A new study reveals that the technologies comprising the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) are not being adopted by South African companies with much enthusiasm. This was the key finding in research undertaken by World Wide Worx and SYSPRO. Let’s unpack the study a little further.
Embracing emerging technology
The research investigated the current and planned uptake of emerging business technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, virtual and augmented reality, the Internet of Things, and blockchain.
“Only 13% of corporate South Africa is currently using AI and, of the rest, 21% plan to adopt it in the next 12 to 24 months.” says Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of World Wide Worx and principal analyst on the 4IR research project.
Why is the uptake so low? According to the research, the cost of skills was a significant obstacle to adoption.
“Traditionally, intended uptake of new technologies shot up once education, awareness and knowledge increased,” says Goldstuck.
“Now, however, we are seeing the flip side of the coin. A year ago, 63% of those not using AI said they planned to use it in the future, and not a single company cited cost as a reason not to do so. A year and much hype later, the market seems to have woken up to the realities of obstacles like skills and cost, and the proportion of those planning to use it has plunged.”
Robotics technology more pivotal in Corporate Strategy
In contrast, SA is experiencing a robotics boom in both hardware and software due to the technology known as Robotic Process Automation (RPA) becoming more readily and cheaply available. RPA automates business processes through software ‘bots.’
“We were astonished when we sifted through the data,” says Goldstuck. “A year ago, only 6% of South African enterprises were using robotics. Then came the RPA explosion. Now the figure stands at 37%.”
Sectors with higher uptake of AI technologies
The legal services revealed a 67% uptake in software technologies that automate standard and routine processes, such as searching for legal precedents. This industry can reap massive benefits from this type of automation. Another industry where hardware automation is playing a pivotal role is Mining. This industry benefits from automating dangerous and routine processes, like drilling and sorting.
According to Goldstuck the uptake in AI and bots by the legal profession was predicted. However, as an unintended consequence, the future of legal graduates who are taken on as interns, will be threatened and will see a significant shift in the entry-level skills requirements. Well, the future of all employment is ultimately the fundamental challenge of the 4IR.
Virtual and AR technologies uptake is low
The study reveals that the uptake of emerging technologies varies significantly across sectors. More than a third of enterprises surveyed used virtual and augmented reality. However intended usage among the rest fell to below 10%. Blockchain, the technology for distributed ledgers that validate every step in a transaction process, is currently used by fewer than 10% of respondents.
The IoT the predominant technology
This is the one stand-out sector in which South Africa leads the world – the Internet of Things (IoT). The study revealed near-unanimous usage, with a 92% adoption rate. This high uptake is largely due to the high use of vehicle tracking and fleet management technology in South Africa. This technology started off as telematics and has now evolved into a sub-category of IoT.
“As the technology becomes cheaper to obtain and operate, smaller companies will have the ability to compete in productivity with much larger corporates.” Says Goldstuck.
Competitiveness a key benefit
This is one of the key benefits of such emerging technologies, the study suggests: once the skills requirements are addressed, they become a commodity that any organisation of any size, from start-up to giant corporation, can leverage equally.
For now, however, companies are having to make cautious choices. This is revealed in the finding that a mere 3.1% of enterprises use a combination of robotics and AI. Of the rest, only 3.6% plan to do so.
“The report reveals quite dramatically the extent to which corporate South Africa seems to have a clear sense of what it needs and doesn’t need from the emerging technologies,” says Goldstuck. “The fourth industrial revolution will be cherry-picked, based on what will differentiate a business, rather than representing wholesale take-up of technologies for their own sake.”
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ORIGINAL ARTICLE & FULL REPORT: http://www.worldwideworx.com/4ir/