Leveraging technology is one of the best ways to move South Africa forward. Photo: AP

CAPE TOWN – Leveraging technology is one of the best ways to move South Africa forward. This according to Lee Naik, the chief executive of Transunion, the oldest credit bureau in Africa.

Naik was a keynote speaker yesterday at the opening of the AI (Artificial Intelligence) Expo Africa 2018 conference, which ends today at the Century City Convention Centre.

Naik’s discussion centred on solving problems that matter using AI, and he presented delegates with six numbers impacting South Africa’s economic statistics.

South Africa was provisionally declared the most economically corrupt country in the world, followed by Kenya, which claimed second spot. 

The country’s gross domestic product (GDP) had gone backwards by 0.7 percent in the past quarter, an improvement from the previous quarter’s –2.6 percent. The average rate of inflation is 4.3 percent this year. South Africa’s unemployment rate is 27 percent. 

The average income in real (after-inflation) terms for the country is 1.5 percent, and the percentage of disposable income that goes towards servicing debt by South Africans is 72 percent.

“These stats are real stats; we report on these data points all the time at Transunion. Now think about yourselves in your personal context; where is your family, what can you afford and not afford? The fact that our government stepped in right now to help us with the current fuel price increase just for the month doesn’t help us next month, when a more than R1 increase will occur. So the burning platform for us as technologists is there to be seen, and what we see right now is that it is tough out there,” said Naik.

Best option

He added that when things are tough the best option and the most fertile ground is to leverage technology to solve the country’s problems.

Naik said that in the world of technology and a world of data, there must be something to help businesses perform better.

“We talk about frictionless customer experiences. I’m asking each of you to think about this: what about a frictionless business experience, the way we run the inside, your operating model. Is your operating model frictionless? It is wonderful having a customer have a frictionless experience in your organisation, but it doesn’t start with how we organise our operation on the inside. Ultimately, we try to make customers happy and customers are difficult to make happy,” he said.

Naik said when more than 70 percent of disposable income in South Africa goes towards servicing debt, people are becoming a lot more fickle.

“It is not your product, or your fancy pink stripes, or yellow stripes or glow in the dark, or even the price of your product that matters; it is how you make them feel. In AI and technology and data, it is about understanding this person better,” said Naik.