3 massive digital trends and how South Africa can use them to its advantage

Pic of David Silverstein on Memeburn - jacques@memeburn

Financial markets are in flux, cyber crime is on the rise and millennials are taking over the business world. That’s according to David Silverstein, the CEO of global consulting firm BMGI, who says that while these trends are not necessarily the biggest, they’re certainly ones we should all take heed of and keep in our back pockets.

1. Anticipate chaos

In terms of reacting to markets, companies should stop trying to prepare for the worst or the best. Instead, they should prepare for the worst, best and everything in between.

“The global economy is in a state of chaos,” Silverstein says. “The economies of the world aren’t operating normally, as there’s so much central bank intervention and money printing going on in the US, Europe, China and Japan.”

He argues that because of this ever-changing macro-economic environment, businesses are uncertain as they are insecure. “In terms of GDP growth, for instance, everyone wants to predict what the future looks like, but if there’s anything that the last seven years have shown us, nobody can reliably predict things right. Even the ‘consensus’ estimates—the averages—which take into account the predictions of many, are never right.”

Silverstein argues that the trend is toward the unknown, not usually the way we think of trends or predictions: “It means that companies need to learn how to prepare for multiple possible futures and not pick the future that they think is going to happen because they’ll get it wrong. The trend therefor is to learn how to live in an unpredictable chaotic world and stop trying to predict so much. Resilient businesses learn how to thrive in any environment, not just the one they most desire.”

The thought leader states that companies need to have a portfolio of possible futures in order to be more adaptive, pointing to the famous Charles Darwin quote:

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.

2. Cybercrime is breeding a lot of business

“We’re going to see an exponential explosion this year in cybercrime,” states Silverstein. “We ought to think about cybercrime as a business because that’s what it is for the criminals: it’s their business.”

Last month — what’s being dubbed the largest bank heist in world history — hackers got away with a reported US$300-million. These tales of success will only spur more criminals to follow suite. “Success breeds success,” Silverstein argues. “If business is good, new companies — and criminals — enter the market.”

He further explains that while this industry is booming, its counterpart (namely online security) is also on the rise. “For South African technology companies cybersecurity is a threat but also a great opportunity because the business of crime demands the business of crime-prevention.”

Read more: What can South African companies learn from the massive Anthem security breach?

He notes that especially in the mobile sector, South Africa should take full advantage of this:

The South African market could easily be leading the way in mobile technology because it plays such a crucial role for the majority of the continent. Africa is much more dependant on mobile technology than say the US. When it comes to mobile cyber security, I think that South Africa has an advantage in that regard.

As a leading example the Stellenbosch-based security startup, Entersekt, has been making a name for itself abroad after it implemented its tokenisation system with major local bank Nedbank and the Switzerland-based, SwissCard.

3. Generational changing of the guard

The world’s millennials are finally growing up. “We’re at a time when there is a new generation of CEOs coming into the industry who grew up in the age of technology,” Silverstein says.

He notes that we’ve been seeing a lot of CEO turnover since the financial crises started in 2008. In 2013, for instance, the US saw the largest amount of CEO turnover in five years. The mantel is being handed to the first-generation CEOs who really grew up in the PC and internet age.

There’s a generation of CEOs now — early thirties or forties — who have known the internet since they were in elementary school. I think the implications for this are tremendous for the adoption of more and more advanced technologies within businesses.

“I’m going to be fifty next week. When I graduated college almost nobody had a computer on their desks and there was no internet. So when it got introduced in the early nineties it was all new to me,” the CEO says. “There’s a whole different mindset and comfort level with technology which, for a younger generation today, is like a hand. You don’t really think about it as technology. It’s just a tool that everybody has.”

Silverstein also argues that countries like India, China and South Africa have shown a lot of humility when it comes to adopting new and different approaches in running a business. He explains:

I think there’s a certain degree of arrogance in the States when it comes to innovation. I find South African companies more interested in learning about structure and methodical approaches to innovation because that arrogance isn’t there. I think South Africa can take a big step forward in adopting more scalable and replicable approaches to innovation that science is giving us.



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