It’s no secret that the Fourth Industrial Revolution has officially begun. The era of intersection between people and machines is among us, with more industries embracing the new technologies that are available.

By William Mzimba, chief officer for Vodacom Business

Historically, the term ‘revolution’ was often associated with hardships, displacement and economic dissonance. The Fourth Industrial Revolution, on the other hand, is often discussed in an energised, excited – and dare I say, blasé – type of attitude, particularly among ICT professionals.

Of course, we in the ICT industry understand the benefits that will come with the digital era, however I find myself wondering whether the consequences of this somewhat peaceful revolution might mirror those of revolutions past if we do not act quickly.

Concern has already begun to spread among the public, with many fearing for their jobs should the impact of technology increase within organisations around the country. As industry, we know the specifics of this particular issue, however we all have a part to play in ensuring optimal understanding around the digital revolution, or risk ushering the same hardships suffered during revolutions past.


Changing the message

We are privileged to not only watch a worldwide revolution take place before us, but to contribute towards it. The work we do in the ICT industry is changing the ways South Africans live and do business, and the impact and implications of the digital revolution are becoming more evident with each passing hour.

New technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning and Big represent some of the most exciting opportunities for our market, but because of their lack of understanding, it can easily cause uncertainty in the public. Rather than purely boasting about the possibility and opportunity these technologies offer our organisations, industries and organisations must do their bit to educate the public about the ways in which these technologies will benefit the end consumer.

From a Vodacom perspective, we are investing a lot of money in this space to offer increased service to our customers. If you look at our call centres, for instance, we are a business with over 39 million customers, and a lot of time is taken by customers trying to identify themselves when they call us. We need predictive analytics to know why they are calling us, and be able to solve their problems before they even call – meaning our services improve and our customers are ultimately happier. This is the kind of message that must be exerted in order for the Fourth Industrial Revolution to remain peaceful – that not only will human resources remain important to our businesses, but the end consumer will ultimately benefit from new technologies as well.

We also know that these technologies offer huge for cost-saving opportunities for our customers. The Vodacom Group recently launched Africa’s first commercial 5G service. Currently being used in Lesotho, the 5G service uses 3.5GHz spectrum to deliver fixed-wireless access to enterprise customers in the country, providing quicker deployment of broadband services at fibre-like speeds. What we’ve accomplished in Lesotho is an example of what can be achieved in Africa. The project represents a R32,7 billion investment by Vodacom over four years, and if we acquire more access to spectrum, we will be able to drive down infrastructure costs and, in turn, pass huge savings on to the consumer.

Even communities at large can benefit once digital capabilities expand. Vodacom’s prime example of transformation technology is Connected Farmer; the cloud-based web and mobile software solution that has connected thousands of smallholder farmers to the agriculture value chain. This small business model has achieved its purpose of turning smallholder farmers into a sustainable realistic and executable food manufacturers and retail businesses, increasing the number of smallholder subsistence farmers in commercial agriculture value chains within South Africa.

We are furthermore working with various municipalities on smart metering projects. We assist the Department of Health with the replenishing of stock for hospitals using our IoT system. We are also working with some of the financial services companies in terms of payments and ordering systems, and we recently launched the Citizen Engagement application, a mobile digital app that assists government and citizens with service delivery communication. All of this with the end consumer in mind.


Embrace the revolution

We are fortunate that the Fourth Industrial Revolution has been peacefully embraced thus far – but in order for this to remain, we as industry we must make more effort to relay the peaceful message that new technologies are adapted by organisations with the customer in mind.

Once consumers understand that they will be the ultimate beneficiaries of the digital revolution and the new technologies that come along with it, they too will join us in expressing excitement about its impending takeover.

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