Photo: File
Photo: File

Tech News: 2021 – another indeterminate year

By Opinion Time of article published Apr 6, 2021

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DESPITE numerous promises and assurances by President Cyril Ramaphosa and Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize, it now appears that the government will not be meeting its “herd immunity” vaccination target of 40 million South Africans (67 percent of the population) by the end of 2021.

The acting minister in the presidency, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, announced on March 25 that Phase 3 vaccination of 22.5 million citizens will now only happen between November 2021and February 2022.

It also became apparent that government’s vaccination of 1.5 million people against Covid-19 by the end of March 2021 was merely some daydreaming while the clouds of a possible third wave are gathering on the horizon. Sufficient shots are just not available, according to Deputy Health Minister Joe Phaahla, and the government now hopes to vaccinate 700 000 people by the end of March. The millions of doses of vaccine secured by the government at the last minute will unfortunately not arrive soon.

Forced online

The sad news is that despite the promise of a Covid-19 vaccine, 2021 now seems as indeterminate as 2020 was – at least for South Africans; although many people made the best of the depressing reality and changed their spare bedrooms or garages into offices to enable working from home; conducted daily virtual meetings; and presented webinars, online courses and vlogs. To some extent, many of us became self-publishers, course creators or influencers.

Many people have been forced online and some are even “living” inside social media platforms. Meetings with family and friends have been migrated to Zoom or Google Meet and most business and shopping is done online.

But since the majority of South Africans will be vaccinated against Covid-19 only in 2022, it appears that this way of living will have to continue throughout 2021.

Companies took a beating

As timed passed, it gradually became apparent that only companies that were able to adapt and make a complete 180-degree turn in a relatively short period were able to succeed in this changed environment.

Before March 2020, it was business as usual for all companies, but then the worldwide pandemic changed everything. When the strict lockdown was implemented by government, most businesses were compelled to close temporarily. Unfortunately, the cost of the inability to trade was too much and many of these businesses never opened their doors again. Tourism, the hospitality industry, the alcohol and tobacco industry, and many so-called “non-essential services” were impacted the most.

This beating that companies took inevitably resulted in millions of job losses, affected South Africa’s economy at its core, created hardship for many, and lowered citizens’ morale.

Shift in customer demands

Interesting is the major shift that happened among customers. A need for local data-driven content originated, forcing international brands to adapt their content to suit the local South African market. Brands suddenly started to connect with distinct groups on a much more emotional level. More than ever, it became important for brands to know their customers at least as well as they knew themselves.

Customers suddenly started to emphasise that they want companies to engage with them on important social issues through honest, meaningful conversation using a variety of digital means such as calls, chatbots, social messaging and many more. Customers require authenticity and only companies that they feel they can be trust, received their business.

Digitalisation is key

Looking back, it becomes clear that if businesses want to thrive in another year of uncertainty, digitalisation is absolutely key. Not only for internal communications, as was done by many businesses in 2020, but also to connect, interact and relate to clients in a totally new way through the use of digital media. Now is the time to redesign important websites and digital platforms with a new focus on reaching consumers in-home, rather than out-of-home. During digitalisation it’s important to determine the impact of various efforts and to constantly adapt and evolve.

In the light of the postponed vaccination programme of the South African government, much of what was learned in the taxing year of 2020 will continue to shape the business landscape in 2021 and even beyond.

Although I don’t like the popular phrase, it is time for businesses to create their own “new normal” – one that suits their particular business and employees. It certainly does not seem if we will any time soon return to “the good old days” – if ever. We need to embrace the possibilities and opportunities offered by technology to grow our businesses in a totally new way. Only those that are flexible, able to adapt and evolve, will survive. Now is the time to digitalise, acquire new digital skills, enter new markets, and employ people from diverse backgrounds.

Professor Louis C H Fourie is a technology strategist

*The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL or of title sites

BUSINESS REPORT

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