Despite the enthusiasm expressed by the President and Ministers at the 4IR Summit, a new research study entitled “Fourth Industrial Revolution in South Africa 2019: Enterprise uptake and expectations for emerging technologies,” conducted by World Wide Worx in partnership with SYSPRO shows that there is not much business enthusiasm for the technologies that make up the fourth industrial revolution (4IR). The research looked at current and planned uptake of emerging business technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, virtual and augmented reality, the Internet of Things, and blockchain. In particular few companies use AI. The research shows that a significant obstacle to adoption is the cost of skills for implementing AI (a lack of skills being a point made by many speakers including the President at the Summit). Of those not using AI, 43% cited cost as the key reason. Ironically, as awareness of AI grows in South Africa, the research indicates that enthusiasm seems to diminish. Perhaps this echoes the unfortunate statement made by the Ministry for Research and Technology at the 4IR Summit, when its Deputy Director General said “Businesses can’t afford to be disrupted” much to the surprise of the delegates.
However, not all aspects of the 4IR are being ignored: robotics – in both hardware and software – has moved to the forefront of corporate strategy. Robotic Process Automation (RPA), which automates business processes through “bots”, has become readily and cheaply available from numerous service providers, resulting in a robotics boom. The industry sectors that have adopted robotics most enthusiastically also reveal the contrast between hardware-and software-based automation. The sector with the highest uptake, Legal services – at a high 67% – is able to reap massive benefits from automating standard, routine and dull processes like searches for legal precedents. On the other hand, the next most active sector in robotics, Mining, is focused on hardware automation of both dangerous and routine processes, like drilling and sorting.
Ecommerce is an early and extensive user of 4IR techniques – including ‘bots’ for customer care; blockchain for verification and in some cases crypto-currencies; and analytics/IoT for marketing, etc.