OPEN LETTER – How does it feel to hold the weight of South Africa’s future on your shoulders? From free access to data to digital skills creation, the State of the Nation provided a strong roadmap for the year ahead. Now it’s up to you to put all those projects in place, while reducing state spending at the same time.
Recently, you asked South Africans to share their ideas on how to make the Budget go further. Smart move: we’re going to have to work together as a nation if we want to reach that target of R150 billion in savings. We’re going to have to come up with some creative solutions, and fast.
Perhaps the best way to address some of our tougher challenges is to reimagine them.
Bright Ideas for Energy Generation
Let’s start with the elephant in the (dark) room. Load shedding is here to stay, and there’s nothing we can do about it. Or can we? Sure, we may be stuck with power shortages until the new energy generation projects go online, but we can still mitigate their impact.
When Google started using Deepmind to manage its energy allocation, it was able to reduce energy usage by 40 percent, saving hundreds of millions of dollars over several years. What if we started using similar technologies to better manage how and where energy is used? Instead of plunging whole blocks into darkness for hours at a time, imagine if we had intelligent load shedding that could respond to high demand in real-time and balance consumption so that no-one has to suffer blackouts.
In the UK, the National Grid pays out companies that use smart energy platforms like Grid Edge to reduce their energy consumption during peak times. We know the manufacturing sector is one of the highest consumers of electricity in the country, so why not start with incentivising the use of smart energy management systems in high-consumption industries?
For years, South Africa has been trying to address unemployment through skills development and job creation programmes. Despite all these efforts, we have yet to see any significant improvement, especially when it comes to youth.
Government has put in place some impressive digitally-powered initiatives, like the Youth Employment Service, a digital jobs platform aimed at connecting one million work opportunities. President Ramaphosa plans to build on this success by scaling up the programme, as well as creating a work placement platform that will allow work-seekers to access work readiness training, and to be matched to employment opportunities.
It’s a good start, but the next step is to understand why existing job and skills creation projects aren’t making a dent in our seemingly chronic unemployment. Embedding data analytics in youth development and entrepreneurship programmes can help improve the way they address the needs of both the beneficiaries and the larger job market. Overseas, digital tools like The Social Collective are being used to give civil societies insights into how well their skills development programmes are working, and where jobs must be created.
Plugging the Holes of SOEs
We can’t exactly talk about the Budget without talking about state-owned enterprises. One of the biggest challenges of the coming year will be making sure SAA, Eskom, PRASA and other struggling SOEs use the money that’s being pumped into them effectively.
The best way to do that? Find and patch all the leaks. It’s no secret that two of the biggest reasons for the failure of SOEs are a lack of good governance and accountability. Improve those, and you’re on the road to self-sufficiency and profitability. Just look at Malaysia’s state-owned energy company Petronas, which was able to generate over $1 billion in savings and new revenues in just five years thanks to an operational excellence campaign focusing on improving technical capabilities and workplace culture at its plants.
If we want to give our SOEs the best chance of success, it’s crucial that the new leaders are able to access the insights they need to make the right decisions and drive operational efficiency. Technology, combined with a culture of open data, can help us find the cronyism, corruption, wastage and irregular contracts that have been eating away at our SOEs from within.
Open Data, Open for Business
One of your main priorities will be making sure South Africa is open for business. During SONA, we got to hear a few success stories. Processes that used to take months, such as registering a business or applying for UIF, can now be done in one day thanks to the Bizportal platform.
I hope that this year brings many more projects aimed at streamlining South Africans’ ability to do business, whether it’s starting their own businesses or accessing the resources they need to be successful. Digitising government services will go a long way towards cutting the red tape that threatens to throttle SA businesses.
Open data makes it easier for businesses of all sizes to thrive. Take VC4A, which connects entrepreneurs with the knowledge and support they need to succeed. There’s a fantastic opportunity to invest in platforms like data.gov.uk that can help SMMEs understand their business environments.
Make your Money Work for You
This is just a taste of how smarter data and digital technologies can drive success. There are plenty more use cases everywhere from the tourism sector to service delivery. If we want to make most of a tighter budget, let’s invest in digital solutions that drive our efficiency and help us do more with less.
This may not be the Budget everyone hoped for, but I truly believe that with the right investments, we can make it go further than ever before. It’s time we use data to make every cent work for us.
Lee Naik is chief executive at TransUnion Africa.