Revolution: Why African governments need to be digital savvy

Wednesday, August 28th, 2019 00:00 |
Digital world. Photo/Courtesy

Amrote Abdella

At a recent conference in Johannesburg, a young college student posed the question: “If we are introducing into basic education new subjects to be competitive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, like coding, why do we have ministers of education that are over 60?”

It was a glimpse into the mind of a demographic most impacted by the digital era. If you look at any digitally transforming organisation, what sets the leaders apart is not just a clear digital strategy, but a culture and leadership poised to execute it.

Employees today expect business leaders to be nimble, embracing digital tools to remain competitive and make strategic decisions.

The expectation on governments is no different. As African countries work to become global leaders in the digital revolution, young people are looking for a tech-savvy and digitally mature government to lead the way.

The benefits of a digital savvy government are many. Armed with technologies and the capabilities to use them, governments are empowered to be more agile, efficient, data-driven, transparent and connected to citizens.

With machine learning and skills in data analytics, policy makers can be more forward-thinking, discovering opportunities and mitigating risks for more productive and inclusive growth.

A Deloitte digital survey also found that public sector leaders who understand digital trends and technologies are three times more likely to provide appropriate support for transformation, compared to those who do not.

High levels of involvement with technology typically result in greater investment, broader adoption and a greater number of successful implementations.

In a recent IFC report, Africa was noted as having a slow and insufficient policy response to digital transformation. Respondents called for accelerated efforts in developing clear-cut digital agendas.

This includes modernising curricula, training teachers, expanding broadband access, promoting a vibrant business climate by encouraging competition, and enforcing cybersecurity.

Today, resources such as the AI Business School geared towards government can be the first stop for governments looking to upskill their employees. 

With more digital champions in government, imagine how much more rapidly Africa could implement this transformation and advance its position as a leader in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

In 2018, for example, the United Arab Emirates announced its intention to become the world’s most prepared country for artificial intelligence, leading in AI research, development and innovation.

To do so, they began efforts at government level, appointing the first dedicated Minister of AI. The effort was lauded for ensuring “a necessary focus for implementation as opposed to just talking” and ensuring solutions are based on the latest understanding of technology.

For Africa to truly succeed – and lead – in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, innovative start-ups, technology companies and smart businesses need to collaborate on building an ecosystem where everyone benefits from technology. Leading this charge should be governments with clear roadmaps. 

Governments need to focus on attracting, retaining and upskilling qualified ICT professionals in the public sector workforce who can cope with the complexities of the new policy environment.

Today, the most critical area of investment by governments needs to be skills development in order to grow emerging digital economies. The time for skilling was yesterday. The next best time is today. — The writer is the regional director of Microsoft 4Afrika

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