The 5 Things This Tech Conference Taught Us About The Future Of Business In Africa

Updated on 20 September 2017

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The 5 Things This Tech Conference Taught Us About The Future Of Business In Africa
Autodesk’s Boston BUILD Space is home to six industrial robots. Image Credit: AUTODESK

Technology trends are driving businesses and consumers alike to find new ways to design, make, and use things – exactly how this will look was the focus of this year’s Autodesk University South Africa 2017 held at Cape Town’s Century City Convention Centre.

Themed “The Future of Making Things” the conference provided everyone from company CIOs and IT professionals, as well as architects, project managers, engineers and graphic designers, an opportunity to explore how technology is changing the face of their industries and sectors including the SME sector.

The conference was hosted by Autodesk, the company builds software that is used across a wide range of industries including engineering, construction, manufacturing and media and has been used in the creation of products such as the Tesla electric cars and the New York Freedom Tower. The company is perhaps best known for the AutoCAD, a computer-aided drafting software program that is used to create blueprints for buildings, bridges, computer chips, etc. They also develop software for consumers, including Sketchbook, Homestyler, and Pixlr.

The future is here – Here are the 5 things we learnt about the future of business and how technology is leveling the playing field.


1. ‘Business Unusual’ Is The New Usual 

“We see a number of significant disruptions. Disruptions in the nature of demographics, consumer demand and of course technology. These disruptions represent simultaneously tremendous opportunity to add new value, to generate new revenue streams and also threats because if we ignore these trends, if we ignore these disruptions, you can believe that your competitors will not,” Callan Carpenter, Autodesk vice president of global named accounts, said during his keynote address.

Technologies such as IoT for creating new business offerings, leveraging robotics for faster plant output, as well as analytics for a deeper understanding into the business environment are all expected to become even more critical for the day-to-day functioning of businesses, Carpenter says.

The three areas where disruption is expected to have the most impact are production, connectivity and machine learning, says Carpenter.

“First of all, disruptions in the means of production (both physical production, the making of things; and also intellectual production, the production of ideas). The world is moving towards a connected state and that has tremendous implications on what we build and what our expectations are for how we interact with the things that we build.”

2. SMEs Stand To Win Big With 3D Printing


Also expected to have a huge affect in the SME sector, is 3D printing. Tatjana Dzambazova, an architect from Autodesk, during her talk, said that the technology is expected to save businesses both time and money due to its additive manufacturing approach (a printing method which deposits layers of material on top of each other, and therefore uses only as much materials as needed).

Where a business would have previously needed a factory floor full of equipment to build a product, 3D printing will soon allow businesses to do so with much fewer machinery and at a much quicker turnaround time.

“Currently more than 75 materials are used in 3D printing. This includes stone, glass, plastic, fabric and metal. It can also print the entire mechanism at once, eliminating the need to assemble different parts. Besides being used in conservation, cars and low-cost houses have also been 3D printed.

“It is also extensively employed in the medical field to repair fractured body parts, and to develop prosthetics for amputees. Customised products can now be manufactured, such as hearing aids and wheelchairs that fit the body of the person using them,” explains Dzambazova. Beyond that, the possibilities are endless, she says.

3. Africa Is Not As Far Behind As You Would Think provides models of fossils for download and 3D printing. Center photo credit: Robert Clark @robertclarkphoto.

Did you know that the National Museum of Kenya is among the first in the world to use 3D printing to preserve precious historical artifacts? The museum is using 3D printing to produce exact replicas of historical artifacts, which include some of the oldest bone fossils and tools human ancestors used to prepare food and defend themselves, in order to preserve their heritage.

The museum is not the only organisation on the African continent that is already using tech in amazing ways. There are a number of startups and businesses who have embraced disruptive technologies, says Neil Brooker, technical manager META.

Water For People, which runs projects in Rwanda, Uganda and Burkina Faso, is basically using cloud computing to investigate how to get clean water to people. The company Sanitair, based in Nairobi, is using generative design to design toilets and are also removing waste and putting back into the ecosystem in terms of fertilization.

4. You Really Don’t Want To Be Left Behind


“It’s extremely important that startups or at least entrepreneurs don’t ignore technology. The benefits are quite clear not just in terms of design and creating things but also in terms of sharing ideas. I think the more we share ideas the wealthier we will become,” Brooker says.

The advantage that Africa has is that more people are getting connected via a mobile network of some description, says Brooker and this is of great benefit not only in terms of accessing information but also communicating ideas.

Those businesses that don’t take advantage of technology are at risk of being left out of the loop and unable to communicate with their customers, he concludes.

5. Businesses Need To Get Over Their Fear Of ‘Tech’

“They [business owners] should look very closely at what they want to achieve,” says Brooker.

“In terms of productivity SMEs and startups need to look at what they want to achieve and then match up their requirements to the really new technologies that are coming out. With 3D printing for example, we are almost constructing things before we design them, if I can put it that way. They need to take advantage of that. That sort of technology, in terms of hardware, is also being democratised as well. You can pick up a 3D printer for a few hundred dollars these days or you can pick up a massive one that can make a wall for you without you having to pick up a spade,” he says.

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