Firewalls rapidly replacing bricks as Kenya adapts to technology

Tuesday March 13 2018

Advances in technology, automation and artificial intelligence could soon take away the job you’ve been hanging on to as companies move to cut costs. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Advances in technology, automation and artificial intelligence could soon take away the job you’ve been hanging on to as companies move to cut costs. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

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Advances in technology, automation and artificial intelligence could soon take away the job you’ve been hanging on to as companies move to cut costs.

And this is why universities are being challenged to create incubators and teach the youth soft skills to enable them become job creators.

Soft skills are a suite of attributes that include social abilities such as networking, communication, negotiation, team-building and problem-solving.

Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa Director General Carlos Lopes says innovation is something which comes with disruptions and there is no need to be afraid of disruption.

“Disruption can be seen as a threat to jobs creation, but innovation also comes with incredible opportunities for jobs transformation and also job creation,” said Mr Lopes.

Cut bank branches

A Kenya Bankers Association (KBA) survey covering 77 per cent of the industry conducted last year revealed that the sector shed 1,933 jobs as the number of management and non-management staff reduced from 28,009 employees as at August 2016 to 26,076 employees by June 2017.
The number of bank branches also reduced during that period.

Currently, the National Bank of Kenya (NBK) is planning to close no fewer than 10 of its outlets in the coming weeks. The exercise, expected to be completed in the second quarter of the year, will lead to undisclosed number of job losses in addition to the recent early retirement exercise that targeted 150 employees aged above 35.

The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report 2016 says by 2020, creativity will become one of the top three skills workers will need.

It says with the avalanche of new products, novel technologies and efficient ways of working, employees must become more creative in order to benefit from these changes.

Increasing efficiency

Even though Artificial Intelligence has been defended as not taking away jobs but increasing efficiency in jobs, the effect has already been felt and may have a major impact on the political stability of the country where youth unemployment remains high.

In the corporate world, management teams have been making tough decisions on staff rationalisation, branch closures, and investments in technology.

For instance, in the banking sector, loans are being processed using AI. Decisions engines are being used to analyse behaviour patterns of a customer and an approval or decline given in a very short time.

Equity Bank chief executive James Mwangi while speaking during Financial Times (FT) Africa Payments Innovation Summit held in Nairobi on Wednesday said 96 per cent of all loans the lender processes uses AI.

“Before, banks were keen on building strong walls and strong rooms. Presently, they need strong and resilient firewalls to protect the digital infrastructure,” said Mr Mwangi.

In the insurance sector, underwriters have been launching digital products to enhance uptake and better service delivery to their customers.

Digital technology is also expected to support efforts to increase food security by playing a key role in agricultural value chains through better access to inputs, more reliable weather and crop information, tracking of counterfeit inputs, and more transparent access to markets and fair pricing.
It also underpins agro-financing services that are essential for equipping small-scale farmers across the country.

Experts attending the FT summit affirmed that there is need to tweak policies that help put a balance in the disruption taking place across the telecommunications, banking and the manufacturing sectors, to create employment in a digital environment.

They said there is need to have consistency in policies that are going to create an ecosystem that allows innovation to thrive.

Major driver

Principal Secretary Ministry of ICT Victor Kyalo speaking at the same event said the rate of technological change in the country is happening faster than they can adapt to.

“Kenya leapfrogged in tech innovations partly because government was not able to keep up with technology advancements due to policy environment,” said Mr Kyalo.

However, the government maintains that digital technology will be a major driver in delivering the Big Four agenda, which include expansion of manufacturing, affordable housing, food security and universal healthcare.

Last month, while delivering a speech at a symposium on digital technology at Strathmore University in Nairobi, President Uhuru Kenyatta said he was confident that the digital revolution will help the country achieve the Big Four agenda and ensure that growth transform the lives of Kenyans.

“As a matter of fact, the internet and associated digital trade of goods and services have led up to 10 per cent rise in employment in Africa,” said the President.