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3 Things Africa Must Get Right If It Wants To Leapfrog Into The 4th Industrial Revolution

Dr Sharron McPherson, who lectures on the MCom in Development Finance at the UCT Graduate School of Business, is optimistic that the coming technological revolution can benefit Africa – but that education, government buy-in and targeted support of small to medium businesses will play a critical role in determining if the continent sinks or swims.

Dr Sharron McPherson




“The 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) and Future Proofing are current buzz-phrases in business, but what we are really looking at is the emergence of an entirely new economy,” says Dr Sharron McPherson, who, as co-founder and executive director of the Centre for Disruptive Technologies, “has over 1 000 disruptive techies around the globe on speed dial.”

Disruptive technology, that which is significantly changing the way business operates – a literal game changer – is seen as the spearhead of 4IR and it has people scrabbling for skills that will future-proof their careers and keep them ahead of the game. It’s a topic McPherson tackled, along with the impact of technology on finance, at Finance Indaba Africa, which took place on 3 and 4 October at the Sandton Convention Centre.

“We have to look at technological acceleration and the need to upskill youth as part of a whole,” says McPherson, who has studied the market in depth on behalf of governments and corporations using a substantial team. “Change is happening so fast it is hard for any one person to be an expert.”

McPherson comes as close as anyone to the role of expert in this fast-changing field. A lecturer on the MCom in Development Finance at the UCT Graduate School of Business, she argues that a new economic paradigm is emerging, and it is not driven solely by technology, but by global pressures such as climate change – with its very real implications for food, water and energy security – booming populations and the knock-on demands on land and resources, and rising terrorism, populism and nationalism as systems get stressed and people start saying “us first”.

“What differentiates 4IR from former revolutions is the quantum of change and the convergence of global factors of a magnitude quite unprecedented in human history. It is sobering, and yet I am encouraged by the time I spend with young people and those who are investing in future generations and the future of work,” says McPherson.

Related: A Perfect Storm: Business, Creativity And The 4th Industrial Revolution

Born in the US, McPherson came to South Africa in the mid-90s armed with a doctorate degree in law from Columbia University, New York, to serve as a volunteer in the offices of legendary Constitutional Court Justice Albie Sachs in Johannesburg. She also has an honours degree in finance from the University of Toulon, France, and a BA Economics from the College of William & Mary.

“I was divorced, a single mom to a six year old, and I volunteered for two years,” she says. “I’d been working on Wall Street on mortgage-backed securitisations and I saw the light! In the mid-90s South Africa was the most exciting place on earth – the youngest constitutional democracy. I got bit by the African bug. It gets into your blood and makes it difficult to leave,” she says with a laugh.

Passionate about the continent, McPherson believes in the power of education to shift the future and wants all young people to have access to a high-quality STEM education (science, technology, engineering and maths) to ready them for 4IR.

“This is an opportunity that needs to be recognised,” she says. “Africa is uniquely positioned to leapfrog into 4IR, but we need make changes so that we can realise that promise. We have a choice to invest in the education of 200 million young Africans – it is a position of promise or peril.”

Unfortunately, as things stand, South Africa is “way down” on the list of the countries that are getting STEM education right. In an effort to democratise access to a STEM education, the Centre for Disruptive Technologies has invested a lot into the development of an artificial intelligence teaching platform that will have intuitive sensitivities when it comes to learner abilities.

But as important as investing in education is, it will not be enough to prepare youth for a world where many will not be able to get a job and will need to create their own work opportunities. The second issue that needs attention therefore, believes McPherson, is entrepreneurship and creating the right start-up ecosystem.

“We need to revisit ideas around enterprise development and how to get it right.”

One of the traps South Africa has created for itself is to bundle micro businesses with small and medium enterprises but these businesses often have vastly different needs – and prospects.

“By pooling these businesses with micro businesses you are limiting results. Small and medium businesses are the real drivers of growth and need to be specifically catered for, with defined objectives around their needs, driven strategies and allocated resources to make sure their potential is maximised. Start-ups and SME are also not the same. We need to understand and appreciated these differences if we want to develop the right ecosystems.”

This brings McPherson to her final point, the essential need for government to assume its role as a key stakeholder. “Everything we have done at the Centre for Disruptive Technologies we have done in collaboration with the private sector because we simply haven’t been able to get traction from government. To really prepare for 4IR we need meaningful private / public partnerships and African solutions,” she says.

Working with such macro challenges is all in day’s work for McPherson, who is also a keen runner, getting up between four and five most mornings to run. She also meditates – “taking time to reconnect with my values and helping me to not sweat the small stuff” – hikes, and speaks seven languages.

“I am a chronic over-achiever,” she says with a laugh. But she deems her highest achievement her daughter’s respect for her work in education and empowering women. “It is really lovely if your kid thinks that what you are doing is hot. That for me is good. I am so encouraged by the young folk who are so tech savvy, take a lot more risk than our generation and have a different compass. Their true north has a much stronger social conscience.

“It gives me hope for the future.”

Dr Sharron McPherson, lectures on the MCom in Development Finance at the UCT Graduate School of Business.

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Harnessing Value-Based Delivery To Create Customer-Centric Solutions

By embracing a transparent, VBD-driven model, savvy companies can leverage the benefits of increasingly advanced technology, developed in an agile, cost-effective way to better serve customers’ real needs.

Wayne Zwiers




Today’s business ecosystem is fuelled by the ongoing digital disruption. Now, agile start-ups with progressive methodologies are taking on monolithic companies that find it difficult to pivot and adjust to a highly competitive, customer-first world. For companies to survive and thrive, in their respective industries and sectors, they need to embrace technology and products that serve their markets in new and innovative ways.

With IT spending in South Africa forecast to reach R276.6 billion in 2018, a 4.3% increase from 2017, there is certainly not a lack of will. Arguably, where there is a lack is in understanding what customers really want and need – and thereby delivering a product or service that sticks. To solve this challenge, innovators and technologists are moving to adopt a methodology called ‘Value-Based Delivery.’

This approach is designed to accelerate and streamline the process of developing products and services that truly serve the end user.

Defining Value

To understand how this approach is implemented within the enterprise sphere, it’s important to first define value. Naturally, the value could mean very different things to different individuals and/or companies. By removing any focus on money, it could be argued that the real value of something lies in its capacity to enhance or add meaning to one’s life. This form of value could manifest in various forms, such as saving time, cutting costs or improving one’s day-to-day lifestyle.

Related: 5 Reasons Why Your Business Is Losing Customers

Yet in a world that now defines itself by speed, competition, efficiency and productivity, achieving such value is no small feat. However, if a company can solve this for their customers, chances are the customer will be happy to part with money, time or data in exchange for such widely beneficial solutions. Notably, the total global spend on information technology is projected to rise by 6.2% to $3.7 trillion this year, according to Gartner, the highest annual growth rate that the research firm has forecast since 2007. Executives clearly understand the need for technology – but not always how to reach the right technology solutions that can achieve the value they are seeking.

Today, the real challenge is finding out what that value actually is – in the context of the customer’s unique reality. This is a problem that is made worse by the undeniable fact that many companies don’t even know who their real customer is – let alone what their needs are. And, even if they do, chances are the ‘understanding’ of customer identity is based more on what the brand perceives the right solution to be, and not on what the core customer requirements really are.

Overall, there is a clouded view of what the customer actually represents, and consequently, what the customer truly requires.

Accelerating Development

To get around this very common, and very persistent challenge, it is imperative to launch technology solutions as quickly as possible with an MVP (Minimum Viable Product). This enables the developer to quickly obtain key user feedback, and to thereby ascertain whether the solution actually added value, or not. This proactive approach forms the essence of Value-Based Delivery (VBD).

Importantly, the VBD ethos enables a small team of highly skilled developers and technologists to deliver defined customer-valued products in a Rapid Time to Market.

It avoids wasting time and resources on solutions that don’t fit the problem, or that don’t fit in with the overall company culture and design. Indeed, it is estimated that 35% of all software-developed solutions are rarely, if ever, successfully implemented in the enterprise.

Related: Dealing with Difficult Customers

Embracing Agility & Transparency

While there is growing awareness amongst C-suite executives of the need to invest in world-leading technology, there continues to be a sharp disconnect when it comes to how – and why – certain solutions are developed. For example, even within companies, depending on their levels/roles, people have a different perception of value when looking at solutions or working with partners. Questions such as ‘how much time did we spend developing this?’; ‘what were the costs involved?’; and ‘what were the associated timelines?’ all reveal the varying expectations and perceptions of value.

To get around this, both business leaders and technology innovators must work to ensure that the process is fully transparent, with timelines and deliverables agreed upon from the beginning. Also, both partners must work to ensure that there is understanding of the technology itself, and how the end solution will be implemented. By embracing a transparent, VBD-driven model, savvy companies can leverage the benefits of increasingly advanced technology, developed in an agile, cost-effective way to better serve customers’ real needs.

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South African Podcasting On The Rise

In South Africa, podcast consumption has grown by 50% in the past 12 months alone, and represents the fastest growing sector of media consumption in South Africa.





Local and international research reveals that once users switch to podcasts, they tend to stick to the medium for a long period of time, which makes it the ideal platform to build on a narrative, whether you’re a brand wanting to reach larger business audiences or a podcast host who wants to launch their own platform.

When Matt Brown first launched his podcast, The Matt Brown Show, it was to give entrepreneurs and business owners access to in-depth insights from local and international tech and business giants.

His own entrepreneurial experiences revealed the risk and instability associated with start-ups, and he was fascinated with disruptive technologies coming to the fore. If he needed a way to stay on top of things, he knew his fellow entrepreneurs did too, or they would run the risk of becoming irrelevant. The solution? A podcast that interviews tech and business giants, delving into their insights and experiences, and shared with listeners in over 100 countries.

“Through the Matt Brown Show, our goal was to build a channel that helped fellow entrepreneurs access those learnings through a story-telling medium, because let’s face it, we’re hard-wired for stories,” says Brown. “Long-format shows like podcasts are great for storytelling and enable listeners to get a deeper and richer understanding of something that relates to entrepreneurship and the world of business.”

Since its launch in 2016, The Matt Brown Show is consistently in the top 20 podcasts in South Africa, has reached the #1 spot in ‘Management & Marketing’ on 13 separate occasions and is currently ranked in the top 100 shows in the category around the world. It’s a formula that works, but Brown believes his fellow entrepreneurs and brands should be using it to reach their audiences as well.

A growing media platform

“The problem was that as a South African-based podcast host, I only had access to research on my medium that was conducted in the US. As a whole, the stats already confirmed my own experience of podcasting, namely, that podcasts are the single fastest growing medium in the world,” says Brown.

According to The Infinite Dial report, conducted by Edison Research, the 2018 US stats are up from 2017, continuing the growth trend of podcasting. According to the report, 64% of Americans have heard of podcasts (that’s more people than know who the Vice President is), 44% of Americans have listened to a podcast, and one third of Americans between the ages of 25 and 54 listen to podcasts monthly.

Related: Everything You Need To Know About Podcasting But Were Afraid To Ask

“The stat that really struck home with me though was that in 2018, 6 million more Americans listen to podcasts weekly versus 2017, taking the total up to 48 million people. Podcast fans listen to 40% more shows than last year. All the trends point up – particularly for people who have already been converted by the medium,” says Matt.

“But that still didn’t tell us what was happening in the South African landscape. We wanted to understand how South Africans consume podcasts and to do that, we needed to conduct our own research.”

Through the South African Podcast Media Consumption Research Data, Trends & Analysis Report 2018, Matt Brown Media wanted to answer a number of key questions, including:

  • The breadth and depth of podcast media consumption currently taking place in South Africa
  • The true size of the addressable market of podcasts in South Africa
  • The most popular categories and types of podcasts preferred by South Africans
  • Why South African’s are switching from the radio to on-demand podcast consumption
  • The demographic profile of the typical South African podcast listener (income, education, age and employment)

“Our goal was three-fold. First, by gaining a better understanding of our audience and addressable market, we can create content that is relevant and insightful. Second, we want to help brands explore the role of content in their own storytelling, and finally we want to educate listeners on the benefits of podcasts, since this is a medium that anyone can access for free to improve their own knowledge and industry insights.”

The research was conducted through digital and traditional media partners, and validated in the Eastern Cape, South Africa’s poorest region. With 15 682 respondents, the research was balanced to be a representative sample of age, gender, location and ethnicity.

Podcasts bridge demographic divides


Based on the research, the current addressable market for podcasting in South Africa is approximately 16 million people. “We believe there’s a very specific reason why there’s such a comparatively large addressable market in South Africa, and it comes down to our demographics: With such a rich, diverse culture, consumers are looking for media that speaks directly to them.”

In fact, according to the report, most South Africans don’t listen to podcasts simply because they don’t know how to access them on their phones, which means education is a key factor in growing local audiences.

Google search and social media are the primary sources of information related to podcasts.

Word-of-mouth is also a key channel of influence when it comes to SA podcast listeners finding new shows. This underscores the importance of producing quality content over quantity.

Podcasts are ‘sticky’

The research revealed that 80% of South Africans listen to the majority of a podcast. Once consumers are engaged, there is a stickiness factor to the medium that represents big opportunities for narrative-based, branded content for brands and sponsored content for podcast producers.

Most South African podcast listeners also listen to a podcast within 24 hours of download.

Related: Show Me The Mic, Matt Brown

This indicates that consumers perceive podcasts to be of high-value to them, as they want to consume the content almost immediately. 

The most popular type of podcasts are entertainment-based (at 56%), with ‘real-time information’ orientated podcasts coming in at 47% and learning and information at 40% respectively. “In my own experience, the sweet spot for most podcasts is ‘edutainment’ – entertaining content that also service to increase knowledge and skills,” says Brown. “The top-ranking podcasts in the US support this as well.”

Podcasts reach high LSM listeners

Respondents are split equally over whether they prefer listening to the radio or podcasts. This supports the consumer perception that podcasts are an extension of traditional radio, although podcasts represent new opportunities for narrative-based storytelling. 

Most podcast listeners are employed full-time. This indicates that the profile of the typical South African podcast listener is LSM 7-10.

From an education perspective, podcasts represent a significant opportunity to drive the informal learning agenda across South Africa. 43% of podcast listeners are highly educated, which implies information access is key driver of consumption for this segment.

In South Africa, the primary podcast listener is aged between 35 and 54 (in line with US stats), with the secondary listener aged between 25 and 34. The majority of podcast listeners have a household income of between R100 000 and R1 million.

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Company Posts

Your Data Is At Risk

Across the globe, data breaches are costing businesses — small and big alike — millions, and South Africa is no exception. Are you taking a risk your business can’t afford?

Kaspersky Lab




Data breaches are costing enterprises an average of $1,23 million a year and SMEs $120 000 per cyber incident on average. The unfortunate reality is that these figures increase annually as we embrace the digital world and become increasingly connected.

Despite this, many decision-makers think that data security is the exclusive domain of the IT department and they do not need to worry about it. And, if you are an SME, the approach might be that those freely available anti-virus and internet security tools will be enough to keep your data safe. Sadly, this could not be further from the truth.

Technology has infiltrated almost all aspects of business today. And with more companies embracing the cloud and other hosted solutions, there is a growing awareness of the benefits of being able to access data irrespective of physical location and device used. The ubiquity of mobile devices mean employees are no longer office-bound.

The Wild West

But for all the advantages that this mobile lifestyle offers, how many have taken the time to think about effectively safeguarding their data on these devices (both business and personal)? Think about it this way – every mobile or other connected device that can access corporate data, is a likely entry point for malicious users to either compromise it, steal it, or hold it to ransom.

Related: Protect Your Business – Let The Right MSP Manage IT Security For You

Now, scroll through your phone and open your security application. Scarily, many South Africans do not even have a free cybersecurity solution installed on their mobile device. This is often the same device that accesses the company network and pulls mission-critical data from the system.

The days are long gone where viruses were just bouncing balls appearing on the computer screens slowing down a system. Today, malicious software (malware) has become big business. Hackers form collectives and target companies of all sizes, across industry sectors, and from any country. They are committed to getting access to what many have likened to the ‘oil’ of the digital world – data.

Data forms a core component of any business. Just imagine what would happen if you lost your data. Take a moment to reflect on how quickly you could recover from such a disaster and what the impact on your clients and your longevity would be.

Granted, these collectives do not quite have salaried hackers doing the dirty work, but it is fast approaching that stage. A few months ago, a well-known local insurer experienced a ransomware attack and went public with it. Think about all those companies that do not act as proactively to get ahead of the problem.

In this [digital] Wild West, it is only a matter of when your data gets compromised and not if. Are you ready for it?

Safeguarding data

Kaspersky Lab research is showing that people are starting to become more aware of the implications this could have for their businesses. In fact, 69% of respondents to our survey admit to feeling stressed out when hearing news of data breaches and the fact that companies often experience multiple breaches.

This is certainly a step in the right direction.

Sticking one’s head in the sand and hoping the problem will go away never helped any business. In theory, this awakening should lead to closely scrutinising existing security policies and systems. Given how increasingly sophisticated cyber attacks have become, such an internal audit is vital to get an understanding of the safeguards that currently exist and where improvements need to be made.

But while cybersecurity solutions are obviously important, it involves something more comprehensive than that. Protecting your data is not about installing a firewall or a piece of anti-virus software. It involves a comprehensive and considered approach that takes every point of contact into the business, reviews it, and protects it.

This is where employee education forms an integral step in keeping business data safe. Social engineering remains one of the biggest threats to organisational data. Those emails that come in asking for details to be verified or files to be opened – definitely a no-go area. And when it comes to real-world threats, workers need to be educated on what to look out for. The age-old example of a flash drive being left on a desk with a file called Salaries.xsl might be too big a temptation to resist for some. Even inserting an infected drive into a computer could be enough for the hackers to take care of the rest.

Related: Is Data Protection One Of Your Top Concerns? It Should Be

New focus

Local businesses must therefore embrace a new focus on cybersecurity. Not only does this make good corporate sense, but it is essential in complying with data regulation such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) of the European Union and the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPI) in South Africa.

Being found in breach of this compliance not only means significant financial fines (that could be crippling in itself), but also reputational damage that stems from showing customers that the organisation is not committed to keeping their data safe.

So, protecting against data breaches necessitates a multi-pronged strategy that encompasses solutions (hardware and software), employee education, multi-touchpoint assessments, and ongoing evaluation to keep up to date with the latest trends.

However, no organisation can realistically be expected to manage all of this on its own. This is where trusted managed service providers in the cybersecurity environment fulfil a critical role. They can take care of all the security needs while the business can focus on meeting its strategic objectives.

It is a dangerous new digital world out there. No company is safe and even start-ups must do what is necessary to protect their data. To do any less, would be to risk the future of the organisation.

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