The Internet of Things (IoT) is real – and there is more than $14-billion in opportunity available in South Africa right now.

This is the word from Vernon Thaver, chief technology officer at Cisco SA, who told delegates to SATNAC that the real value in IoT and digital transformation is not about the technology, although technology is vital to be able to digitalise business processes.

“When you talk about digital, growth is exponential. The moment you digitise something, it is subject to Moore’s Law.”

It is also disruptive, shaping or even obliterating existing markets.

This is driven by the confluence of transformational technologies of mobility, IoT, analytics and cloud. They are transforming business models and processes; empowering workforce efficiency and innovation; and personalising customer or citizen experiences.

According to futurist Peter Diamandis, there are six Ds in the exponential framework These are deceptive, digitised, disruptive, dematerialised, demonetise, and democratise.

Thaver points to well-known examples like digital photography and mobile technology.

The improvements in digital cameras from 1976 to 2014 saw the technology become 1-billion times better; 1 000 times less expensive and 1 000 times lighter.

With the mobile phone, users now carry technology that used to cost up to $900 000 in their pockets. “And once the masses can start to afford these things, that’s when we move to democratisation,” Thaver says.

This plays out in Africa, where there are more than 1-billion phones in use. While not all of them are smartphones, they all offer users a wealth of opportunities.

For instance, the cost of setting up a startup was about $2-million just a couple of years ago. Today, with the use of cloud and mobility, that cost has dropped to about $5 000.

“In Africa, this means that innovation can happen anytime and anywhere,” Thaver says, adding that Africa is well placed for innovation by virtue of its young population.

“In terms of change, digital is changing so many things,” he adds. “The first thing is our definition and framework around our route to value.

“The second thing is that is changes the infrastructure, to a digital architecture. In addition, it is changing the ecosystem of partnerships. The IT and OT environments are merging, so companies need to look at creating new value in the market.”

Because the IT/OT operating model is fundamentally changing; this is changing the business’s relationship with the CIO, with the new fast IT or bimodal approach taking off.

“Probably one of the most important areas that is changing is innovation and culture,” Thaver adds.

Among the implications of digital transformation are the fact that data is everywhere, but insights are scarce. And realtime is too late. “This is particularly relevant for the retail industry,” says Thaver. “You can’t react, you have to predict.”

In the new world, applications that don’t work on mobile can be considered to not work at all, he adds.

“And context is king. Just because you know my name doesn’t mean you know me. We have to get to the stage of hyper-relevance.”

It’s important for companies to realise that ideation is not the same as innovation, Thaver says. “We can have a thousand ideas, but unless we move to innovation – ideas with execution – they have no value.”

This value cannot be found in simply connecting things, he adds, but resides in the connection itself. “We define the connection as the relationship between data, processes and people. That’s where you can find the route to value.”

Thaver believes there is about $19-trillion of total digitalisation value at stake worldwide. In Africa, the potential opportunity is about %490-billion; and in South Africa it is currently about $14,3-billion. “This is the opportunity that lies ahead of us,” he says.

Some of the obvious examples include banking and manufacturing.

What is needed to make all this happen, says Thaver, is innovative leadership. “What we are challenged with is not technology; it is innovation and leadership.