Disruptive Technology and Nigeria’s quest to leapfrog

Cover Pix 1In the past few years, global technology trend has been evolving at a fast pace, with innovative technology taking center stage.

Technology, being a form of social relationship, always evolves. No technology remains fixed. Technology starts, develops, persists, mutates, stagnates, and declines, just like living organisms. The evolutionary life cycle occurs in the use and development of any technology. A new high-technology core emerges and challenges existing Technology Support Nets (TSNs), which are thus forced to co-evolve with it. New versions of the core are designed and fitted into an increasingly appropriate TSN, with smaller and smaller high-technology effects.

Today, the world is talking about technologies that will disrupt trends and enhance ease of living. Technologies that will need minimal or no human interference. These technologies are not very far from us as some countries have already started using them. CHIDIEBERE NWANKWO looks at how Nigeria can latch on to these technologies and how much disruption they can bring to the country.

DISRUPTIVE TECHNOLOGY EXPLAINED

According to Wikipedia, Digital disruption is the change that occurs when new digital technologies and business models affect the value proposition of existing goods and services.

A disruptive technology is one that displaces an established technology and shakes up the industry or a ground-breaking product that creates a completely new industry.

Harvard Business School professor, Clayton M. Christensen coined the term ‘disruptive technology’. In his 1997 best-selling book, “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” Christensen separates new technology into two categories: sustaining and disruptive technologies. Sustaining technology relies on incremental improvements to an already established technology. Disruptive technology lacks refinement, often has performance problems because it is new, appeals to a limited audience and may not yet have a proven practical application. (Such was the case with Alexander Graham Bell’s “electrical speech machine,” which we now call the telephone.)

Clayton Christensen
Clayton Christensen

In his book, Christensen points out that large corporations are designed to work with sustaining technologies. They excel at knowing their market, staying close to their customers, and having a mechanism in place to develop existing technology. Conversely, they have trouble capitalizing on the potential efficiencies, cost-savings, or new marketing opportunities created by low-margin disruptive technologies. Using real-world examples to illustrate his point, Christensen demonstrates how it is not unusual for a big corporation to dismiss the value of a disruptive technology because it does not reinforce current company goals, only to be blindsided as the technology matures, gains a larger audience and market share and threatens the status quo.

According to Investopedia, an investment direction firm, ‘Disruptive Technology’ is a technology that significantly alters the way that businesses operate. “A disruptive technology may force companies to alter the way that they approach their business, risk losing market share or risk becoming irrelevant. Recent examples of disruptive technologies include smart phones and the e-commerce retailing.”

While companies often plan to make incremental improvements to the way that they do business in order to improve efficiency, they are unlikely to be able to fully plan for disruptive technologies because these technologies can appear suddenly.

More risk-taking companies may realize the potential of a disruptive technology and try to find ways to incorporate it into their business processes – the “innovators” of the technology adoption lifecycle – but most companies are more risk-averse and will adopt an innovation only after seeing how it performs with a wider audience. Companies that fail to account for the effects of a new, disruptive technology may find themselves losing market share to companies that have found ways to integrate the technology into the way that they manage labor and capital.

In the late 1990s, the automotive sector began to embrace a perspective of “constructive disruptive technology” by working with the consultant David E. O’Ryan, whereby the use of current off-the-shelf technology was integrated with newer innovation to create what he called “an unfair advantage”. The process or technology change as a whole had to be “constructive” in improving the current method of manufacturing, yet disruptively impact the whole of the business case model, resulting in a significant reduction of waste, energy, materials, labor, or legacy costs to the user.

Investing in a firm that has produced a disruptive technology is likely to carry significant risk. Many products considered disruptive don’t make an immediate impact on the market, and may take years before being adopted by a critical mass of users.

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At a recent forum in Lagos, financial technology stakeholders looked into the effect of disruptive technology in the FinTech subsector in Nigeria viz-a-viz global trend.

Co-Founder and CEO of Moven, Brett King while acknowledging the fact that in the financial services industry, there has been a rapid adoption of technology in Africa and China, compared to US and Germany, opined that in the next two decades technology will be so cheap that it will become embedded in human lives. King asserted that innovative disruption will play a key role in Nigeria’s quest for financial inclusion and reaching out to the unbanked.

Brett King
Brett King

But stakeholders believe that uptake of disruptive or higher technologies might be slow because of companies’ unwillingness to invest in a technology which profitability had not been tested; also by those who believe that automation will deprive them of their jobs and relevance.

In 2009, American economist, Milan Zeleny described high technology as disruptive technology and raised the question of what is being disrupted. The answer, according to Zeleny, is the support network of high technology. For example, introducing electric cars disrupts the support network for gasoline cars (network of gas and service stations). Such disruption is fully expected and therefore effectively resisted by support net owners. In the long run, high (disruptive) technology bypasses, upgrades, or replaces the outdated support network.

High technology becomes regular technology, with more efficient versions fitting the same support net. Finally, even the efficiency gains diminish, emphasis shifts to product tertiary attributes (appearance, style).

“Implementing high technology is often resisted. This resistance is well understood on the part of active participants in the requisite TSN. The electric car will be resisted by gas-station operators in the same way automated teller machines (ATMs) were resisted by bank tellers and automobiles by horsewhip makers. Technology does not qualitatively restructure the TSN and therefore will not be resisted and never has been resisted.

In trying to understand Disruptive Technologies that have taken place over time, we cite some examples:

  • The personal computer (PC) displaced the typewriter and forever changed the way we work and communicate.
  • Email transformed the way we communicating, largely displacing letter-writing and disrupting the postal and greeting card industries.
  • Cell phones made it possible for people to call us anywhere and disrupted the telecom industry.
  • The laptop computer and mobile computing made a mobile workforce possible and made it possible for people to connect to corporate networks and collaborate from anywhere. In many organizations, laptops replaced desktops.
  • Smartphones largely replaced cell phones and PDAs and, because of the available apps, also disrupted: pocket cameras, MP3 players, calculators and GPS devices, among many other possibilities. For some mobile users, smartphones often replace laptops. Others prefer a tablet.
  • Cloud computing has been a hugely disruptive technology in the business world, displacing many resources that would conventionally have been located in-house or provided as a traditionally hosted service.
  • Social networking has had a major impact on the way we communicate and — especially for personal use — has disrupted telephone, email, instant messaging and event planning.

Disruption in the Financial Sector

In Nigeria, disruptive technology is not new, but global trends are fast tilting towards financial technology as the most attractive for disruption. Analysts perceive that the fast-changing face of ICT will eventually swallow up bank services in future with the tendency that banks will fizzle away as ICT takes up services.

But Co-founder & CEO, Paystack, Shola Akinlade disagrees with this, saying that banks will get better in customer service while FinTech companies will thrive with their services. “Banks and FinTechs will co-exist”.

Brett King while noting that Africa stands a chance in tapping into the future technology to grow, pointed out that Nigeria should create identity infrastructure to be able to scale up its financial technology quest. The country should also pursue inclusiveness as a way of creating awareness to FinTech.

“By 2025, every major industry will be led by a technology company. Then the biggest financial institutions will not be banks at all.” He advised that banks should partner, acquire or emulate technology companies in order to remain relevant in the coming years of AIs.

Former Citi CEO, Vikram Pandit, had in a related view, noted that with the advent of Artificial Intelligence (AI) 30% of banking jobs could disappear within the next five years.

In an interview on Bloomberg Television, the 60-year-old Indian-American said threats from artificial intelligence and robots will “change the back office.”

Pandit, who was CEO of Citigroup from 2007-2012, but now serves as Founder/CEO of a private equity firm called Orogen Group, noted that banks will need to restructure so as to remain in tune with global FinTech trends.

King further warned Nigerian financial institutions of the hazard of creating financial exclusion through insistence on drivers license as a means of identification, but said that the country needs a central identity infrastructure.

CBN, the financial sector regulator is already trying to address concerns that inhibit financial inclusion which is seen as a singular factor that could constrain remote areas from being part of the revolution expected in Nigeria.

According to a post on Disruptionhub, Co Founder & CEO, Rob Prevett explains some disruptions that are expected, some of which are already happening.

Analysing the breakthroughs of previous year, Prevett noted: “There is no doubt that 2016 was a breakthrough year for some of the technologies we have been watching. AI, VR, AR, Chatbots, self-driving cars all took significant leaps forward in terms of their practical applications and adoption, taking many by surprise. It is definitely true to say that the robots are no longer coming- they are here, and they are taking jobs.

One thing is certain, whether you work in strategy, risk management, operations, start-ups, R&D or marketing, you need to be abreast of the potential of disruptive digital technologies which are no longer purely the realm of the CIO or CTO.”

PWC’s report on ‘Financial Services Technology 2020 and Beyond’ identified ten competitive technology-driven influencers for 2020. It noted that technology is clearly affecting financial services in a multitude of ways. These ten global indicators point to the reign of technology in this era:

  • FinTech will drive the new business model
  • The sharing economy will be embedded in every part of the financial system
  • Blockchain will shake things up
  • Digital becomes mainstream
  • Customer intelligence’ will be the most important predictor of revenue growth and profitability
  • Advances in robotics and AI will start a wave of ‘re-shoring’ and localisation
  • The public cloud will become the dominant infrastructure model
  • Cyber-security will be one of the top risks facing financial institutions
  • Asia will emerge as a key centre of technology-driven innovation
  • Regulators will turn to technology as well

According to co-director of the McKinsey Global Institute, Richard Dobbs, the relentless parade of new technologies is unfolding on many fronts. Almost every advance is billed as a breakthrough, and the list of “next big things” grows ever longer.

He noted that not every emerging technology will alter the business or social landscape—“But some truly do have the potential to disrupt the status quo, alter the way people live and work, and rearrange value pools. It is therefore critical that business and policy leaders understand which technologies will matter to them and prepare accordingly.”

According to Dobbs, business leaders should keep their organizational strategies updated in the face of continually evolving technologies, ensure that their organizations continue to look ahead, and use technologies to improve internal performance. Disruptive technologies can change the game for businesses, creating entirely new products and services, as well as shifting pools of value between producers or from producers to consumers.

“Organizations will often need to use business-model innovations to capture some of that value. Leaders need to plan for a range of scenarios, abandoning assumptions about where competition and risk could come from, and not be afraid to look beyond long-established models. Organizations will also need to keep their employees’ skills up-to-date and balance the potential benefits of emerging technologies with the risks they sometimes pose.”

He further advised that policy makers can use advanced technology to address their own operational challenges (for example, by deploying the Internet of Things to improve infrastructure management). The nature of work will continue to change, and that will require strong education and retraining programs. “To address challenges that the new technologies themselves will bring, policy makers can use some of those very technologies—for example, by creating new educational and training systems with the mobile Internet, which can also help address an ever-increasing productivity imperative to deliver public services more efficiently and effectively. To develop a more nuanced and useful view of technology’s impact, governments may also want to consider new metrics that capture more than GDP effects. This approach can help policy makers balance the need to encourage growth with their responsibility to look out for the public welfare as new technologies reshape economies and lives.”

DISRUPTED IMPACT

Technology has transformed our way of life, from how we communicate, to how we travel, cook, book taxis, interact, and work, technology has truly permeated and impacted on every sphere of life changing it irrevocably. From the financial sector, telecommunications, advertising through social media, agriculture, etc, the world is changing.

Lagos-based corporate-commercial lawyer, Okezi Uwede-Meshack shares his insight: “I join the pro-technology lawyers in the match towards an e-world. Lawyering that is made simpler using information technology tools. When my law reports are handy, e-books are virtual and client details stored in the cloud, I can access them from just anywhere and give on-the-go opinions when sought. It makes more sense not having to review 103 pages of boiler plate clauses in contracts for two weeks, get comments and then go through another review before the final agreement is drawn and executed. If we can just agree to the outcomes, write some codes, run it on computer systems and allow execution happen over the internet at scheduled moments.”

CEO, Kudi Capital Management Limited, Babs Ogundeyi, believes that already disruption has started in the global banking marketplace – facilitated by mobile networking, social technologies, data analytics, and new disruptive customer experiences.

“Technology has also disrupted the finance industry, questioning the status quo and challenging archaic and inefficient operational norms. We have seen the scaling back of physical money transactions and bank teller-led withdrawals being replaced by online transfers, card transactions and automated teller machines (ATM).

These disruptions, until very recent – at least in Nigeria, had little to no effect on the way we borrow money – a space largely dominated by brick and mortar banks with endless paper work and unbelievable lengthy approval processes. The monopoly banks have had on lending has finally been affected by the digital revolution and the microfinance sector is getting a digital makeover.

Today, dynamic and forward thinking start-ups and platforms are emerging – transforming the way we deposit, borrow and repay money completely. Paperless, online (or from an app) and speedy personal loans are fast replacing archaic practices that are out of place in a digital revolution.”

Some of the disruptions today and the future holds include:

  • Robots Become Co-workers

With investment in advanced robotics increasing, we will see the rise of ‘sobots’, social robots who can read emotions and talk, used as digital assistants.

  • From Wearables to Implantables

Up to 50,000 people already have electronic RFID implants , and Intel now have a chip for controlling smart devices in the brain. Together with Elon Musk’s eye on building VR in the brain, this year could see the beginnings of increased activity and interest in ‘Implantables’.

  • Bots Usurp Apps

Advancements in AI fuelled machine learning and cloud software have led to real improvements in chatbot performance, and real opportunities for businesses to take advantage. The rise of the chatbot economy will see tasks such as booking tickets and conducting research increasingly done by bots rather than by navigating apps, contact centres or web interfaces.

  • Genetically Modified Lifeforms

In 2016 DNA editing on the CRISPR genome editing platform transformed biology.  We covered flexible gene editing, home genome editing kits, genetically modified mosquitoes and the potential of biological weapons. With the rate of movement in this field, we will no doubt be reporting on more projects with huge disruptive potential in coming years.

  • 3D Printing Gets Industrial

With the speed and scale of 3D printing increasing exponentially in the last 3 years, it will soon move from being a tech novelty to a core part of the manufacturing and construction process in many industries. We will see giant 3D printers using additive manufacturing revolutionising the construction industry – creating structures in months which would previously have taken years. If we don’t see even more 3D printed car entrants, we will at least see more components customised.

  • AI Replaces White Collar Expertise

Machine learning successes this year have showcased AI as a (more) reliable way of replacing smart people working out patterns. We will make headway with the cultural shift required to trust them with more and more ‘graduate’ jobs. Legal bots, AI journalists, and diagnostic ‘robot doctors’  mean that jobs lost to digital technologies will no longer be restricted to the blue collar employment markets.

  • Quantum Computing Gets Practical

Although we are not expecting a fully fledged, affordable Quantum Computer until at least 2020, research is currently being done to find practical applications for existing quantum technologies. BREXIT might slow some of these down, but at the very least 2017 needs to be the year in which companies start to think carefully about the effect that quantum computing will have on their business models, with the potential they bring for massive process and data disruption.

  • Self Driving Vehicles On the High Street

The investment in autonomous vehicle R&D was huge in 2016, and not just from Google and Tesla. Most of the large automotive groups are developing prototypes or have bought driverless tech companies and are regaining lost ground. In the meantime taxi companies such as Uber have started trialing self-driving taxis. Safety, while still a concern, did not slow development as much as expected, so we might now see some developments in what will be the biggest disruptive potential for the technology- in the trucking and haulage industries.

  • Blockchain Disrupts More than Banks

The disruptive potential of Blockchain technologies has been proven not to be limited to currencies like Bitcoin disrupting the banking and mortgage systems. This year we have seen breakthroughs in security management, and in 2017 we should see experimentation in the fashion and music  industries. In the longer term, Blockchain might even be the method of taking identity management from the dominant tech companies.

  • Virtual Reality as a Commercial Reality

No longer limited to the entertainment and gaming sectors, the present and the future will see more companies adapting and applying the technology for more practical purposes. Education and Healthcare are at the forefront of this innovation, with other uses also being found in everything from Real Estate to Travel. It’s definitely time for businesses to consider how virtual reality could be enhancing their marketing, customer journeys, productivity or product offerings.

  • Robots Teaching Themselves

 

Self-teaching robots  have been one of the breakthroughs of 2016 as we have seen more examples of bot to bot communication in which one machine shares its learning with another, and deep learning based networks which robots can tap into and teach themselves.

  • Cybersecurity Wars

Past years haveseen cyber security attacks on every level – from every level of consumer and business cybercrime, up to state level campaigns which some say may have changed the shape of global government. One thing is sure – nobody can afford to ignore potential threats. The proliferation of big data and the rise of IoT makes businesses and consumers vulnerable, and huge investment is being poured into the area. It is unlikely this will solve the problems by in a short while though – expect to see some more major hacks.

  • The Things Are Taking Over the Internet

More and more ‘Things’ have become connected in 2016, with applications ranging from gardening, transport, energy, sport to farming and medicine. Connected Cars and Smart Homes are now all realities. Yet while it is in Smart Cities and Industrial IoT that significant changes to productivity, lifestyles and business models will be seen, in 2017, companies will still be grappling with the changes to consumer facing applications and navigating the data they produce.

  • Renewables and Clean Energy Diversify

With Elon Musk leading the way (merging Tesla Electric Cars and his solar power venture SolarCity), tech companies are at the forefront of making sustainable energy solutions available to the public . With increasing public appetite for green energy, and a growing awareness of the transformational potential for the developing world, we expect to more disruption to energy companies and see more innovation in solar, wind, tidal, biomass and geothermal technologies, and Virtual Power Stations.

  • From Augmented Reality to Mixed Reality

Augmented Reality was only really propelled into the limelight in summer 2016 when Pokemon Go became a global phenomenon, and yet the AR industry is predicted to hit global revenues of $90 billion by 2020. This amount is mirrored in the investment. In 2015 only $700 million in total was invested in AR/VR, but in early 2016 one company alone broke records with an $800m ‘C’ round. That company, the ‘secretive’ Magic Leap has yet to showcase any of the Mixed Reality platform it is working on, but in the meantime Microsoft has opened up its MR platform for developers and we expect to see some fruit this year.

NIGERIA’S WAY FORWARD

Honorable Minister  of Communications, Adebayo Shittu
Honorable Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu

Accenture’s Country Manager, Niyi Yusuf believes that Nigeria and Africa as a whole can plug into the ongoing digital revolution. He noted that Services account for 51% of the country’s GDP and that is the platform on which global transformation is happening. “The next generation in digital natives and can compete favourably.”

Founder and Executive Vice Chairman of CWG Plc, Austin Okere, sees inclusiveness as an issue. He blamed the federal government for not heeding calls for inclusiveness. He lamented the loll in the implementation of the Nigerian Research and Education Network (ngREN) programmes.

He also raises the issue of Power. “Fourth industrial Revolution is a moving train that cannot wait for anybody, nothing stops it. It is complex and should be prepared for. It needs things like power.” Okere is however optimistic that Nigeria can plug into the global trend by revisiting some of the abandoned programmes like ngREN and other innovation-driving initiatives.

Austin Okere
Austin Okere

Chief Executive Officer, Cymantiks Nigeria, Emeka Okoye harped on the need for Nigeria to set up facilities that will engage in extensive Research and Development (R&D) activities to help the country advance technologically.

Okoye pointed out that government has not been taking data issues seriously and needs to start from the basics and start taking R&D seriously.

According to him, Nigeria still do not have a technology ecosystem nor an educational system stemmed on science and technology. He noted that building a tech ecosystem will encourage R&D even in tertiary institutions.

He further advocated for Open Data which will allow access to data by anybody or institution that wishes to embark on research. “Government do not seem to appreciate the value of data.”

Speaking on communication technology, Chief Transmission Officer, MTN Nigeria, Bayo Adekanmbi, tasked: “Let’s design solutions that will take care of the peculiarities of Nigeria. The ecosystem should be creative and create solutions that will disrupt trends in Nigeria, especially voice-based solutions in local languages. We need to build an ecosystem of professionals and business mindsets.”

For HoD, Organisational Behaviour, Pan African University, Eugene Ohu says “It should be Disruptive Innovation, not just Disruptive Technology.”

Lagos Director, United Nations Information Center, Ronald Kayanja enumerated the hurdles that need to be overcome. These he said included the need for universal broadband connectivity in hospitals education institutions and financial institutions. He rated the 30% broadband penetration target by 2018 of the federal government as very low target, stating that the technological move requires broad spread of broadband access.

Kayanja further called for the strengthening of the e-Tax and e-Government initiatives and the reassessment of school curriculum buttressed by the STEM programme, while bringing financial inclusiveness to the over 40% of the population that are excluded.

Ronald Kayanja
Ronald Kayanja

His optimism: “Opportunities exist for Nigeria, but the speed is not there. Nigeria should create Innovation Funds and Innovation Hubs, even in universities. Nigeria can leapfrog, but it will require a lot of work and policy re-engineering. There should also be a lot of youthful population driving the country and taking decisions.”

Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Airtel Nigeria, Segun Ogunsanya said disruptive technologies can contribute significantly to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) if ICT start-ups are encouraged to create innovations that deliver value. He further noted: “Nigeria needs to change from import-based economy to export-based economy, affordable power must be available and government should formulate enabling fiscal and monetary policies in order to boost GDP.”

Director of Public Affairs, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Tony Ojobo stated that the NCC is making tremendous effort to provide a robust broadband across the country, as a result of the availability of disruptive technologies like Mobile Internet, Internet of Things (IoT), Cloud, Advanced Robotics, Autonomous vehicles, Internet Protocol (IP) Telephony, Live Streaming and other Social Media Applications.

These responses show that there is a lot of work yet to be done to get Nigeria to hop unto the global moving train of disruptive technology. Being archaic in technology is however negatively disruptive to economic growth.

CONCLUSION

The federal government and the various regulatory bodies have been exhibiting willingness to latch onto new technologies to improve the various sectors of the economy. It is expected that these efforts will culminate into using technology to drive the economy and not be left out in the global digital trend.

The Federal Ministry of Communication and some states of the federation have been engaged in raising Smart Cities. These Smart Cities cannot be smart without disruptive technologies.

It is imperative to note that the flag of the nation’s Economic Recovery Growth Plan (ERGP) is being hoisted on technological platform.

The ERGP aims to build on the Smart Nigeria Digital Economy Project to increase the contribution of ICT and ICT-enabled activities to the country’s GDP. In addition, a digital ecosystem which includes ICT clusters will also be established and training programs will be set up in software development, programming, network development and cyber security.

It is important to mention that the right policy, legal and regulatory environment are in place in order to achieve the goals of the ERGP and it is reassuring to note that the Federal Government will work with the National Assembly to ensure the passage of enabling/supportive legislation to support the ERGP accordingly.

According to a Partner at Jackson, Etti & Edu, one of Nigeria’s Commercial Law Firms, also Head of the Firm’s Intellectual Property Practice and Co-Chair of the Regulatory & Compliance Practice, Uwa Ohiku, disruptions will continue to occur as society evolves. Whilst it is almost impossible to anticipate or predict the nature of the next set of disruptions, it is however important, for the sake of good order, that legislation and regulations be put in check to address such developments. The aim must not be to stop these disruptions or to over-regulate and thus strangulate them, but to anticipate change, prepare for it and put appropriate regulatory frameworks in place to achieve a good balance in the society.

The Fourth Industrial revolution is here, and it is greatly and positively disruptive. But despite the fact that these technologies are already altering the business value chains around some parts of the world, Nigeria is yet to start taking a lead role towards a Knowledge Economy which will fuel research and innovation through disruptive technologies. This could hinder and slow down economic growth and National development in Nigeria.

There is great need for key industry players both in the Public and private sectors to partner and come together to discuss, collaboratively learn and strategize on ways to leverage this technologies in order to remain market relevant, accelerate business growth, competitiveness and sustainability which will in turn trigger exponential economic growth in Nigeria.

 

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