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Thought Thursdays

 Strategies, Practices and Skills for Competitiveness in the Digital Economy

2014-08-27 11:00
Professor Marius Ungerer

The University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) collaborated with the University of the Western Cape (UWC) and Ikamva National e-Skills Institute (iNeSI) in doing a survey among large companies in South Africa to explore their current strategies, practices and skills for competitiveness in the digital economy. The report was released at a seminar at UWC on 4 August 2014. I share some of the key findings below.

The competitiveness of companies in the digital economy is an important business concern. Eighty-two large South African companies participated in this study – in that manner demonstrating their willingness and commitment to contribute to the local understanding and exploration of this topic. The intention with this research project was to learn more about the progress made by the South African business sector, which potentially is a leading force in the quest for digital readiness by the country.

The impact of the digital developments of our time – new digital devices, new software, and new areas of application – can be felt in more and more areas of life and work. In fact, in some areas of business the impact is transformational, changing an area or business sector to such an extent that it is hardly recognisable when compared to its former self a decade or more ago.  According to a World Economic Forum (WEF) report, South Africa lags behind in terms of its digital readiness. This can be attributed to challenges with respect to access to, and affordability of, broadband internet as well as to the shortage of skills and/or lack of appropriate skills.

Key findings of the study:

  • Given the general low level of e-readiness of South Africa, companies can play a significant role in investing in the e-inclusion and e-skills development of their broader stakeholder networks as part of their community engagement and corporate social investment initiatives.
  • To remain competitive, companies will have to re-evaluate their current strategies and practices in the context of changing paradigms related to the digital economy.
  • Digital maturity growth will have to be measured in a multi-factored manner and as part of the strategic performance management scorecard.
  • Digital technologies and digital opportunity realisation can be enhanced by improving and/or developing people and organisational capacity.
  • Multi-level and multi-functional e-skills are essential requirements for informed decision making about opportunities in the digital economy.
  • E-skills capability should be included as a core competency in all courses, thereby ensuring digitally literate citizens.
  • Collaboration between industry partners and educational institutions should be strengthened proactively.
  • Leaders should facilitate the exchange of knowledge across inter-organisational boundaries, as well as within organisational boundaries, spanning multiple generations and levels of expertise.


This survey presents a challenge for further debate and discussion. The question is: How far has South African enterprise shifted from a mindset where ICT is used mainly for gaining operational efficiency towards a vision of business models tapping into the opportunities opening up in a digitally infused economy?  To download the full survey report, click here.

The research team for this project is:
UWC – Dr Leona Craffert; Prof Kobus Visser; Prof Walter Claassen
USB – Prof Marius Ungerer; Dr John Morrison



Professor Marius Ungerer is an Associate Professor at the University of Stellenbosch Business School. His main areas of specialisation are Strategy, Strategic Leadership and Strategic Change.



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