November 26, 2020

Enabling growth in the digital economy: lessons for South Africa

Enabling growth in the digital economy: lessons for South Africa
By Steve Briggs, Chief Commercial Officer at SEACOM

“Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate. Something interesting is happening.” – Tom Goodwin, author, speaker, and consultant.

This accurately describes the digital economy and the endless opportunities it offers to businesses. Across industries, we have seen that organisations that are innovative, proactive, and adaptive in their response to the changing world of business tend to thrive.

Making the digital era accessible

We need to be thinking practically about what digital looks like in the real world for most businesses that aren’t necessarily disruptors or ‘unicorns’. Going digital raises customer expectations and they want to be able to interact with businesses in a way that suits them.

A large part of business is done online, after hours – and consumers are going to want to buy and interact in a way that's completely different from what they have done in the past.

Digital means you need to be ready for a heightened sense of customer expectation, and to deliver on that expectation, you need to embrace certain technologies. Whether it's a chatbot or giving customers the ability to order online regardless of the time of day, you need to adapt to changing consumer behaviour. If you don't, you are going to find yourself losing relevance very quickly.

Business reimagined as digital

Going digital requires investment and it cannot be an afterthought. To be truly digital, everything needs to be digital at heart – from how you build your business to how you process and design your customer experience.

You can't take an existing business and try to give it a quick digital update. You need to re-engineer your business processes from start to finish based on a new digital business model. For big businesses where this is impossible, they can slowly implement changes that will eventually bring companies into a digital space.

Making a difference with Project Isizwe

Connectivity is required to join the digital economy and has been recognised as a basic human right. While this has been embraced in other parts of the world, there's a massive digital divide in South Africa – partly due to unequal Internet access.

Project Isizwe has tried to address this issue by creating a broadband model that’s accessible to low-income communities. There's a guaranteed minimum amount of data that you can access for free, and if you need more than that, you can buy more at an affordable rate.

SEACOM has also collaborated with other industry leaders in this regard and, in some cases, we've implemented this as a CSI investment to cover the costs involved. More businesses need to look into doing similar projects if we are to enable the growth of a digital economy.

South Africa’s digital economy

For the digital economy to flourish, we need to build business models, processes, screens, and content that acknowledge that not everyone is going to experience the Internet in the same way. If we can work around that, then we can start to include more parts of our country into the digital economy.

SEACOM is dedicated to growing South Africa’s digital economy with infrastructure that enables access to digital services. Find out how we can assist your business with the connectivity, capacity, and business services you need.