Defining The African Digital Reinvention

Digital transformation is an often-misunderstood concept – meaning different things to different people — as countries and companies redefine ‘digital’ for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. For starters, all countries and companies occupy different starting points in their technological capabilities and, therefore, take a wide array of paths in the ‘next’ step in their technology evolution.

With the first wave of 5G deployment in 2019 in ‘lead’ countries like the US, digital transformation takes on even greater interpretation. The steps that took the industry from 2G to 3G to 4G were incremental, evolving alongside demand within legacy technology and capability. Now, 5G introduces a fundamental shift that will do more than just change the digital landscape but will introduce an incredible opportunity for the industry to embrace forward-looking growth and innovation.

5G networks will connect sensors, machines, robots, platforms, systems, and people to form an automated ‘whole’ that operates in mission-critical and life-critical environments; and demanding ultra-high reliability, capacity, security and ultra-low latency. This requires that all the components of the end-to-end 5G networks be ‘coupled’ in a smart and intelligent way.

“The phrase ‘Digital transformation’ doesn’t really encapsulate what digital is bringing or the impact it will have,” says Raghav Sahgal, Senior Vice President, Global Sales and Market Services at Nokia Software. “Transformation has become a term that implies progressive change over a certain timeframe. The term we need is ‘digital reinvention’ – this demands that you change your mindset completely and develop a deep enough understanding to establish a digital blueprint.”

In building the digital business, 95% of elements need to be considered from a design perspective. Intelligent infrastructure needs to be balanced by digital capability and technical proficiency. This then forms the foundation upon which the potential of 5G can grow. The ecosystem, the partners, the technology – these are falling into place with a speed that few believed possible, and now 5G is the key to unlocking automation, industrial transformation and economic growth.

“In Africa, as we invest into 4G infrastructure we are already putting mechanisms in place to allow for rapid movement to the next step, towards 5G,” he says. “The market players here are incredibly excited about the potential of 5G and the industry applications across mining, telecommunications, agriculture and more, are tremendous. Already we are building 5G solutions using network slicing that fine-tunes digital to specific industry and business requirements.”

The term ‘digital reinvention’ encapsulates the seismic shifts that are rippling across industries, and technologies as 5G digs in and starts to deliver. It asks that the business relook what it means by digital transformation and the journey that must be undertaken to ensure success.

“We had to completely reinvent ourselves as a company – we had to relook our structures and services to ensure that we were aligned with what the future brings,” says Raghav Sahgal. “We recognised that software was a key part of our digital journey and made the bold move to create a standalone software division. We recognised that we needed solutions that could serve the new digital customer.”

Customers consume digital services differently and demand different ways of engaging with these services and solutions. The digital marketplace is powered by new dynamics. Nokia’s focus on software was part of the company’s own digital reinvention, a process that has taken several years to fine-tune and complete.

“We started the process of digital reinvention in 2015, building a software foundation using the principles of open source and innovation to ensure our software was more agile and nimble, allowing us to deploy quickly and create capabilities,” he adds. “We invested into the DevOps model to ensure we could introduce solutions rapidly and keep up with the speed at which the world is moving.”

A key mission to Nokia’s software business group, a critical pillar to the Finnish company’s strategy, is to provide solutions to clients in the industrial and enterprise markets. The goal is to work with companies in developing new revenue streams that capitalise on the Internet of Things (IoT) and digital, while also helping these companies reduce costs and enhance their service capabilities. Nokia has been working in the South African agriculture space, using sensors and digital solutions to manage performance, information, optimisation of field maintenance and fertiliser application, and other critical factors that can contribute to higher agriculture yields and lower operating costs.

“We are taking our solutions into different industry segments such as transport, energy and the public sector, helping organisations establish services using the digital value chain,” says Raghav Sahgal. “Our digital strategy portfolio is underpinned by machine learning, automation, and artificial intelligence (AI).”

There are social and economic challenges in Africa, but the level of innovation is significant. Stagnant, the continent is not. The limited resources and infrastructure have pushed invention to the next level and 5G is proving to be the springboard that will allow the continent to redefine its digital reinvention journey. It is also the technology that will see organisations partner with one another to create solutions that fully harness the capabilities of the digital revolution.