Is education the answer to SA’s stalling pace of innovation?

Businesses needn’t be constrained.
The cloud allows companies to access global intellectual property at extremely low cost. Disruptive start-ups are capitalising on this. Established players should be too. Picture: Shutterstock

South Africa’s ability to produce globally competitive businesses has become constrained for two main reasons. The first is the poor quality of the country’s education system.

“One of our primary issues in South Africa is a talent shortage,” says Arun Babu, digital and technology leader for Deloitte Consulting Africa. “Our ability to innovate is limited by how quickly we can create talent.”

Given the level of dysfunction in large parts of the country’s education system, this problem is not likely to be alleviated in the near term. The level of research and development in South Africa will, therefore, remain subdued.

Innovation has also been heavily impacted by recent years of weak economic performance. To ensure that they survive, many companies have focused most of their efforts on managing costs, rather than looking for ways to grow.

“South African companies have actually slowed down their rate of innovation,” Babu believes.

‘In the mid-1990s and early 2000s we had some amazing inventions coming out of South Africa, such as prepaid cellular capabilities and certain banking technologies. But if you look at the last 10 years, very rarely have we pioneered anything that is world leading.’

Globally competitive

It is no coincidence that this has also been a period during which South Africa’s global competitiveness has fallen. Export growth has come down since 2014, despite the weaker rand, which shows that the country is falling behind.

Read: South Africa’s economic imperative

The solution to these challenges may lie in technology. The explosion in cloud services has the potential to lift the restrictions facing local companies and quickly place them on a level with their global counterparts.

Many people still view the cloud as somewhere to store data without the need for your own server. However, it has become far more than that. Moving business onto the cloud is not just about saving on hardware and software requirements, but making use of the leading technologies that it makes available.

‘With the cloud you are accessing global intellectual property at extremely low cost,’ says Babu. ‘A company sitting here can access a capability developed somewhere else in the world and transform itself.’

Adding value

Without the need for its own research and development or its own IT infrastructure, a company that does this also gains the benefit of massively reduced time to market. Using the cloud also allows a business to scale, either up or down, extremely efficiently.

For instance, retailers have enormous capacity requirements on Black Friday or over Christmas that they wouldn’t need at any other time of year. Instead of sitting on the extra capacity for all of that time, using cloud services would allow them to only pay for what they actually require at any point.

This can add huge value to any business, but many larger South African companies are either wary of the cost or haven’t appreciated the transformative potential. This is not, however, the case for many of their smaller counterparts.

“We have a big disparity between large companies that are extremely conservative in their views about the cloud and start-ups that are inherently cloud native,” says Babu.

The latter naturally expect to play in a global marketplace and understand that to do so they have to access the leading technologies that are available on the cloud. This gives them the potential to be highly disruptive if established players don’t move fast enough.

“The challenge for any company in South Africa is to be globally competitive, and to do that we have no option but to modernise large companies at pace,” says Babu.

“These are large employers, meaningful companies that are under pressure, but we have reached the plateau of normal evolution of businesses,” he adds.

“The next evolution in South Africa will be a technology-led one, and it will be a case of swim or sink.”



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The answer to the question has to be a resounding No…
From the onset of colonial liberation , for a better word .. the cart before the horse mentality has prevailed in that was not available before on an open platform ( mass education as basic and higher level ) was seen as the priority – however what is the advantage to ultimately leaving high school / university in the thousands every year only to have 5/ 100 placements for permanent employment.
Rather we should have focused on mass permanent employment as the priority with education ramping up to match demand, but to attract investors who ultimately create the employment directly and indirectly one would have to abandon prescriptive Labour practices / BEE / quoters and everything else use to entice votes..
In summary education does not create employment- employment creates need for education and RSA is quantum’s apart from reality –

Education is the sine qua non for success.
That together with an entrepreneurial culture will grow any economy.

Entrepreneurship must be encouraged from Grade one. Children must grow up with a view that it is possible to create their own jobs. It is not government’s responsibility to create jobs, but merely to provide an environment where jobs and new businesses can be created easily. This works best with an educated population

Education is only one of the solutions, but the positive effect will take a generation of time.

What has killed innovation is the constant EXODUS OF SKILLS from SA.

Create a macro-economic environment that will attract skills to SA, then the tide will be turned….but for that to happen, the ANC needs to go…but then it means the average unskilled voter needs to go. Not going to happen realistically, hence accept more skills will leave. It’s a natural phenomenon, as a result of voter choice and politicians dancing to populist rhetorick (So who will on day be able to fix a cadre’s BMW or Merc in future, I have no idea.)

In future, SA will adopt innovation coming from abroad (even when we lag global tech development, we’d eventually get it)

South Africans on average, score the lowest in the world for maths and literacy. This is not due to a lack of opportunities, but due to a lack of incentives. People who study and spend time and money to gain skills and improve themselves have a strong incentive to do so. This incentive is called “the right to own property”. Property ownership is the remuneration for the time and effort spent on improving oneself.

Collectivist communities lack this incentive. In fact, they frown upon people who work to improve themselves. They demand that property and income be shared. Collectivism and socialism breed a nation of childish and immature citizens who refuse to take responsibility for their situation. In this paternalistic system, everybody waits for handouts from the state. The incentive to excel is missing.

The state of education in South Africa is the result of the political/economic system. The system punishes virtue and rewards vice. It incentivises the slave mentality and disincentivizes responsible behaviour.
Even those who do make it to university fight to break it down, to dumb down the curriculum, to receive more handouts and then they demand high-paying jobs from the state for inferior qualifications.

Education outcomes will not improve unless the political economy improves.

In my years of business, especially retail, I realised that if management was ineffective, incompetent and unable to shift with innovation then the company was going to struggle.

The same analogy applies to SA. Useless and especially corrupt management results in the scenario we face every day here.

Intelligent shareholders can vote out management in a public company, but sadly the shareholders in SA Inc. lack even the most basic attributes of intelligence and so here we sit.

Education can help but when you have ANC corruption trumping all, nothing will help at all.

There is nothing wrong with the education system. There is something wrong with the learners. The 33 %’ers.

Those that want to achieve do so, but they don’t get employed because they are the wrong color.

Important piece & interesting comment. Fresh SA business innovation data is expected once the results of the SA Business Innovations Survey 2014-2016 are finalised this year That will provide a more empirically grounded view of rate of innovation across the country’s key business sectors.

Essentially this article is a contradiction in terms. I reckon the honest SA innovator is brave, well educated and very clever. on many levels but generally law abiding. Such a person will quickly work out that there is no future for him in SA; Elon Musk, Mark Shuttleworth etc.

The “innovators” SA is left with are, in my view, often Gupta types, the Zim Rautenbach types, sly, street smart, completely amoral, bribing as needed. As an entrepreneur you need to work out which type you are.

Education is only relevant to the first type.

Uncontrolled birth birth control and rampant population explosion will kill SA and any hope it might have had to nurture innovators.

Education in this country is completely wasted on people who are not interested in developing their faculties. Why waste education on such people. They squander and waste the effort put into educating them. Even those who have had the very best, use their hard gained education to go and and undermine and destroy the very system that was put into place to get them there. I know of professors, lawyers, engineers who are dedicated to destroying the system that created them, and to go back to tribal ways.

End of comments.



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