Much has changed in our post-COVID-19 world. Travel remains a distant memory for many of us, while working from home has blurred the line between our professional and personal time. It also emphasized the frustration caused by connectivity glitches.

I recently visited South Africa, which I still call home. In the city of Durban, where I spent much of my time, the roads were buzzing with motorcycle deliveries – a fast-growing source of employment very much linked to the rise of the digital economy.

A digital economy needs reliable infrastructure

South Africa is a warm and welcoming country despite the challenges it faces, which include an aging power grid that regularly causes scheduled outages. Many of its citizens have already installed solar panels to lessen their reliance on the national power utility.

According to a new report by consulting firm McKinsey & Company, titled Value Creation in the Metaverse, the metaverse could be worth $5 trillion by 2030, with a compound annual growth rate of 42.1% expected over the next eight years.

Like many emerging economies, South Africa can benefit greatly from the move to Industry 4.0, which is poised to transform the manufacturing industry, among others, with artificial intelligence and smart automation. Yet, the country’s unreliable critical infrastructure and limited investment in basic services such as power and water are major hurdles.

New technology, new opportunities, better service delivery

From my previous visits to South Africa, I knew that the quality of my internet connection – in terms of both availability and price – depended greatly on choosing the right package and service. I was therefore pleasantly surprised by how quick and easy it had become to get connected. It was almost instantaneous once I supplied proof of my identity.

It took me just 10 minutes to get back online but two days to renew my South African passport. Perhaps not so different from other emerging economies, but could the same efficient consumer telecommunications technology not be used to speed up the collection of passports, for example?

And what if we used the Internet of Things (IoT) to monitor a country’s power and water infrastructure, and linked the status of these assets to the service record of the parties contracted for service delivery in this regard?

Imagine what value Industry 4.0 can deliver in healthcare, too, including making telemedicine available to senior citizens who cannot travel easily, or to people living in rural areas.

The infrastructure exists. We just need to enable it – and securely, because we don’t want a pensioner who can’t afford to travel to a city for a healthcare screening to fall prey to identity theft.

Industry 4.0 is creating new markets and new types of employment, but the underlying technological infrastructure needs to be accessible to all consumers, organizations and governments so they can work together to make the most of this wave of innovation.

Download our white paper on implementing an Industry 4.0 strategy to realize the benefits of digital advancement for your organization.

Warren Small is the Global Vice President of Strategic Growth & Incubation at NTT.