How exponential technologies will disrupt South African businesses

The rapid pace of technological development is revolutionising business processes

30 October 2018 - 12:41
Image: 123RF/Supparsorn Wantarnagon

The age of digital transformation is proving to be nothing short of rapid and far-reaching. It is characterised by an ever-accelerating pace of technological development for a host of uses. The capabilities and performance of such technologies are revolutionising how business processes are carried out.

Exponential technologies, a term predominantly used in discussions regarding new, game-changing tech developments, regularly double in capacity and performance. Their cost is lowered every time they evolve to revise the way mainstream functions are carried out, including in businesses. Such technologies have a huge impact on human lives and can be rapidly scaled. 

An interesting idea that captures the logic behind exponential technologies is Moore’s law, which observes that the overall processing power of computers doubles every two years. Computers are a classical and ubiquitous example of this digital reality, as they double in terms of upgrades every 18 months.

Emerging technologies are essentially new technologies that are being or will be developed within the next five to 10 years.

To understand the value of exponential technologies with regards to their immense potential for disruption in the commercial sector, it helps to differentiate between exponential technologies and a related concept – emerging technologies.

Emerging technologies are essentially new technologies that are being or will be developed within the next five to 10 years. These can also be technologies that are receiving considerable attention but are not necessarily in widespread use.

What sets these two technologies apart is that the latter already exist, while the former tend to be prospects and concepts of the future. Significantly, exponential technologies have the power and/or potential to disrupt entire industries, especially in SA.

A case in point of exponential technology is blockchain, which has been gaining popularity and is most commonly referred to in conversations about bitcoin.

The use of this distributed ledger technology is not limited to the financial services industry, where it has applications in trade finance or cross-border finance. It can also be useful in other areas, such as healthcare.

For instance, individuals could manage access to their health records and data that could be temporarily made available to healthcare facilities and professionals when necessary. Personal information, such as an identity number, address and contact details, could be stored on a “block”. This would effectively do away with the pen-and-paper process and pointless duplicates of this information, especially in the public sector, when dealing with various government departments.

While no large South African companies have deployed blockchain on a large scale, some are piloting it in small scenarios. Although blockchain is an attractive technology, with considerable potential for growth in terms of applications, the challenge for businesses is considering how it can fulfil their business needs.  

Another example of the scope of exponential technologies to disrupt business processes is artificial intelligence and virtual reality in the mining sector. As one of the world’s most prominent mining areas, SA’s core economic activity is, for a large part, driven by this industry.

Innovative data-management platforms are creating better ways to manage, store and make sense of mining data. Artificial intelligence and machine-learning applications are being used in data analysis to identify patterns that allow for better planning and use of resources.

Other developments in the country include a startup company collaborating with the platform SpliceWorks to develop virtual-reality training in the mining environment, simulating the experience for trainees while they sit safely in a meeting room. These are some of the ways these technologies can make mining more efficient with less risk.

To a large extent, exponential technologies are best suited for data-driven industries, which are most, if not all, modern businesses. Younger entrepreneurs and companies have capitalised on disrupting traditional business models by fostering capabilities that allow for the use of these new technologies.

This presents both a challenge and an opportunity for large companies to follow suit and remain relevant in the digital revolution. A sensible way to achieve this is the early identification of exponential technologies with vast potential. To this end, companies like BCX have deployed an innovation radar, a map of what is happening in the world of technology specific to their clients’ industry. Some of the exponential technologies on BCX’s watch list include robotic process automation, augmented reality, chatbots, virtual assistants and natural language processing.

The dramatic growth of technology has created a scenario where organisations can embrace the digital revolution and discover how to stay ahead of the curve, or get left behind.

In this regard, exponential technologies have impressive potential to affect how business is done in the foreseeable future. The number of developments across industries demonstrates significant possibilities for such disruption.

Notably, the increasing drive to increase operational efficiency, profitability and, therefore, sustainability across business areas further reinforces the case for disruption by way of exponential technologies and is both an entry point and a boon for the South African business of the future.

Visit the BCX website for more information.


This article was paid for by BCX.