As the Fourth Industrial Revolution – characterised by the interconnection of technologies, blurring the lines between the world’s physical, digital, and biological domains – continues to change the working landscape across the globe at a rapid pace.
It is now more important than ever for South African small and medium enterprise (SME) owners to think innovatively about how they can capitalise on this disruptive technology.
This is according to Mark Paper, Chief operating officer at Business Partners International, who says that this fusion of technologies offers many opportunities and rather than be daunted by technological advancement, entrepreneurs should think of ways to use it to become leaders in their industries.
“An example recently seen in South Africa, is the disruption of the banking sector with the rise of app-based banks such as TymeBank that has completely removed the traditional brick-and-mortar bank and its associated physical queues; the official launch of Bank Zero and Discovery Bank will add to this group. Another example of an industry seeing massive technological change is the automotive industry, with the introduction of electric and self-driving cars,” he adds.
“In terms of local SMEs revolutionising their industries with tech, a great example is one of our clients, The eHealth Group, which holds the Southern African license for the state-of-the-art telemedicine and virtual healthcare technology developed by the US based tech firm InTouch Health,” explains Paper. “The aim of the business is to connect South Africa’s concentrated oversupply of urban medical expertise with remote clinics throughout the country via a range of sophisticated audio-visual communication devices that can bring a specialist or senior doctor virtually into the ward.”
Another example is Yoco, which was established to facilitate easier access for entrepreneurs to get card payment services but has expanded to provide many other software and hardware solutions including Post of Sale software for small businesses in South Africa.
Paper notes that while technological advancement assists businesses to grow and remain competitive, it also brings to the fore the increasing concern of how technology will replace many jobs in the future. This does not need to be the case, he says, pointing to the McKinsey Global Institute’s report, Jobs lost, jobs gained: Workforce transitions in a time of automation, which found that a growing and active economy fueled by technology will create a demand for new types of occupations that may not have existed before.
The report also suggests several trends that may create a demand for millions of jobs by 2030, explains Paper. “These trends include increased energy efficiency to address climate change, and goods and services for the expanding consumer class.”
He suggests that entrepreneurs should start these businesses for the future and lead these forward-thinking industries by becoming the manufacturers of solar panels, and electricity dispensers for electric cars, for example.
SMEs need to also see the progression of technological developments and trends as a sign to improve their business processes and start upskilling employees, says Paper. “It should even be taken a step further and South Africa’s educational syllabuses should be amended to skill our youth of today for the many new jobs of tomorrow.”
“As entrepreneurship is the backbone of the country’s economic growth, especially in terms of job creation, it is imperative that small business owners consider ways to be innovative with disruptive technology to create jobs, grow their businesses, and to remain competitive,” concludes Paper.