/ 18 October 2019

C-Suites and Business 4.0 helps businesses prepare for 4IR

Professor Tshlidzi Marwala
Professor Tshlidzi Marwala



“While the fear is that millions of jobs will disappear as a result of more automated and machine-intelligent processes, this is an opportunity to transform professions and make human beings much more productive,” said Professor Tshilidzi Marwala.

Marwala, the vice-chancellor and principal of the University of Johannesburg (UJ) and deputy chair of South Africa’s Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), was delivering the keynote address to a room filled with business leaders at the Mail and Guardian’s inaugural C-Suites and Business 4.0 breakfast event held at Summer Place in Sandton on October 15. UJ was the anchor sponsor of the event, which had the theme: 4IR: It’s time for the digital transformation conversation to shift to “how” rather than the “what” and “why”.

To help senior executives deal with and succeed in the Business 4.0 climate, the Mail and Guardian will be hosting a series of specific C-Suites breakfasts in 2020 sponsored by UJ.

Known as C-Suites and Business 4.0 (a framework of business behaviors that optimises the digital advantage to create customer value), the events are targeted at senior professionals, executives, and decision-makers across various sectors, private and public, large enterprises and small, medium and micro-sized organisations.

The purpose of these events is to “provide an exclusive platform to discuss the latest digital transformation driving their function, business and industry, to help them to deal with and succeed in the Business 4.0 climate,” Marwala said. Besides this, the events are also excellent networking opportunities with peers.

“Of crucial importance in the 4IR is our ability to adapt to the change before we are left behind,” Marwala said. The next event is scheduled to take place on February 25 2020.

One of the principal fears surrounding the 4IR is that automation and machine-intelligent processes will result in mass job losses. It isn’t just blue-collar workers that fear unemployment; it’s white-collar workers too. As an example, Marwala asked participants to imagine how much easier it is to automate a credit scorer as opposed to a tree feller.

The 2018 World Economic Forum report indicated that the future of jobs, high-speed mobile internet, AI, global adoption of big data analytics and cloud technology are the biggest disruptors in the workforce. Approximately 50% of companies anticipate automation to result in a reduction in the full-time workforce by 2022, according to the Getsmarter report. On the other hand, 38% of businesses surveyed anticipate to broaden their workforce to new productivity-enhancing roles, and more than 25% expect automation to result in the creation of entirely new roles.

Addressing those fears, Marwala said, “While the 4IR will displace specific jobs through automation, new occupations are also being created.”

Speaking about the shifts and changes within the workforce, the UJ vice-chancellor said the average task hours performed by human beings is projected to be 58%, and the projection for machines is 42%. “These shifts do not necessarily equate to job losses —it is quite the opposite, with 133-million additional new roles expected to emerge.”

Instead, 4IR will pave the way for new occupations, especially in fields such as science, technology, data analysis, computer science and engineering.“It is envisaged that the demand will be for professionals who have a blend of digital and Stem skills with traditional subject knowledge. This can be achieved through multidisciplinary education,” Marwala said.

As an institution, UJ is taking the lead across Africa in 4IR by thinking and reimagining the future for all disciplines.

“Career paths are fundamentally changing,” Marwala said. The 4IR will usher in the need for hybrid jobs: combining skill sets such as marketing and statistical analysis, or design and programming, for example. This begs the question: how do businesses succeed in a Business 4.0 climate?

As the head of a university, Marwala recognises the fundamental role universities play in developing skills for future generations as academia navigates the technological directions for the future. It requires reskilling and upskilling the workforce to close the skills gap.

Universities and businesses should work in tandem to respond to the fundamental changes in the career landscape. “Many universities have started working together with businesses by incorporating the required skills now needed in their curriculum. There is also a massive influx of employers who are now partnering with universities to improve tailored learning programmes for their employees, to prepare them for emerging job opportunities,” Marwala said.

Universities face the challenge of how best to tailor the curriculum to suit the needs of companies and help businesses to adapt to this changing work environment.

In response, universities are looking to change the way degrees are structured. This includes givingstudents the freedom to choose courses outside of a program, to define the pace of learning and have access to content remotely.

“Many universities are adopting a model that allows students to enroll in stackable degrees by giving them multiple entry and exit options and using technology such as data analytics to develop customised learning paths,” Marwala said. “It has become pivotal for companies to leverage and invest in relevant innovation and disruptive technologies.”

At UJ, the university is blending different subjects to create degrees that will respond to this changing environment. For example, the university has introduced a bachelor’s degree in politics, economics and technology to fulfill this gap and is working on introducing a bachelor of commerce degree in accounting and AI.

To successfully benefit from the 4IR, C-suites also need to drive and lead digital transformation within their functions and organisations by leveraging on the abundant opportunities. They must also be equipped to tackle the challenges and risks caused by 4IR disruption.

The event featured a stellar line-up of panelists, who discussed the latest digital transformation driving their functions, and provided insights on challenges, overcoming roadblocks, best practices, opportunities and future strategies during this digital revolution.

On the first panel was chief digital officer at Discovery, Anton Fatti; chief marketing, communications and IT officer at McDonalds, Daniel Padiachy; digital executive at Nedbank, Ravikumaran Govender; head of digital client experiences at Rand Merchant Bank, Julia Phillips; and chief revenue officer at TransUnion Africa, Stephen de Blanche. Michael Avery, who hosts the Classic Business show on Classic FM, led the conversation.

As a franchise, McDonalds has embraced the digital era by installing self-service kiosks in various restaurants. This enables customers to choose their own meals at their leisure, providing them with a seamless experience, avoiding queues and frustration by using a machine. Padiachy said this new technology actually created jobs: McDonald’s has employed more people to work on the floor of the restaurant and help customers navigate the kiosk.

The franchise’s app is also doing well as it responds to the way ordering food is evolving in the digital era. At 1.8-million downloads, the McDonald’s food app is the most downloaded app in South Africa, Padiachy said.

On the second panel, industry leaders Collin Govender, group executive shared services at Altron; chief executive at Fedgroup, Grant Field; director of digital transformation at Heineken South Africa, Natalie Jantjies; executive head: digital, direct marketing and marketing analytics at Standard Bank Group, Sagren Pather; and Justin Spratt, Uber’s head of business development in sub-Saharan Africa, shared insights.

For Jantjies, the most important part of Heineken South Africa’s digital transformation is humans. “It is not possible for us to achieve success without taking into account the need for human connection and validation of our stakeholders. Is the transformation happening to them, or with them?” she said.

Heinekin has transformed to meet the demands of the digital age. “Our product design processes are customer-centered to ensure we add value, not just technology. Our company culture is transforming to embrace innovation and testing, build tolerance for failure and to truly foster entrepreneurship,” Jantjies said. The result is teams that are autonomous and engaged, which benefits the organisation and its customers.

South Africa has not managed growth of at least 5% required to make a dent in the increasing unemployment rate. It is essential for the country to tap into the opportunity the 4IR brings, Marwala said. The World Economic Forum estimates that 4IR is expected to create up to $3.7-trillion in value by 2025. Whether South Africa can take advantage of this depends on the abilities of stakeholders such as universities and businesses to successfully adapt to the changing environment.

“The shift is in workplaces, predicated on efficiency as human beings and machines learn to work together, enhancing supply chains and ultimately impacting economic growth. This is particularly poignant in South Africa as we try to kick-start our economy,” Marwala said.