Business Chamber Advances the Discussion on the Impact of 4IR



Business Chamber hosts second panel discussion aimed at unpacking the 4IR concept.

Understanding the importance and embracing the 4IR, the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber hosted its second panel discussion of the year aimed at unpacking the 4IR concept. The arrival of the COVID-19 on South African soil and the consequent lockdown regulations and restrictions, afforded the Business Chamber the perfect opportunity to host the panel online - with roughly 50 business professionals in attendance.

The discussion panel, facilitated by Jane Stevenson (NMBBC Board Member and Managing Director of Magnetic Minds), consisted of esteem speakers from various sectors, namely: Roshni Gajar the Managing Director of StratAstute, Celestin Ndhlovu Head of Strategy and Business Planning at Isuzu, as well as, Jaco Maass the General Manager at BKB SHIFT.

Each of the panelists were asked questions related to the changes and innovations in business operations during these unprecedented times. Ndhlovu was asked to address the issue of leading teams remotely - a switch from productivity-based to outcomes-based leadership and how this has impacted the way in which he leads within Izuzu. He noted that COVID-19 has shed a light on how "the transition from 3IR platforms (such as MS Teams, Skype for Business, etc.) to 4IR platforms has been a slow one" and highlights the need to transition faster. He further discussed how "challenges arise from 3IR platforms when trying to interface with the outside world, which has now transitioned to 4IR platforms. Ndhlovu also notes the changes in the retail function of his business, stating that there is a need to examine the ways in which customers can walk into virtual showrooms and dealerships to view products and make purchase decisions.

Following from this, Gajar was asked to discuss some of the innovative 4IR models that have come to the fore in the Metro, as well as globally and most recently with COVID-19. Gajar notes that the South African Government has made a huge investment in 4IR, including the establishment of a Presidential Commission. She highlighted some of the 4IR models and innovations that have come about, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, namely; the hospitals' project in China, the usage of drones to deliver medicines in East and West Africa, and closer to home on the local front, the rise of telemedicine such as psychiatry and psychology if existing relationships already exist between doctor patients, as well as the creation of the free Dr. Online screening service launched on the Discovery app. Gajar also impressed upon the achievements of Volkswagen SA in the establishment of a field hospital in Port Elizabeth. She emphasised the manner in which VW "pivoted to their core of excellence and project management" leading to the temporary shift from automotive manufacturing to medical facility set up and production of medical equipment such as respirators. 

Lastly, Maass was asked to discuss some of the ways in which his business has had to adapt it's offering in the 4IR space. Maass notes that BKB has been in the agricultural space for more than 100 years as a brokerage firm rooted in trust. He stated that for his business to adapt its offering, particularly livestock auctions, these auctions had to be moved to a digital platform. Maass notes that by utilising the opportunities presented by 4IR technologies and moving to the digital platform - opens up the market to international buyers which have led to increased market share and increased margin within his organisation. However, Maass emphasised that businesses need to put in a lot of work to rebuild trust on the new online platforms, as opposed to offline. Further stating that the "level of trust needs to be enhanced when moving to new platforms".

To end, the panel noted their top tips for businesses to capitalise on the 4IR opportunities, namely:

  • It is important to remain agile as that will allow you to remain relevant in the market space in which your business operates. However, this agility cannot leave your customers behind. Ndhlovu noted, "as much as you are looking at a technological solution, you bring the people along so that the trust aspect is constantly augmented in the solutions you are looking at".
  • Take small steps when incorporating 4IR into your business, small wins can lead to big action. Gajar noted that businesses should "let technology enhance what you are already doing well" and allow the tech to build on your intellectual capital.
  • Trust is key, 4IR has not eliminated the need for trust between your business and potential customers, it has in actuality enhanced the need for business trust and consumer confidence.

COVID-19 has managed to catapult businesses into action, many of them overnight, in order to survive - some of these businesses are still transitioning and finding their way. There exist a great many take away points from the above panel and hopefully, this will inspire many businesses to rethink and re-evaluate what the 4IR and its many opportunities could do for them. It is important to remember that the 4IR is not just about technology, rather it is about the blend of using technology to enhance humanity.