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UWC launches Thought Leadership Series on Digital Economy

Can businesses afford not to go digital?

The University of the Western Cape kicked off the first instalment of its Thought Leadership Series on the Digital Economy last month. The seminars are open to the public and are aimed at providing critical information pertaining to the utilisation of digital platforms to grow business.

This series follows up on the report released last year by the University of the Western Cape (UWC), Stellenbosch Business School (USB) and Ikamva National eSkills Institute (iNeSI) entitledStrategies, Practices and Skills for Competitiveness in the Digital Economy: A Perspective on Large Companies in South Africa.

The report and the seminars focus on the relationship between people and technology, and how this can be improved in an effort to unlock opportunities for growth purposes in the digital economy.

As Western Cape iNesI Hub Director and UWC lecturer, Dr Leonora Craffert, explains:  “We are amidst a paradigm shift, and we need to equip ourselves and our institutions for the digital economy. The objective of the series is to provide a platform for discussion, exploration and learning between the world of work (business) and the world of enquiry (academia) to engage with this new set of challenges and opportunities. We owe this to current and future customers and employees.”

The kick-off seminar,  entitled WT# is the Digital Economy, was well-attended by business leaders, government officials and members of the UWC community. Prakash Patel, a seasoned “tra-digitalist” – and now Chief Digital Officer for Fogg Experiential Design CT – was the keynote speaker at the event.

Points of discussion centred on the emergence of the digital age, what the digital economy really is, what digital means for business and how some businesses are growing using digital platforms while some businesses are failing due to their incapacity to keep up with the growing digital sphere.

So, WT# is the Digital Economy? According to Patel it depends on who you ask – academics, marketers, friends etc. will have a different definition. Some of the responses from audience members included:

·“Utilising internet or digital devices in daily work…”

·“It is e-commerce.”

But since the crux of the digital sphere is that it is continually changing, the definition will likely change and be amended to suit the its progression.

Whatever the definition, the emergence of the ever-expanding digital sphere has definitely led to changes in the way we do business. According to Patel, we have created an economy that is driven by a digital component. For example, he explained that there has been a distinct shift from traditional marketing, especially with to the emergence of digital platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, where people today are very much engaged in sharing information.  “Marketing today is a conversation, it is a dialogue and a sharing of experiences.”

He highlighted that if businesses do not change and respond to these changes, there is a likelihood of future failure.

During the research phase of the report,Strategies, Practices and Skills for Competitiveness in the Digital Economy: A Perspective on Large Companies in South Africa, 82 large companies were surveyed for the purpose of obtaining a better understanding of how South African companies are responding to the challenges of the digital economy.

Some of the key findings indicate that:

• Although participating companies are responding to these challenges, the focus is predominantly on improving operational effectiveness (enhancing the status quo). The development of new business models, products and services seem to be of lesser strategic importance.

• Compared to the level of investment in digital infrastructure, investment in people and organisational digital capabilities is below par.

• The innovative capabilities of people (inside and outside the boundaries of the company) are underexplored opportunities.

The digital sphere holds huge potential for SMEs. But what do businesses need to stay ahead?

“To be part of the Digital Economy, businesses/organisations need the following: people with the right e-skills, accessibility, affordability and infrastructure,” said Patel.

Opportunities and threats offered by modern ICTs, the internet and social media technologies are radically reshaping every industry and every geography (Gartner CIO report, 2014). In the digital economy it is not only about the optimal use of ICT tools for improved effectiveness and efficiencies, but more so about competitiveness in a digitally-infused world.

“Africa has the potential to play a large role in the Digital Economy,” said Professor Kobus Visser, Dean of the Faculty of Economics and Management Sciences at UWC. “However, we need pro-active engagement between key role-players – business, academia, government, etc. – to ensure that we all are kept abreast on how to stay current and competitive. We cannot afford to stay stagnant.”

The next seminar is scheduled for 21 August 2015.

Some of the topics to be covered in these seminars include:

·What skills are required of graduates and employees to remain part of the digital economy?

·New business models for the digital economy: what is meant with this?

·Innovation in and for the digital economy

The link to the So WT# is the Digital Economy video ishere.