Collaboration, concerted drive could fast-track African digital transformation

With a concerted effort and cross-sectoral collaboration, Africa, which is currently lagging the world, could catch up in terms of digital transformation in as little as three to four years.

This is the view of Paul Williams, Country Manager – Southern Africa at security specialists Fortinet. Williams says Africa appears to be lagging the world by five or six years on average, with some countries as far as 10 years behind the rest of the world. “Maturity varies across the continent. We see some countries challenged in digital transformation by lack of infrastructure, lack of resources, civil wars and other factors. But feedback from our regional managers across Africa indicates that there are pockets of digital innovation everywhere, and a general sense of urgency to drive digital transformation to grow economies and improve the lives of all citizens,” he says.

Government role in digital transformation

Currently, much of the digital transformation and innovation in Africa is taking place within the financial services and telecoms sectors, with governments across the continent showing keen interest in the potential of digital transformation for improved service delivery, economic growth and job creation. Governments joinly with Enterprise Corporates and other industries could potentially drive massive digital change, he says.

“While most governments are looking into digital transformation – with a particular focus on e-government and smart cities, they are at various stages of maturity, and many are taking the lead from multinationals and large enterprises in their countries in terms of digital adoption,” says Williams.

However, he believes that digital transformation could be fast-tracked across the continent through aggressive digital transformation projects and innovative approaches to collaboration. “With the right approaches, Africa could catch up with the rest of the world in as little as Five  to seven years,” he says.

Harnessing youth innovation

Williams points out that Africa’s rising youth population is poised to drive innovation, and should be harnessed to catalyse change. This means a greater focus on digital education from school level and through tertiary education.   “Our youth are flexible and quick to learn. They need to be exposed to digital technologies as early as possible, and digital technologies must be incorporated into their education at tertiary level – whatever field of study they are pursuing.”

In addition, he says, the youth brains trust should be brought into action in state-fund research and development organisations, through joint R&D projects that inject new ways of thinking into established institutions and transfer skills to the next generation at the same time.

Private sector digital technology stakeholders also have an important role to play, he notes. “Multinationals and large enterprises in this space are already taking the lead in terms of showing governments what is possible through digital transformation, as well as by supporting skills development in countries across Africa. The Fortinet Network Security Academy (FNSA) programme is an example of this,” says Williams.

Securing the foundations

Williams notes that Africa’s digital transformation must be underpinned by secure foundations, particularly as the risk landscape becomes increasingly sophisticated and expansive.  Traditional network security is not equal to the task of defending the fluid, virtualised enterprises of the future, he says, particularly in an environment where new cloud-based and IoT systems are being built on top of traditional and legacy networks.

Williams cites Fortinet's CISO, Phil Quade, who said in a recent cyber threat panel discussion  that as organisations adopt cost-saving IT solutions like the cloud, or add smart devices to their network, they also put security visibility and control at risk. “To ensure cybersecurity at speed and scale, organisations need to a security fabric that can span and adapt to the demands of a constantly evolving network through the use of automation and integration at the speeds organisations and consumers demand.  A fabric needs to be built around a neutral network of interconnected devices that are designed to integrate, communicate, share information, and collaborate at speed and scale. It also needs to be informed by real-time global threat intelligence.”


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