In a short amount of time, millions of people have had to make a rapid shift in the way they work amid the COVID-19 crisis. What has been a global pandemic, has catapulted the world into trying and testing the effectiveness of digital remote workplaces, and in South Africa it has been no different.
From setting up workstations at home to stepping into the virtual office every day, South Africans across the country have been able to carry on with day-to-day work activities through one common denominator: connectivity.
We spoke to Vino Govender, the Executive of Strategy, Mergers and Acquisitions and Innovation at Dark Fibre Africa, to find out what underlines the future workplace and how well South Africa is equipped for digitalisation.
Connectivity will be the cornerstone of digitalization
“Emerging technologies and the applications that they enable, are highly dependent on underlying infrastructure,” Govender says. The back end of the devices that we depend on for day-to-day activities will always need reliable, high-speed connectivity that only fibre can give. In South Africa, the biggest barrier to connectivity is the costliness of rolling out fibre infrastructure, according to Govender. Open access fibre, which eliminates the duplication of infrastructure, is therefore the only model that will allow connectivity to scale in our country.
“Connectivity will enable the blending of the physical world with the digital world into a single entity that is going to thoroughly change the way we work and do business,” Govender says. He adds that it is fibre networks that will ultimately enable us to connect a growing number of intelligent and internet-enabled technologies as well as allow businesses to effectively utilise cloud-based services.
AI Technology will shape the future workplace
“What underpins the future workplace is emerging technologies that will enable industries and businesses across different verticals to deliver services much more efficiently to much larger markets,” Govender projects. Some of these technologies include robotics, cloud computing, Big Data, Big Data analytics and the Internet of Things (IoT). At the core of these technologies lies Artificial Intelligence (AI) powered by machine learning, the idea that systems can learn from data.
“All emerging technologies need massive amounts of data to function because machine learning algorithms are refined by data input,” Govender explains. When you think about the amount of data traffic that 20 billion types of connected devices create, it’s hard to picture how these volumes and volumes of information gets moved.
In South Africa, fibre to the business (FTTB) deployment is luckily on an upward trajectory and network stability and high-speed connectivity, which is critical to the success of the digital workspace, is better than ever. However, connectivity is still very much localised in metropolitan areas, Govender says, and plans to roll out more fibre across the country can be largely beneficial to rural communities.
Digitalization will meet societal needs
There are plenty of studies on how digital technologies can be extended to meet societal needs in the fields of education, health services, commerce and even governmental operations. According to a report by the World Health Organisation on how digital technologies are shaping the future of primary health care, digitalization is playing a vital role in mapping and monitoring the spread of infectious diseases as well as tracking supplies of drugs and vaccines.
“The challenge that we have to overcome is to get the capital-intensive infrastructure behind digital technologies to rural areas,” Govender says. Govender suggests that connecting the country should be a collective effort. “There needs to be participation from both the private and public sector to extend infrastructure to rural areas,” he says. If the public creates a higher demand for connectivity through schools, clinics and public services using connected technologies, the private sector can increase the supply of infrastructure, Govender explains.