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By Garsen Naidu, country manager, Cisco South Africa

2020 marks the start of a new decade, and a step further into a futuristic and advanced technology-based world. The evolution of technology over the past decade has been interesting to witness. We began it with the advent of Bluetooth, and we ended the same decade with sophisticated technologies such as blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI), cryptocurrency and 5G, to mention a few. All of these developments shaped the future of technology and they will continue to impact the South African tech scene in the foreseeable future.

At Cisco, we like to take the ‘long view’. Many of our predictions from last year – regarding dramatic expansion in mobile connectivity; continued development in the use of AI/ML; and the evolution towards true multi-domain architectures – will continue to be relevant for years to come.

As with 2019, below we have compiled prediction that are worth mentioning for 2020 and beyond.

Building an internet of the future:

The rate of rapid digitisation is straining today’s Internet infrastructure to its breaking point, and we’re about to hit an innovation barrier. We need to develop an Internet for the future.

South Africa’s digital demographics are impressive as they are indicative of a growing tech hub. According to Stats SA, by mid-2019, 31.18 million people used the internet in South Africa and of these people, 28.99 million of them were active mobile internet users. 

Over the next decade we will see the emergence and development of a range of technologies, from virtual and augmented reality, to 16K streaming, AI, 5G, 10G, quantum computing, adaptive and predictive cybersecurity, autonomous vehicles and intelligent IOT. 5G is already a reality in some parts of South Africa where internet users are now using the world’s fastest internet speeds.

These future generations of applications will drive requirements and complexity beyond the capabilities current internet infrastructure can support. As we move into this new decade, private sector and public sector technology players need to rethink and reinvent the infrastructure of the Internet. They need to make it faster, more scalable, more economical, and simpler to manage and secure.

Cisco has recently announced its plan for building the Internet for the next decade of digital innovation. The core of this ‘Internet for the Future’ technology strategy is based on development investments in silicon, optics, and software that will allow us to meet this future head-on.

Application loyalty is the new brand loyalty

When you think of a business these days, chances are you think of the way you interact with them digitally, be it via an app or a website, and how easy and pleasant an experience you have via that first touchpoint.

Almost 61% of South Africans prefer using apps and other digital means for their daily activities, this as per We Are Social’s 2018 study. With more and more apps available to use, there is much competition on the part of businesses to provide the best app and user experience (UX). 

According to the latest findings of the AppDynamics App Attention Index, the use of digital services has evolved to become an unconscious human behaviour – a ‘Digital Reflex.’ In the past, consumers used to make a conscious decision to use a digital service to carry out a task or activity. Nowadays, most digital consumers admit that digital services are intrinsic to their daily lives. 

The research shows that people will quickly turn their back on brands whose apps do not offer a premium experience. In the event of performance issues, consumers will turn to the competition or actively discourage others from using a service or brand without even giving the business a chance to make improvements.

Therefore, in 2020 and beyond, South African businesses need to pay attention to consumers’ zero-tolerance for anything other than an easy, fast and exceptional digital experience. This will make the ability to analyse data on application performance in real-time of critical importance, to find bottlenecks and enable immediate action.

Threat Hunting, Zero Trust & Co.

At a time when cybercrime has grown to such an extent that it costs economies three times more than natural disasters globally, the demands on security are constantly growing. Reactive security, largely addressing problems only as they begin impacting systems, is not enough anymore. Organisations need to live with the new reality around “Zero Trust” and get ahead of the threats.

According to the South African Banking Risk Information Centre (SABRIC), SA currently has the third-highest number of cybercrime victims worldwide – with the country losing an estimated R2.2bn a year to cyber-attacks. 

The original Zero Trust model, conceived by Forrester, is based on the principle that organisations do not trust anything inside or outside their network perimeter. Access is only granted to authorised users, devices and workloads after establishing trust and preventing threats — all without a decline in the user experience. This approach may become almost ubiquitous in the coming years especially in SA where cyber-attacks are prevalent.

Skills / IT Talent Shortage

This country has been grappling a skills shortage in the technology sector. The growth in technologies such as 5G, blockchain and AI requires more skilled IT professionals. The local digital transformation drive by the South African government has made great effort to attract talent from all over the world. As more technological advancements come into play, the shortage of IT skills will be felt.

Talent continues to be the biggest challenge that IT leaders face today. In a Cisco survey of 600 IT and business decision makers, 93% claimed to have a talent gap so serious that it slows their business’ transformation.

What is changing, however, is the nature of the types of roles that are most in demand. It should be no surprise that roles related to obvious growth areas, such as data science and AI, continue to be in high demand. However, to meet the needs of today’s businesses, IT needs to change from “order takers” to strategic business partners. That means changing the day-to-day roles of IT workers from configuring devices to solving business problems with technology.

South African businesses can make use of the model that most international companies use to manage IT skills. International companies that were successful in their business transformation efforts showed a general preference for retraining IT for business skills, over hiring or outsourcing, thus preserving knowledge of the organisation its culture, and its values.