[Column] Andrew Sordam: How African businesses can protect themselves against the effects of powerful market forces - Automation is the answer
There is no question that Africa is considered a land of opportunity in the technology space. At last year’s meeting of the National Council on Communication Technology (NCCT), Nigeria’s Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu, claimed that the industry attracted $40 billion in Foreign Direct Investment during 2018, up from $32 billion in 2015. Reflecting the economic importance of digital transformation, the governments of many African countries are also placing greater emphasis on their modernisation programmes, with Kenya’s Big Four Agenda arguably the most high profile. Within Kenya, a predicted $1.9 million will be spent on ICT infrastructure, software and services this year, to underpin a healthy Digital Age economy. That’s according to the International Data Corporation’s (IDC’s) Kenya Enterprise ICT Market 2019 Outlook.
These powerful driving forces are also being paired with Africa’s accelerating population growth and consumer spending. As well as in the public sector, change is speeding up across all industries. Companies that fail to innovate, risk falling behind in a highly competitive environment where mergers and acquisitions are becoming ever more common. These M&A moves are being used to solidify the market position, meet growing demand and generally futureproof organisations.
As a result, one of the best things business decision-makers can do is embrace the new generation of digital technologies – in particular, automation, as soon as possible to remain on equal footing with these future-minded enterprises.
Automation is not the enemy. Quite the opposite
Discussions around intelligent automation, or autonomous systems, often lead to terms like “Artificial Intelligence (AI),” “machine learning,” “Blockchain” and “Internet of Things (IoT)” being thrown around. Some of these concepts are more advanced in their level of system self-thinking and analysis than others. In Africa, we see a full range of adoptions – often combining machine learning and automatic action. For example, in agriculture, IoT sensors keep farmers up to date with the condition of crops even in their furthest fields.
At Oracle, we are hearing from many business leaders who want to automate data management across their whole organisation, so that they can focus more on business innovation, taking advantage of real-time insights extracted from the information they have. They want to be empowered to operate more efficiently, act swiftly and deliver service excellence. As these same businesses evolve and grow, autonomous systems – which are typically cloud-based, and therefore highly scalable – are especially beneficial, seamlessly integrating front and back end in complex operational ecosystems.
Of course, there are claims that automation will lead to job losses, as one of the technology’s greatest benefits is handling and streamlining processes that would have previously required hefty manpower and time investment. What we are finding, however, is a growing investment in people who understand and can effectively tap the benefits of AI. Driving this crucial investment, it turns out, are start-ups in all regions in Sub-Saharan Africa. Not only are these companies increasingly exploring the potential of new technologies, but also cultivating the skills base to support them.
Meanwhile, recognising that AI will transform the workplace and the nature of jobs themselves, progressive CIOs and managers are encouraging the shift to automation. They see it as a liberation from repetitive operational tasks like software administration and security updates for example, enabling the IT team to function as advisors and drive innovation in their area of expertise. For them, greater adoption of emerging technologies is a way for employees to move up their company’s internal value chain, not be excluded from it.
There are other advantages to embedding automation into critical business systems and processes. Solutions that exist on the highest tier of automation, like the cloud-based Oracle Autonomous Database, go beyond making recommendations (themselves beneficial, of course) to function like a smart, self-driving, self-securing and self-repairing system. Such a self-managed approach reduces risk and elevates compliance levels regarding data protection and system security, and by taking over certain tasks can even help minimise the skills gap in the organisation. And when such automation services are cloud-based, without the need for on-premise infrastructure, cost-savings are amplified.
When used strategically as part of a well-thought-out digital transformation plan, automation has a place at every organisation, public or private, and in all areas of business, from finance to marketing. Every single enterprise will benefit from technology that enables a real-time feel of its data or takes over tedious operational tasks.
At Oracle, we see how many established organisations in Africa are embracing emerging technologies to re-sharpen their competitive edge amid massive market change. In fact, these adoption rates are as high as in Europe. After three decades on the continent, we are especially excited to see where autonomous systems are going to take African business, and local economies, within the next two years.