacturers work at making their locks tougher – while failing to eliminate theft, the “connected city-dwellers” at Lattis came up with an ingenious solution which uses your phone to lock and unlock the device, which alerts you if your bike is moved or tampered with. It even contacts your friends if you have a crash. In 2015 they ran a crowdfunding campaign on Indigogo which almost doubled its subscription offer.
Closer to home, Brandbook allows you to earn points on items you already buy in physical shops by uploading your receipt. It enhances the offline retail world with a simple mobile app which rewards you for the interaction – the benefit to business is the clever analytics this generates as well as, of course, the ability to attract customers by being part of the programme.
In fact, there are much, much bigger changes afoot in the retail space. Whereas a few years ago, pundits were talking about most shopping being done online in the future, pure e-commerce seems to have peaked as a proportion of retail sales. Now the smart money is on “clicks and mortar”. But not of the first generation of local shops setting up websites to sell online. Ironically, the reverse is where the future is. Companies like Amazon and China’s Alibaba have invested billions in taking their sophisticated, efficient systems and processes and applying them to the real-world retail experience. An experience which is still valued by many consumers and which is now being served by a new generation of smart stores, which harness technology to make shopping convenient and fun, whether you order from your sofa or in-store.
With these kinds of trends developing, it will be a case of either being left behind or spotting opportunities and developing new solutions which make the most of the changes happening in society and even spark new behaviours.
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