SWC Impact on Innovation & Capability Building in SA

The Wits Business School Strategic Management of Innovation Group hosted a Panel Discussion Seminar on 2 July.  They kindly allowed me to open the session – here is what I said:

“Critical evaluation”, as used in the seminar outline, suggests that we panellists have had time to carry out a number of activities: to research the intended, perceived, actual and potential impact of the SWC; to analyse the relationship with our country’s innovation and capabilities; and to prepare a critical assessment for delivery in under 10 minutes.  Eish!  I am actually going to keep it short, as I hope that the real value will come from triggering a discussion, rather than presenting a case.

My first thought (and I know it’s not unique to me) is that South Africa has once again demonstrated its capability to bring off “the big one”, as we have done on many occasions since the New South Africa ball started rolling in the early 90’s.  My second thought is why can’t we achieve this level of success with the other “big ones” in education, health, security and job creation?  Maybe the real innovation we need is in motivating government processes to achieve successful outcomes…

This seminar has brought together “leading ICT experts”, which would indicate that we should focus on ICT activities.  Does this mean we cannot discuss the design and construction of the stadia, the Gautrain or the King Shaka Airport?  Surely not, as none of them would have happened without the support and involvement of ICTs.  Certainly, we have proof of our innovative skills in the design of sports stadia!

Clearly, the significant area of South African ICT success was the implementation of the communications infrastructure required by FIFA and its partners.  The fibre network backed up by satellite services has connected the stadiums, FIFA offices and broadcasters to the International Broadcast Centre  and IT Control Centre at NASREC, and through there to the outside world with the speed and reliability that we would only have dreamed of back in 2004, when we promised we could do it.  I have been lucky enough to visit those centres and they are impressive.  Sadly, most of the “expertise” was imported by FIFA, such as Mahindra Satyam’s Event Management System and the Host Broadcast Services’ control centre and venue facilities.  We must hope that our local industry has been watching them closely, to learn all they can.  I know that Nhlanhla (Mabaso – another panelist) was on that same visit, so hope that he has a more technical insight into the possibilities than I have.

For example, from my perspective, has there been some “behind the scenes” discussion among the technical experts to further the debate about Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) standards?  Are we going to lose the chance to make Set Top Boxes? Many people have now been exposed to the benefits of HDTV and 3-DTV, both providing future opportunities for us to capitalise on content development, even if we are unlikely to get a foot in the door of the global manufacture of these devices.

An area where FIFA did not excel was Match’s ticketing system, which was obviously not adapted from the European model to suit African requirements.  Think what Computicket can offer them in the way of proven expertise and capability!

What are the areas where we can expect to benefit from the implementation of the SWC?  To a degree, it requires the application of imagination when looking at the potential future uses of what has been installed so far.  I remember there was a process at the Dept of Communications where they asked the ICT sector to suggest possible uses for the IBC at NASREC but I have no idea whether they have a plan up their sleeve.  Obviously, most of the moveable equipment will be removed but the broadband infrastructure should not, indeed cannot be wasted.  The potential for a high-tech campus at that location is enormous.

But that’s an easy target.  What about the fan park set-ups?  They have potential as outdoor cinemas and entertainment venues, places where the community can gather in large numbers to hear about government programmes.

How can we adapt the stadia, to prevent them becoming ghost venues?  They are all “wired for sound” (I’m showing my age) and should not be limited to hosting football or rugby.  Can we extend them to activities supporting local schools – from sports fields to classrooms?  Education was the first “legacy” of the SWC touted by FIFA – and this would be an opportunity to make the stadia into focal points for the surrounding institutions, both as venues and as hubs of connectivity.  Can they house internet cafes and clinics?

The SWC has given SA many things to think about – from our ability to carry out big projects to our dependence on imported management and technical skills and our motivation to achieve common goals.  Can we take the enormous legacy of the investment, the infrastructure and the lessons learned and turn it to maximum advantage?  I think we can, but we must take a serious look at our culture and our processes, if we are not to starve ourselves of this opportunity.  We must move from talk to action, from control to facilitation, from separation to cooperation.

We must expose as many of our young people as possible to the “wonders of 2010” and educate them to think creatively about what they will do when we host the Olympics in 2020…

What “new use” would you bring to the infrastructure legacy of the SWC?