Incumbent telecoms operator, Telkom has signed a five year partnership agreement with Wits Business School that will see the firm fund a Chair in Digital Business as well as a researcher position and scholarships for PhD students. The Chair will be based in Braamfontein, where the university is close to opening its Tshimologong Precinct startup hub and co-working space.
Wits’ Vice-Chancellor Adam Habib said that the new position was part of the University’s strategy to promote digital business in and around the Braamfontein area, providing a “bridge between the inner-city and the digital economy”. Habib said that he believes digital technologies have the ability to help reduce inequality within South Africa, but developing the right management techniques and opportunities through initiatives like this new position will be of vital importance.
IBM has also taken a significant investment in the University-led Tshimologong Precinct, with its R700m Research Lab due to open in the next few months. It’s expected that the firm will house one of its “cognitive computing” Watson machines there.
Habib suggested that South Africa trails other countries when it comes to partnerships between academia and business, and hoped that the digital initiatives at Wits will lead to the kind of relationships that saw much private-public innovation when the mining industry was at its peak.
Signing the agreement for Telkom, CEO Sipho Maseko said that the value was more than the “quantum of the financial commitment”.
“Many countries never made the transition from pre-industrial to industrial era,” Maseka said, “And as that era draws to a close they’re still 100 years behind. If we miss [the digital economy] now we will miss out for the next 100 years too.”
According to Maseko, Telkom is looking to use the research position to help it transition beyond its current base as an infrastructure company and into services and software as well – just as other telcos have overseas.
The value of the investment was not disclosed – as Telkom is currently in a closed financial period ahead of its annual reports – but is described as “significant”.