Digital isn’t the future, it’s the now, and it holds the potential to play a key role in transforming the South African economy.
Adjacent to this is the growth of the data economy, the catch-all term to refer to “a global digital ecosystem in which data is gathered, organised and exchanged for by a network of vendors for the purpose of deriving value”. Value is the watchword as data, for all the claims of its potential, its use and its ability to transform, has no inherent value in and of itself.
Data only achieves value by being transformed into insights, applications, and services, according to this article, and that’s exactly where the challenge lies for brands, for business, for organisations and governments looking to leverage data to drive progress, development and innovation.
While data is increasingly recognised as a critical factor of production, there is still little consensus around the global best practises in terms of applying data to create value – what value do we want to create exactly, for who and why? The Committee for Economic Development explains that big data impacts our knowledge of the world, which in turn plays a key role (as has been proved historically) in increasing economic activity and standards. Essentially, the more we know, the better we live.
The challenge however is around the efficient collecting, transmitting, sorting and analysing of data in a way that allows it to be turned into actionable systems and information. Data can, for example, positively impact the economy by contributing insights that help to produce better goods and services, optimise business processes, inform better organisational management systems, drive faster innovation (by shortening research and development time) and allowing for more targeted marketing campaigns. But at the same time, it is important to recognise that data, or technology for that matter, itself cannot solve food security, create social justice or reverse climate change.
South Africa’s economic and social challenges are deeply entrenched and, arguably, require an approach unlike any of the ‘traditional’ means that have, to date, proved not to be very successful. Data, and the development of a robust data economy, is the obvious next step in tackling the problems that persist year after year, decade after decade.
Creating a relevant data economy for and in South Africa starts with recognising the importance and value of data and developing a multi-sectoral understanding of how it can be applied to solve our very real problems. As a starting point, “big data can improve the understanding of human behaviour and offer policymaking support for global development” and in particular offer real-time feedback that would allow adjustments to be made to social policies and programmes, for example.
But equally important is to recognise that sustainable solutions almost always require an integrated approach, so a data strategy needs to be part of how we tackle the problems, be it unemployment, resource efficiency in the agricultural sector or improved education outcomes.
SizweSihle Dlamini is customer experience director at Hoorah Digital.
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