By Praba Moonsamy – Managing Director at Ikhaya Automation Systems
The socio-economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic is especially hard-hitting for younger generations in Africa. The youth are faced with multiple challenges including disruptions to education, training and on-the-job learning. They are further impacted by employment and income losses due to lay-offs and reduced working hours. Despite massive obstacles, the employment crisis should be an opportunity for immense transformation. The pandemic has shown that digital technology is now vital for every economy, greatly increasing the potential for Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) to solve growing problems of unemployment and skills development across the continent.
However, the success of countries’ responses to this crisis, the sustainability of recovery, and the achievement of long-term development goals will hinge on healthy, skilled, young people contributing their labour, ideas and expertise, particular in the ICT sector.
Lessons from the pandemic: overcoming hurdles
African economies are heavily dependent on direct trade and face-to-face business interactions, which was severely limited by Covid-19 travel restrictions that blocked movement across and within borders. With such restrictions on trade and businesses, more people were placed back into decline in African countries than in modern economies that were already geared toward digital communications, highlighting the urgent need for the continent to catch up to the rest of the world.
The biggest advantage of ICT development lies in the enablement of access to markets and the free flow of information. Furthermore, it provides for remote communication where distance is an issue, while allowing for skills to be transferred from one geographic location to another without the physical need to travel. This is critical for economic development in the current global climate.
Considerations before technology can be deployed
While technology has the potential to solve many problems, there are a number of factors that need to be considered beforehand. The chosen technology needs to be suitable for the specific application. This is due to major challenges experienced when it comes to deploying technologies on the continent – obstacles created by lack of infrastructure and unreliable power supply, particularly in rural locations. Such challenges require unique solutions tailored specifically for those conditions. As a result, each country will need to ensure their unique requirements can be met and that they can support and look after the technology themselves to avoid dependency, which includes consideration for skills transfer. Sustainability is also an important consideration to ensure that the technology works as it should and that it can be properly maintained after deployment.
In-sourcing technology is the answer
While outsourcing involves transferring a task or responsibility to a third-party provider, often offshore, an in-sourced capability offers greater control. This is largely because it becomes a natural extension to the organisation that offers an understanding of the business as well as incremental value. As technologies are constantly emerging and evolving, in-sourcing takes care of the support and maintenance required to keep everything running – change can be dealt with inside the country, rather than from the outside in. The technology chosen needs to be robust, simple to set up and easy to use, and this is where finding the right in-sourcing partner can make all the difference.
Choose partners wisely
ICT brings with it numerous specific requirements, such as digital literacy and ICT education, electronic security and so forth, which means that new skills are required. This can be overwhelming for a single party to handle, so partnership models are useful here. Partnerships essentially enable a complex assortment of requirements to be unbuttoned into the requisite components. Learnings from other countries can be transferred to other locations, and partnerships between technology providers ensure that the technology is used in the relevant areas and that all challenges relating to the use of the technology can be addressed.
Bringing ICT capabilities to African countries will be beneficial to every sector and every individual. The healthcare industry will benefit from remote access to specialists in other parts of the world, which is critical in keeping the workforce healthy and productive to achieve economic recovery. Education will benefit from the free flow of information and the business sector gains the global communication capability necessary to thrive. Here, it’s important to bear in mind that ICT is largely well specified and standardised, which means that it’s possible to build something in South Africa, ship it out to another country on the continent and it’s plug-and-play from that point.
Through in-sourcing, communications technology now helps providers to support clients through online mechanisms to configure systems and manage equipment remotely and training is made possible through video conferencing and other online platforms. All of which adds up to shorter time frames to deploy solutions that are going to start solving Africa’s unemployment and skills shortage problems through job creation and training and development.
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