5min read

We all understand the importance of Enterprise Development (ED) and Supplier Development (SD) for the successful execution of business in South Africa.  A host of incubators and business accelerators have sprung up over the last decade all focused on developing entrepreneurs and SMMEs to improve their business acumen and simply do better business. But how much focus has there been on technology transfer?

I have been studying the DTI’s South Africa Business Incubator Establishment Handbook, to understand how many of our incubators were established and being operated.  It struck me that the handbook was very helpful with the rational on establishing an incubator, where it should operate and which industries it should serve.  However, my observation was that there was very little about technology and technology transfer.  Programs such as SEDA Technology Programme, Support Programme for Industrial Innovation, the Technology Innovation Agency and the Technology and Human Resources for Industry Programme are all referenced, but somehow I’m left with the feeling that these programmes are all aimed at the techpreneur (this with the objective of delivering specific technology solutions). Have we unknowingly disconnected technology from entrepreneurship, at least for the “general” entrepreneur?

1. The 4th Industrial Revolution

The 4th revolution is not coming it is here. In fact, global business has advanced at such a rate over the last 5 years that we need to be alarmed by the slow pace in South Africa.  It is not a case of if an entrepreneur should be considering including digital or other 4IR technologies in her business plan, but rather how it will be used to differentiate her product/service offering or else risk being disrupted before she got going.

2. Integrated Supply Chains

Throughout South Africa, most corporates are sitting with the challenge of maintaining competitive supply chains.  Short term thinking over the last decade has seen a shift to globally sourced materials and services.  This is understandable due to price and service competitiveness from foreign suppliers.  However, we now all sit with the dilemma of massive unemployment and a scramble to develop local capability. Frankly, we threw away the opportunity to develop better business capability within our local supply chains, when spending abroad. Maybe we are not taxed enough on imports, but let’s leave that for another discussion.

So, as corporates are shifting towards digitalisation, they are finding that the success of their digital transformation programmes are highly dependent on the quality of their suppliers and their ability to digitally integrate with their business operating models.  Therefore, the challenge for local development is even more severe: building local capability while attending to digital integration.

3. ED/SD Development Partners

The services provided by ED/SD partners should therefore be under significant scrutiny.  While these programmes have been excellent in developing entrepreneurship, leadership, project management, financial acumen and business development skills, few programmes have focused on technology awareness, digital transformation, and certainly not digital integration.

Noting the guidance from the South Africa Business Incubator Establishment Handbook, these programmes run typically over periods up to 18 months with a selection of workshops, e-learning and subject mentoring guiding the entrepreneur to improved business capability, networked for better opportunities.  The platform is there to scale the business commercial focus and include the 4IR technology focus, thus enriching the entrepreneur’s development and upon graduation, her ability to integrate into corporate supply chains.

4. Partner Programme Selection

ED/SD Managers and responsible executives are therefore obligated to have a closer look at the allocation of their spending on these elements and critically review the content of these programmes commensurate with their mid-terms supply needs.

The partner programme should have a clear sequence for 4IR Technology Awareness, Digital Transformation Strategies and Technical Skills Development programmes.  The availability of technical mentors is critical to the success of these programmes and the organisation should look at their technical specialists to become closely integrated with their supplier development programmes.   The long-term sustainability of a competitive locally sourced supply chain, in particular when operating in remote areas are of critical importance to the organisation and the communities in which they operate.

The 4th industrial revolution offers immense opportunities for business and society. Let’s work at thinking that embraces these opportunities and actively channel our resources towards adoption and refinement. Else we (as individuals or businesses) risk becoming irrelevant and unfortunate relics following a period of change.   This has been proven unavoidable during each of the previous three revolutions.

What to do?

Do you have the required skill and knowledge to benefit from 4IR? Have you engaged an ecosystem of solution providers that can help you on your transformation journey? Perhaps you are concerned about your supply chain and wish to channel help their way? You need a partner to assess your 4IR maturity and help strategise how you will achieve the necessary culture change to maximise your potential.  If you have not planned your strategy and organisation, get help.  The Aguru 4IR Essentials Training and Mentorship solutions can be of strategic value to your business.

Johan Louw is the founder of Aguru Business Solutions.  He helps companies to get ready for automation and digitalisation.

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