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December 2, 2019

Lumec recently undertook research for Innovate Durban in order to develop an Innovation Publication for the Province, a first in KZN. The publication included a profile of 5 successful innovators, which provides a very useful resource for innovators and potential innovators. Parallels among the 5 innovators who were profiled were most evident in the following areas:

1. The toughest challenges to overcome;

2. Lessons learnt; and

3. Valuable insights on what they wish they knew at the start of their innovation journey




Regardless of the innovators’ stage of development, each faced the same challenge when it came to accessing funding. The argument here is that funding is difficult to access, which increases the amount of time required for your project to move through the innovation pipeline. Therefore, whether you require seed funding, capital to develop your prototype or have a new product ready for commercialisation, having the skills to source funding is crucial. Furthermore, most of the innovators cited the same institutions as a critical source of funding for their innovations, namely Invotech and the Technology Innovation Agency. The majority of innovators profiled used competitions as a means to generate capital. Limited access to funding and limited funding in general suggests that it is important for innovators to diversify their funding options. 


All the innovators noted that the innovation journey is a long one, as evidenced in the fact that they began the process several years ago. This is why most identified consistency as the key to achieving results. In other words, it is crucial to be consistent in the pursuit of your innovation because it is a journey that comes with many hurdles, detours and slow progress. One innovator mentioned that he was able to achieve what seemed to be impossible by breaking down big tasks into smaller achievable actions. Furthermore, commitment to the journey may also involve going months and even years without a stable source of income.

What innovators wish they knew when they started

The innovators we spoke to are now all business owners. A few of them emphasised that they had to learn new skill sets in order to succeed in business. These were hard skills that improve business acumen and soft skills including knowing how to manage people (within and outside of your immediate team) and their different personalities. Many innovators seek commercialisation as the ultimate goal for innovations, therefore, an important consideration outlined by one of the innovators was to ensure that commercial aspects are incorporated from early on in your product design such as certification and industry standards. Other innovators pointed out that pursuing your innovation is not a task taken in isolation; the process requires collaboration, partnerships and the right team in your business.

You can see the full interviews here.

To read more about the Innovation Publication project, follow the link here.


November 11, 2019

In part 1 of this blog, we briefly introduced the fourth industrial revolution within the context of the preceding revolutions, unpacked exactly what the 4IR is and touched on some of the challenges faced by South Africa with regard to the changes that the 4IR will bring. In part 2, we focus specifically on jobs and skills in light of the technological changes we are experiencing. The information in this blog is largely sourced from the Accenture Consulting report titled ‘Creating South Africa’s Future Workforce’. 

A common concern raised when one talks about the 4IR is “the machines are going to take our jobs”. And yes, this is true for a number of professions. Accenture Consulting notes that 35% of South African jobs are at risk of total automation as machines can perform 75% of the required activities. As technology progresses through advancements in areas such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, jobs that comprise of more machine-like activities (routine work, transactions and manual work) are at greater risk than those with greater human-like activities (analytical, leadership, social intelligence and creativity). Essentially, the more repetitive and predictable tasks that a job requires, the more the tasks can be replicated by machines. As such, occupations at highest risk of automation are “production, office administration, farming, food preparation, construction, mining, transportation, installation and maintenance”. Jobs that are harder to automate include tasks such as “influencing people, teaching people, programming, real-time discussions, advising people, negotiating and cooperating with co-workers”. 

Essentially, we need to reduce the potential threat of jobs being replaced by machines and leverage opportunities that are presented to create new jobs via machine-human collaboration. In order to achieve this, we need to learn new skills to better collaborate with technology in order to enhance their productivity and ingenuity. As Accenture puts it, “we need to learn to run with the machine”. This statement, as futuristic as it sounds, is based on research that shows that artificial intelligence does, in fact, have the potential to boost labour productivity by 40% by 2035. Essentially, we need to focus on a shift towards more human-centred skills and increase the pace at which we embrace digital technologies. However, the same research indicates that South Africa, at our current pace of learning, will transition towards the required skills at a slower pace than the rest of the developing world. Ultimately, we need to double the pace at which we acquire skills or face the imminent threat of losing 5.7 million jobs to automation.

“By embedding AI and making it a factor of production, this research indicates that South Africa could potentially double the size of its economy five years earlier”

So, what can government, industry, organised labour and educational institutions do to ensure that we start to rapidly increase the pace of learning and avoid the massive job losses that are predicated? The role of government is primarily around the creation of a conducive policy and regulatory environment while also providing access to infrastructure, connectivity, skills and incentives. Industry, on the other hand, needs to invest in technology to enhance efficiencies and drive re-skilling initiatives, while industry associations need to continue to drive research and discussions around digital advancements. Educational institutions need to pioneer new systems to allow for learning across the various stakeholders (between industry, government, NGOs, research institutions, etc) while organised labour needs to accept the potential that digital technologies provide and assist prepare the next generation.

So, next time someone says “the machines are going to take our jobs”, we suggest responding by saying “not if we learn to run with the machine”.


October 3, 2019

These days, you cannot avoid hearing the term ‘fourth industrial revolution (4IR)’. In almost every project we do, we are told to make sure we incorporate the 4th industrial revolution and its impact. We’ve been doing a lot of team training on the 4IR and have become quite familiar with what it is all about, the potential opportunities that are presented, and the major threats, especially in relation to jobs. In this 2-part blog, we briefly unpack what exactly the 4IR is, highlight some examples of how the 4IR has already been embraced globally, and some risks that we face in South Africa. 

Before understanding the 4IR, it’s important to provide some context to the preceding industrial revolutions. The First Industrial Revolution occurred in the late-1700s until the mid-1800s and saw a shift from an agrarian to an industrial economy, mainly thanks to the invention of steam power. This introduced industrial mechanisation and steam-engines, which stimulated manufacturing (particularly textiles and steel) and transport via railways and steam-powered ships. At the end of the 19th century, electricity brought about the beginning of the Second Industrial Revolution which saw the introduction of the assembly line and mass production. In the mid-90s, just less than a century after mass production started, the Third Industrial Revolution began, fueled by electronics, computers and automated manufacturing processes. This is often referred to as the ‘digital revolution’. So what then, is the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

The 4IR can be described as a merging of the digital, physical, and biological worlds through the emergence of “extraordinary technological advancements”. Essentially, it includes disruptions caused by advancements in robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR), automation, machine learning, 3D printing, big data, and the internet of things (IoT). These technological advancements have and will continue to change the world around us, especially when used in conjunction with each other. Globally, industry has already started to transform processes and adapt to opportunities presented by these advancements. The most evident examples exist within transportation (e.g. automated vehicles), logistics (e.g. warehouses operated by robots), manufacturing (e.g. additive manufacturing/3D printing), and the services sector (e.g. augmented reality to view properties and holiday destinations via estate and travel agents respectively).

Within South Africa, the 4IR presents significantly more challenges than opportunities, particularly in relation to the provision of enabling infrastructure (i.e. broadband and communications technology) and education and skills development. Should we not be able to provide enabling infrastructure and develop a sufficiently skilled workforce, we face the risk of technology-driven employment losses. A recent report by Accenture Consulting titled “Creating South Africa’s Future Workforce” highlights that although digital technologies bring about efficiencies, for countries that are less prepared, such disruptions may cause greater job losses than gains. The report indicates that 35% of all jobs in South Africa (equal to almost 5.7 million jobs) are currently at risk of total automation. This can, however, be reduced to 20% of all jobs (or 3.4 million jobs) should we double the rate at which we currently provide skills to the workforce.

Part 2 of this blog provides an overview of the key findings of the Accenture research, focussing specifically on the professions most at risk, new skills required to unlock the potential advantages presented by the digital economy, and the actions required by government and industry to ensure that the workforce is sufficiently prepared.