Having had the opportunity to attend the 2019 Women in Tech Africa conference in Cape Town earlier this year, and the privilege to spend time with more than 300 industry peers in technology across all spheres of industry, this was a reminder of the massive contribution that women are making in what was once undoubtedly considered a male-dominated field, writes Jessica Davies, Senior Disruption Analyst: Nedbank CIB. Like any industry, it is imperative that technology increasingly embraces the value and power that can be unlocked through diverse participation, particularly in terms of gender representation.

Quite apart from the fact that numerous studies have found a strong correlation between female representation in leadership roles and sustained financial performance and organisational success, the steadily growing levels of social and business gender equality worldwide mean that, quite literally, more women are actively engaging with technology than has been the case previously.

This demands that the technology progress and disruption efforts of corporations take into consideration the more diverse user and beneficiary base and having women tech professionals in leadership positions is undoubtedly key to this realignment of the purpose and value of technology going forward.

Personally, however, positive impressions of the Women in Tech Africa event extended far beyond the way in which women are taking the lead in many areas of technology and business globally. More impressive was the depth of insight that the participants and speakers demonstrated into the imperative for businesses that want to fully harness and unleash the power of technology to ensure that the tech they apply has highly practical applications for their employees and clients alike.

As a speaker at the event, I was honoured to be able to share some thoughts on this important subject and offer examples of how we at Nedbank CIB are working to ensure that our disruption efforts make a significantly positive impact on the lives and businesses of our clients, rather than merely ‘doing’ disruption for disruption’s sake.

Our approach to disruption at Nedbank CIB is one of acceleration rather than interruption. Our strategy defines disruption as a process whereby we give effect to our objective to deliver solutions and services to our clients that go beyond the traditional understanding of ‘banking’. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a key focus in this regard because of the incredible recent advances in machine learning, and the forward leaps that are being made as we come to understand more of the specific ways in which technology’s learning ability can be applied to benefit people in very specific ways.

For one, businesses in all sectors and industries are beginning to grasp the value inherent in applying AI to monitor and intuitively guide human decision-making processes. For example, the rapid reduction in costs of satellite technology now allows us to accurately image the entire earth on a daily basis. This has massive implications for monitoring, predicting and addressing deforestation trends, or tracking urban sprawl with a view to implementing targeted and effective infrastructure investment to meet changing societal requirements.

AI and the agriculture value chain

Our use of this technology, in partnership with Aerobotics, to advance sustainable progress in agriculture through a combination of drone and satellite imagery, has recently garnered significant recognition and accolades for the value this level of AI application adds to the entire agriculture value chain, including problem detection, application of farming inputs, and crop yield and health prediction.

Fixed camera imagery analysis is another technology advance through which we believe significant benefits can be passed on to consumers. The Amazon Go store concept is a good example of this in action. Instead of only existing for the traditional purpose of security, fixed cameras monitor the shopping choices of customers and automatically deduct payment for the goods they select from their e-wallets as they leave the store, without the need for checkouts or sales assistants.

We believe the potential of this type of seamless experience extends way beyond mere application in retail outlets. In fact, the possibilities are virtually endless. Currently, we are exploring these with property developers who could use the technology to track activity on their construction sites and automatically settle payments on delivery of goods, or autonomously release finance at the completion of each agreed phase of development.

Sustainable Development Goals

Given that Africa is predicted to experience unprecedented population growth in the coming century, the need for this type of practical application of technology to help meet the evolving needs of people on the continent cannot be overstated.

For one, it is highly unlikely that corporations and governments will be able to meet their commitments to contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals without the use of technology to inform decisions and actions, and enable the massive levels of up-scaling of solutions that will be required over the next decade.

Banks and other financial services providers need to look at what the future needs of their clients will be, and then consider how they can innovate or disrupt in order to deliver value that transcends the realm of finance. For Nedbank, this type of client-centricity is a priority and a key strategic theme. We do not believe that the true value of banking in the future will be an ability to respond to client needs with technology-driven solutions.

We know that the banks that win in the years to come will be those that have committed to putting their client needs firmly at the centre of their technology development, so that they can pre-empt those needs and offer solutions even before they become problems. For us, that’s the real value of disruptive technology.

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