There have been several obstacles impacting the growth of South Africa’s burgeoning Internet of Things (IoT) landscape, but in 2022 it is now reaching a tipping point as more projects shift from pilot phases to full-scale deployments.

It has been said so often that it’s losing its weight, but the pandemic has pushed business in an entirely new direction and, in South Africa, this direction is towards IoT, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), automation and the cloud.

As Jeremy Potgieter, executive member of the IoT Industry Council of South Africa (IOTIC), points out, this shift is accelerating digital transformation in the country and creating an increased focus on IoT projects that allow organisations to improve efficiencies, reduce costs and drive return on investment (ROI).

“There is a clear change in digital direction taking place and this is seeing an acceleration in IoT projects as well as a commitment to ensuring that these projects achieve their full potential,” he adds.

“However, the local IoT manufacturer landscape is largely non-existent which has resulted in a huge dependency on imports and parts. There are a few outliers in this field that has, thanks to international funding, broken some ground, but not to the extent of making a notable impact.”

There has to be a greater effort by both the private and public sectors to drive the local production of components, parts and solutions. Why? Because legacy systems are starting to reach their end of life means the move to digital is inevitable and, for those paying attention, profitable. As enterprises continue to centre automation, AI and service optimization to increase revenue and diversify market opportunities, they need IoT platforms and services that will make them, and their customers’ lives easier. This means that the time for locals to become lekker is right now.

“There are several market factors influencing this,” says Potgieter. “Ecommerce platforms are rapidly increasing due to the ease of shopping and growing smartphone penetration in the market and this is going to have a knock-on impact on the IoT market. There is a growing need for data analysis and the integration of analytics as well, both set to drive the use of IoT  in the country and business potential.”

Another plus in the local column is, of course, the fact that South African IoT manufacturers are exceedingly innovative in their approaches due to the complex situation in the country. The unique problems faced by South Africa make this the perfect breeding ground for new and exciting home-grown IoT solutions. The challenge is to overcome some of the misconceptions that are impacting IoT development and innovation.

“We believe that this is the right time to release a definitive handbook of best practices and standards as this will overcome misconceptions around what defines IoT success and drive greater adoption,” says Potgieter. “We believe that vendors, solution providers, service providers and the market as a whole need to come together to drive IoT adoption across multiple disciplines and to do so we need education and better information.”

Local manufacturing and sourcing could also be immensely beneficial in terms of managing local availability and service delivery in the face of global shortages across silicon and hardware components. With a thriving South African manufacturing sector in place, the country could not only support local solution development and bypass reliance on international supply chains but improve job creation, time to market and economic growth. It is the right time – southern Africa’s computing devices market recorded a 20,1% year-on-year growth in the second half of 2021 according to IDC, and there has been a recovery in the mining and manufacturing sectors across the continent.

“The iron, as the saying goes, is hot and now is the perfect time to strike,” concludes Potgieter. “We need to drive local innovation through improved finance options, to focus on building IoT solutions that are highly relevant in the local space, and to support manufacturers as the IoT market finally opens up on the continent.”