The South African Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution

The Future of the Connected World initiative

The Future of the Connected World initiative – the largest and most comprehensive global effort to shape the development of the Internet of Things (IoT) – is about mobilising industry and public sector leaders to address new opportunities and gaps in our everyday technology (WEF, 2020).

The initiative is led by the WEF’s Global IoT Council. Under the banner of the Global Action Plan of this initiative, Global Priority Areas for 2020-21 have been determined to be to:

  • Increase public education and understanding of connected devices and help empower individuals and organisations to make informed decisions regarding the adoption and use of these devices;
  • Ease and incentivise the adoption of cybersecurity best practices to ensure a common duty of care among connected device manufacturers, systems integrators, service providers, purchasers and users;
  • Increase awareness, transparency and disclosure of positive and negative externalities associated with the use of connected devices and empower organisations to maximise public benefit;
  • Accelerate the adoption of connected devices and systems among small and/under-resourced communities and organisations through the introduction of new funding models, incentives and capacity-building mechanisms; and
  • Strengthen collaboration and sharing of information across the IoT ecosystem to combat the fragmentation of governance efforts, accelerate value creation and scale best practices across geographies, sectors and industries.

The Global Action Plan aims to mobilise the international community around the action areas referred to above to help realise the potential of the IoT and build a connected world that benefits all.

Collaborating in building the technological capacity of small and medium-sized enterprises through training and support services

Small and medium-sized businesses make up the majority of companies and account for the largest number of jobs globally. According to the WEF Platform for Shaping the Future of the IoT and Urban Transformation, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) make up 90% of all companies and 70% of all jobs globally

McKinsey (2020), in their study on: “Here’s how the public and private sector can provide the right support to enable SME growth in South Africa, now and beyond the crisis”, state that SMEs employ an estimated 80 percent of the continent’s workforce in both the formal and informal sectors, but during times of crisis they are often the least resilient.

The study noted that, even before the COVID-19 crisis, South African SMEs already had to contend with a contracting economy and, with the crisis, there is further pressure on their operations.

The report also states, SMEs “are the lifeblood of South Africa’s economy – and also the most at risk”. The businesses “across South Africa represent more than 98 percent of businesses, employ between 50 and 60 percent of the country’s workforce across all sectors, and are responsible for a quarter of job growth in the private sector” (McKinsey, 2020).

As the world is undertaking an economic “reset” post the COVID-19 crisis, it is acknowledged that the world economies will be fundamentally transformed by the adoption of the 4IR and emerging technologies (WEF, 2020). In presenting the South African Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan, President Cyril Ramaphosa hinted similarly in respect to the recovery of the South African economy when he said:

“We are determined not merely to return our economy to where it was before the Coronavirus, but to forge a new economy in a new global reality.”

In his presentation to Parliament on 15 October 2020, the President stated the following objectives of the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan:

  • To create jobs, primarily through aggressive infrastructure investment and mass employment programmes;
  • To reindustrialise our economy, focusing on growing small businesses;
  • To accelerate economic reforms to unlock investment and growth;
  • To fight crime and corruption; and
  • To improve the capability of the State.

In light of the centrality of the small and medium-sized business during this economic recovery period, it is important that this strategic and critical sector of the economy be supported in order to fully assume its role as a key contributor to economic development and as a job creator.

The McKinsey (2020) study identified four areas where SMEs can take action to mitigate challenges experienced during the COVID-19 crisis, and these are:

  • Leverage technology to reach new customers or provide a distinctive value proposition;
  • Develop clearer market access strategies;
  • Drive efficiency, as well as sales; and
  • Develop team skills and capabilities and empower leadership.

It is the value proposition of the WEF – the Future of Connected World initiative – to lead in digitising and accelerating the impact of the industrial IoT in SMEs, especially during the post COVID-19 era through training and support services. The McKinsey (2020) study reinforces the case for an intervention of this nature when it states,

“Digital and new technologies create an opportunity for SMEs to enhance their reach and efficiency at lower costs, overcoming the scale disadvantage they have relative to larger players”.

The C4IR SA Project Approach

In line with the Global 4IR Network, the C4IR SA’s activities are project based. Projects are co-designed by partners, and piloted, scaled, deployed and adopted in the economy and society. The projects deliver a of range outputs (refer also to Box 1 below), which include Guidelines/Decision Trees (non-binding), Strategic Plans, Reports, White Papers, Policy Briefings, Industry Insights, Principles/Protocols/Policies (non-binding), Implementation Toolkits, Governance Toolkits, Specifications and Requirements (e.g. for procurement), Incentive Structures, Best Practice Standards, Guidelines (binding), Government Regulation, Certifications, Industry Standards/Norms, and Standard Operating Procedures.

‘The C4IR Methodology is not a one-size-fits-all approach. It must be adapted based on the starting point and the expected policy or governance outputs.’

Source: C4IR Network Induction Session, September 2020

As C4IR SA initiates its activities, in building its project portfolio, it plans to adopt two strategies when initiating projects, and these are:

  • C4IR SA “bottom up” locally initiated projects that are developed and deployed in line with the C4IR   Network project methodology; and
  • Participating in global projects as a pilot/scale-up partner for a project where a framework has been developed and is ready to be piloted or pilots that are ongoing/completed.

A key element in ensuring successful projects of the Centre will be to build “project communities” for each of the projects we launch. The Global C4IR Network defines successful project communities as being:

  • Drawn from the platform community, based on a strong common purpose and shared accountability;
  • Built and dissolved organically when the project focus changes;
  • Multidisciplinary and possessing all necessary competencies without duplicating roles;
  • Self-organising and supported by a facilitator who shows direction and enables action; and
  • Communicated clearly and often to keep team energy high.

Agile Policy Development

We’re co-developing and piloting governance and policy frameworks to keep up with the pace of technology evolution.

National and Global Cooperation for Impact

The Centre draws on private sector, government, academia and civil society to co-design technology governance frameworks.

Brochure: About the WEF Affiliate Centre for 4IR South Africa (C4IR SA). 

The World Economic Forum launched the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Network (C4IR Network) in March 2017.

Its mission is to ensure that the Fourth Industrial Revolution benefits not just the few but all of society.

Download the C4IR SA brochure here

Addressing challenges in South Africa and the Region

We address technology areas relevant to South Africa and our neighbors, that address our societal and economic needs.