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New tech to drive competitiveness

Covid Robots

Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe receives three robots from UNDP Kenya that will help the government to fight Covid-19 with a Sh240 million funding from the government of Japan in a handover ceremony in Nairobi on January 22, 2021. PHOTO | BRIAN AMBANI | NMG

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Summary

  • A look at the process automation reveals that it is a tool that can help enterprises to get an edge over competitors and give a better experience to customers.
  • For example, some of Kenya’s exporters of horticultural producers that use IoT gadgets to gather data in transit have benefited from it.

It is generally accepted that technology is slowly changing how we socialise, learn or work. What is not common, however, is the knowledge on how people can leverage these technologies for national competitive advantage.

Prof Michael Porter of Harvard Business School says “a nation’s competitiveness depends on the capacity of its industry to innovate and upgrade” and that “competitive advantage is created and sustained through a highly localised process.”

Different research and consultancy firms have in the past one year predicted which technologies might have greater impact in the future and the applications of such technologies.

For example, McKinsey a global American management consulting firm, in an article, ‘The top trends in tech’, categorises these technologies into three key areas: infrastructure and architecture, enablers and application of the technologies.

Under infrastructure and architecture, the article bets on 5G and Internet of Things (IoT) as the future of connectivity. It suggests that the distributed infrastructure such as Cloud and edge computing will continue to grow given the fact that virtually every country in the world is moving towards a digital economy as policymakers embrace data-driven decision making.

And more importantly the hope of building cyber resiliency leveraging blockchain with such concepts as zero-trust architecture is quickly becoming the security model of choice.

In the category of enablers, McKinsey sees the future of programming in software 2.0, as a new coding paradigm that is fundamentally changing the way software is developed. And that, it will introduce automation to programming and perhaps make it easier for non-programmers to also code.

On the other hand, investments in quantum computing especially in the financial sector are on the rise. This is because of growing data from increased transactions in digital money. Lending, especially non-collateralised loans, now requires additional unstructured data and a huge computing capacity.

At the launch of the 4th industrial revolution in Davos in 2018, many people did not quite understand the application of the emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, IoT, machine learning (ML) and many others. But this has changed with the introduction of next level process automation.

A look at the process automation reveals that it is a tool that can help enterprises to get an edge over competitors and give a better experience to customers. For example, some of Kenya’s exporters of horticultural producers that use IoT gadgets to gather data in transit have benefited from it.

As a result, some companies have substantially improved to bridge gaps in processing exports and improved their efficiencies with significant competitive outcomes.

Mass adoption of 3D/4D Printing, sometimes referred to as additive manufacturing, is also in the offing, McKinsey predicts. It sees higher customer value through customisation, fewer costs due to higher performing designs, reduced time to market and enabling new business models.

Effectively these are factories in a box that developing countries such as Kenya should embrace to improve their manufacturing outputs.

In applied AI, the promise is to improve customer satisfaction through new customer interfaces and interaction methods, such as searching online platforms for products based on photos.

According to McKinsey report, “more seamless human–machine interactions are also simplifying applications by translating speech, text, and images provided by humans into machine-readable instructions, boosting human productivity and lowering operating expenses.”

They estimate that more than 50 percent of user touches will be augmented by AI-driven speech, written word, or computer-vision algorithms, while one billion connected cameras will collect and share visual data by the end of 2021.

All these are strategies that can help to improve competitiveness.