A digital future has the potential to improve the quality of life for all South Africans but requires that companies transform their business models to take advantage of it, says UCT GSB EMBA alumnus Phathizwe Malinga.
He was recently appointed acting CEO of SqwidNet — the licensed network operator for Sigfox in South Africa and subsidiary of Dark Fibre Africa. He talks to us here about his new role, the influence of the GSB on his career, and the role of digital in the future development of South Africa.
What is IoT and how does SqwidNet facilitate it?
IoT is the internet of physical objects interconnected via the internet. These objects are embedded with sensors and network connectivity, which enables the generation, collection and exchange of data among them. SqwidNet is a wireless network provider for IoT. It receives the data generated by these sensors and uploads it to the internet. Service providers can then access the data, analyse it using smart algorithms and provide the end user with business intelligence.
Sigfox is the world’s leading Internet of Things (IoT) services provider. Since its launch 19 months ago, SqwidNet has become the fastest growing IoT network operator in South Africa and is the only operator that offers nationwide coverage. The company has already installed 600 base stations nationwide and will soon be doubling that number to further guarantee its business-grade network.
What prompted you to do an EMBA at GSB after 20 years in the IT and telecommunications industries?
I felt l had reached the limits of my understanding of life and business, but hadn’t sufficiently explored my potential to solve global problems and make a difference in the quality of life of my fellow South Africans. My ambition was to hold a CEO position by age 50, but I realised I needed new ways of thinking and approaching challenges if I was to achieve that. I felt doing an EMBA at GSB would be the right fit for me.
What did the EMBA teach you?
It transformed my way of thinking and prepared me for a leadership role. It taught me that leadership is about courage and conviction — the conviction that if not me, then who? I learned that as flawed as I am, I am enough and must have courage to move forward and lead. I believe that if we improve industry, our communities will flourish as better economic opportunities will be created. The EMBA gave me the confidence to navigate complex problems with integrity and humility. I learned that there are many truths and I no longer feel the need always to be right. I have learned just to listen. It also taught me that through critical thinking I could create my own future.
Did the EMBA have an impact on your career?
Most definitely. It enhanced my strategic decision-making abilities and led to the opening up of leadership opportunities for me. After the EMBA I joined SqwidNet as head of the Connected Device Solutions division. My role was to enable an ecosystem that encouraged the production of locally-made IoT technologies, devices and platforms and to build Sigfox’s IoT connectivity business in South Africa. As Acting CEO my role is to help businesses generate business insights to gain a competitive advantage in the 4th industrial revolution.
What challenges are organisations faced with when it comes to readying themselves for the 4th Industrial Revolution?
If businesses don’t transform their business models to take advantage of the new digital economy they’ll get left behind. This is not always easy of course and few are getting it right at the moment. One company that has taken advantage of IoT is Discovery Insure. Its Vitalitydrive sensor and smarpthone application, for example, is an innovative smartphone-enabled technology that allows the company to measure vehicle dynamics (acceleration, braking, cornering), time of day, and mileage, and enables drivers with smartphones to improve their driving behaviour to ultimately reduce the risk of an accident.
This means that the company doesn’t only sell insurance. It rewards good driving! These are the kind of leaps that IoT can offer if people have the vision to take advantage of it.
What is your vision for a digitally-enabled future in South Africa?
It is one where there is open access, low barriers to entry and support for SMMEs to enable them to operate in the digital space and gain a competitive advantage. SMMEs hold the key to job creation in South Africa. I would like to help create a future where there is shared-value creation and businesses cooperate rather than compete.