The past year has seen seismic shifts in how organisations approach work, technology and collaboration. One of the biggest shifts has been the acceptance of hybrid work as a reality – companies have had to bow to its demands in a landscape still controlled by the pandemic. This has introduced complexities and questions and many organisations are still trying to find the truth that lies somewhere in the middle between working from home and coming into the office. However, according to Mark Walker, Associate Vice President for Sub-Saharan Africa at IDC Middle East, Africa and Turkey, this is not the only trend that shaped 2021, and that will have a long-term impact well into 2022.
“In addition to managing a workforce that is split between the office and the home, organisations are now able to hire people from anywhere in the world as full-time employees,” says Walker. “Employees can live in South Africa and work for a company in the United States, for example. This introduces new complexities around regulation, income, taxation, and labour laws. How will the labour environment adapt to this transformational redefinition of the employee? And how will this change the nature of the employee/business relationship?”
The hybrid workforce and the geographically dispersed online workforce both offer organisations measurable benefits, but these models have to be refined in the future to ensure that labour laws, regulations and employee rights are not adversely affected.
“Another trend is an increase in new partnerships and alliances built on new technology platforms that help companies better manage their systems,” says Walker. “One superb example of this is in the retail sector where companies have collaborated to resolve shortfalls for both. Pick n Pay using PnP ASAP to reach its customers at a time when online has become the de facto shopping choice for many is a great use case. Most people want to order online and get goods delivered, so companies are collaborating to improve customer experiences and refine supply chain challenges.”
In under-served areas, this move has seen an increase in fibre infrastructure rollout with innovations in technology, like TV whitespace, coming to the fore and putting the internet into rural areas. In many of these rural markets, companies are focusing heavily on writing up the office parks and residential estates, and on bringing connectivity into areas like Thembisa and Soweto.
“The rural environment is coming next, and will bring about a much-needed change in terms of access to services and solutions,” says Walker. “Another change is the increase in data centre capacity on the continent. If you take an approximation of how many businesses are in Africa and correlate that to data centre availability compared with the rest of the world, we are way behind the high density of US or India or Brazil.”
This low-density data centre challenge has been accepted and already there has been a significant increase in new data centre announcements, bolstered by investments into terrestrial fibre across Africa. These improvements in connectivity are critical for the continent, especially now, in a world that has come to terms with online as the new collaboration normal.
“Zoom and Teams and other similar platforms have become the norm with many integrating note sharing and whiteboard planning as standard features,” says Walker. “These technologies came into their own in 2020, but are now becoming increasingly focused on providing companies with ecosystems that deliver comprehensive performance to users. The next year is very likely going to be a case of consolidation as companies buy one another out and it is going to be interesting to see how that plays out when companies realise that owning the platform means owning the clients.”
Staying true to form, cloud silos and security remained hot topics in 2021 and these will very likely remain as contentious in 2022. Looking ahead, there will be continued mainstream adoption of hybrid technology and working styles as well as increasingly interesting partnerships developing around these systems.
“Companies will continue to focus on the ecosystems that run behind their platforms – supply chains, logistics and data – to ensure they retain market share,” concludes Walker. “Data centres will continue to expand across the region, and regulation and compliance will remain areas of concern that can potentially limit development and adoption. While there have been great strides in Africa this past year, the next year has to push innovation and development even further. We cannot afford to be complacent.”