How IT can drive equitable growth in Africa


How IT can drive equitable growth in Africa

PIET CROUCAMP talks to Deon Geyser, CEO of Liquid Intelligent Technologies, to gain a better understanding of the technology that will define the supply and value chains of successful economies of the future.

THE deindustrialisation of South Africa's value chains is a major source of concern for decision makers and economists. In fact, this is a phenomenon characteristic of most market economies worldwide.

Future industrialisation based on technological innovation will distinguish successful economies from those that fail. Information technology (IT), artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning  encourage the diversification and industrialisation of economies that are typically exporters of primary products, while new-generation technological processes (“predictive technologies") anticipate the risks  and keep the costs of the production process steady.

Deon Geyser explained the facts to Piet Croucamp.

Deon Geyser, Chief Executive Officer of Liquid Intelligent Technologies, South Africa

PC: What is the history of Liquid Intelligent Technologies?

DG: Liquid developed from Econet Wireless, a telecommunications company with its headquarters in Zimbabwe. Econet Wireless provides a range of services including mobile voice, data and broadband services. It also offers digital and financial services, such as EcoCash, a mobile money transfer service. Liquid Intelligent Technologies, a subsidiary of Cassava Technologies, is a competitive digital infrastructure provider in Africa. We were initially known as Liquid Telecom but changed the company identity in 2021 to reflect our more extensive range of services. We now focus on cloud services, cybersecurity and internet of things solutions, but also on traditional telecommunications systems.

PC: And your bigger vision?

DG: Our company has a pioneering view on technological transformation and the economic value it can unlock, and not only in the manufacturing sector or in an industrial context. If policy managers buy into our ideas, specifically in terms of the pursuit of best practice technology systems, Africa can play a leading role in the fourth industrial revolution. After all, Liquid Intelligent Technologies was the first company to connect the Cape with Cairo. In the process, we have unlocked value for shareholders and stakeholders alike, but far more importantly we have also helped establish the operational architecture for growth, economic development and a high-value labour market.

PC: How big is your digital footprint in Africa?

DG: We strive to facilitate Africa's digital transformation. The company has an extensive fibre network of more than 110,000km across the continent. Our communication systems connect various countries with high-speed internet and satellite technology. This infrastructure supports the establishment and maintenance of digital services for public and private enterprises.

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PC: Liquid Intelligent Technologies also has partnerships with other technology leaders worldwide with the aim of delivering advanced cloud and cybersecurity solutions?

DG: Yes, a recent notable acquisition is Cysiv MEA. This partnership extended Liquid's operational reach and service capabilities beyond the African continent. Technology has a universal application and we therefore also do business in Europe, Latin America and the Middle East. Regardless of the jurisdiction, the company's mission is focused on improving systemic connections, establishing digital solutions, and promoting innovation to support businesses of all sizes across Africa and other continents.

PC: Why is cybersecurity such a fundamentally important concept, something that is a specific focus area for Liquid Intelligent Technologies?

DG: In more general terms, cybersecurity, especially in Africa, is of crucial importance for economic growth, national security and social stability. It protects the growing digital economy, attracts investment and secures critical infrastructure. By ensuring data privacy and building trust in digital services, innovation and technological progress are promoted. Effective cybersecurity measures facilitate global market integration and compliance with international standards. With the increasing threat landscape, strong cybersecurity is essential for cyber threat resilience and disaster recovery. Overall, it supports sustainable development, economic prosperity and security in the digital age.

PC: Just under 40% of our population is between 18 and 40 years old. So it only makes sense that you would focus on the youth in terms of the future? 

DG: The potential of Africa lies in the youth and those who show the drive to empower themselves. It is critical that universities and educational institutions invest in the right technologies. The future of innovation in South Africa and across the continent depends on the private sector establishing a footprint in tertiary institutions and providing support to students and researchers.

PC: What does your involvement look like? 

DG: Liquid funded more than 176 scholarships to tertiary institutions in 2023. By empowering universities, students and researchers with supercomputing capabilities and reliable connections, we can ensure that no one on the continent is unsupported, uninformed or excluded.

PC: What about rural communities, especially the need for service delivery? 

DG: Probably the greatest need exists in rural areas where schools, hospitals and other social services can benefit enormously from technology that connects them to the types of services that are often readily available in urban areas. And it is one of our aims to promote equality by making access to technology uniform. Appropriate technology and good information systems address the uneven and unfair distinction between rural and urban infrastructure. 

PC: How would you describe the operational impact of Liquid's technology on industrialisation?

DG: Industrialisation does not have to suffer from systemic unpredictability. Information technology, artificial intelligence and machine learning play an important role in promoting industrialisation by improving efficiency, productivity and innovation. Applied IT systems can integrate AI algorithms to optimise industrial processes by predicting maintenance needs, reducing outages and improving resource allocation.

Using machine learning algorithms, industrial machines can predict when maintenance is needed based on historical data and real-time sensor information. It reduces unexpected interruptions and extends the life of machinery and equipment.

PC: The chronology and evolution of industrialisation is a fascinating phenomenon and charts the progress of mankind. But it is also the history of technology and innovation?

DG: Indeed. As you know, the first industrial revolution of the late 18th to early 19th century in Britain was characterised by the transition from labour as a production method to machines and conveyor belts. The second industrial revolution of the late 19th to early 20th century, also known as the technological revolution, was characterised by rapid industrialisation and the expansion of electricity, petroleum and steel industries.

The third industrial revolution of about the middle of the 20th century, or the digital revolution, was characterised by the move from mechanical and analogue (electronic) technology to digital electronics. This led to the widespread use of the computer, the internet and the advent of the microchip.

PC: And it created the basis for where we are today in terms of technology and its immense impact. Indeed, we are now in the age where labour and progress are defined by technology?

DG: Correct. This revolution has led to the rise of information technology, automation in manufacturing, and profound changes in the way people communicate and process information. It builds on the advances of the previous industrial revolutions but is defined by the integration of different technologies that undermine the rigid distinction between the digital and physical worlds. And this is where Liquid Intelligent Technologies comes in.

PC: The deindustrialisation of the South African economy has the immediate consequence of poor economic growth and high unemployment. The lack of sufficient direct international fixed investments in our value chains is accompanied by distrust in our country's operational infrastructure.

DG: Unpredictability, or distrust in a jurisdiction, leads to deindustrialisation. The best thing about the current industrial technological revolution is precisely that it anticipates and addresses uncertainties and the associated unpredictability before they cause damage with unforeseen expenses and unreliable value chains. Investors have confidence in good systems, especially when they compensate for the lapses in judgment of managers.

PC: Give me a practical example.

DG: Maybe I should just outline the bigger picture for you before I refer to its application. Companies like Liquid Intelligent Technologies that leverage IT, AI and machine learning are often at the forefront of innovation, setting industry standards and promoting competitiveness.

With the integration of intelligent technology, the effectiveness of value and supply chains is maximised and the associated innovation becomes a systemic mindset that optimises decision-making. Under conditions of rapidly changing markets and competitive production processes, these technologies not only increase productivity and efficiency but also enable industries to adapt to changing market conditions and demands or needs of consumers. And these are the realities that promote sustainable and competitive industrial growth.

PC: Give me the practical implications of what you're saying.

DG: Obviously, Liquid Intelligent Technologies' footprint is not limited to industrialisation. For the purposes of supply chain optimisation, for example, our technology enables machine learning models to more accurately predict market trends and consumer demand, helping industries to efficiently manage inventory and production schedules.

AI algorithms optimise logistics through the most efficient routes and schedules for transportation, which then reduce costs and delivery times. In South Africa, the logic of this process is currently under unsustainable pressure.

PC: But I wonder if our problem is not poor decision-making by regulators.

DG: Sometimes it is poor policy decisions, but often the right thing to do is not necessarily obvious. Applied technology is precisely aimed at addressing uncertainties and mistrust. If the right systems are put in place, there is no reason why the value chains of South Africa cannot compete for investment capital with established jurisdictions on other continents.

♦ VWB ♦

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