The effects of digitalisation are different worldwide, and Africa is no exception. German multinational Siemens senior VP for Digital Industries in Southern and Eastern Africa Ralf Leinen says that, for the first time, Africa has an opportunity to use smart technology to transform entire economies at an unprecedented rate.
“Digitalisation offers the African continent the ideal opportunity to accelerate growth and rapidly expand struggling economies, but it’s a small window of opportunity and decision-makers must put a strategy in place quickly to succeed,” he says.
While the adoption of advanced analytics and digitalisation is growing across certain sectors, such as the automotive industry, there is a real opportunity for adoption of these systems across all sectors, including mining, food and beverage, and manufacturing, which are significant contributors to African economies.
Leinen states, however, that a stable supply of electricity is crucial for digitalisation to flourish. Africa will attract the necessary investment across various industry sectors only by providing high levels of infrastructure and power supply.
Although manufacturing is the most mature sector in its transformation of digital technologies, the greatest opportunity is in the energy and infrastructure sectors; however, without stable electricity, it is challenging to implement.
“Digitalisation can assist in enabling decentralised power generation to work using alternate energy sources combined with intelligent grid management. In the transport sector, for example, new ways of using existing infrastructure more efficiently are being enabled through digitalisation,” explains Leinen.
The rail and road sectors need to move beyond electrification and automation to true digitalisation and focus on extending and integrating islands of excellence to solve the real mass mobility needs of citizens, he adds.
The African region presents unique opportunities for Industry 4.0 and Siemens is well placed to offer a wide range of offerings across the energy, mining, manufacturing and transportation sectors.
“Digitalisation affects different spheres of human existence, from houses to personal devices as well as from complex manufacturing to industrial processes. For Siemens, digitalisation is a growth driver,” says Leinen.
One of the potential benefits of South Africa embracing the “digital disruption” is to roll out services for digital access and use, “exactly as is done with traditional basic services infrastructure such as water and electricity. Embracing digitalisation will contribute as one critical element in achieving South Africa’s ambitious growth and job-creation targets,” he points out.
It is well known that new digital technologies drive paradigm shifts in how organisations operate, disrupting business models and working practices. In concrete terms, the benefits of digitalisation translate into faster time-to-market, greater flexibility and enhanced availability of products and systems for customers.
In South Africa, the key challenges lie in applying digitalisation amid various macro-economic factors such as regulation and infrastructure. The extent to which a business, legal and regulatory environment supports and protects the development of digitalisation in key industries is important.
“The challenges include the overall ease of doing business, the existence and enforcement of information and communications technology- (ICT-) related laws and regulations, the degree of protection of intellectual property, and the extent of ICT-related innovation and start-up activities.
“Other challenges are the quality of infrastructure, which includes access to international bandwidth, mobile-network coverage, Internet and mobile phone penetration, as well as the costs of broadband and mobile-phone access,” notes Leinen.
Siemens’ holistic approach for the digital enterprise comprises offerings for product design and production planning, along the complete value chain of customers' operations.
It also includes automation products, solutions and services. The supply chain and logistics can also be integrated based on a consistent collaboration platform. Companies can start with digitalisation – based on standardised and open interfaces – at any stage of their value chain, for greenfield and brownfield plants, he says.
Digitally Mature Sectors
Leinen points out that some sectors in South Africa are digitally mature, based on indicators of economic maturity, the environment, infrastructure, as well as skills and digital literacy. Infrastructure is a key pillar of digital maturity and depends substantially on government policies or initiatives.
“Siemens can see the real opportunity for improving South Africa’s digital maturity rankings and, with infrastructure ranking so highly, much of the battle has already been won,” says Leinen.
In the African context, disruptive technology can be seen as an opportunity to leapfrog into the best and most advanced technologies, but this is possible only with access to the right training and equipment.
Siemens’ commitment to active skills development enables locally engineered solutions that could activate the reindustrialisation of the economy and trigger growth on an unprecedented scale, he notes.
Siemens sees the opportunity to play an effective role in helping Africa embrace new and cutting edge technologies, combined with human talent to accelerate industrialisation and drive this economic growth.