The operating environment is changing thanks to the evolutionary capabilities of the digital native

The digital native is defined as an individual who has grown up immersed in digital and technology. Their innate understanding of digital and its potential gives them the ability to change the operating environment in multiple ways, whether as consumers of services reshaping how digital delivers those services, or as members of the workforce and its ever-evolving digital-hybrid framework.

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Each successive generation of digital natives is advancing beyond the previous one, accelerating their understanding of digital and information alongside the pace of disruption and transformation. As Jonathan Tullett, Associate Research Director, IT Services & Cloud, at IDC sub-Saharan Africa highlights, digital natives are more adept at finding digital solutions to challenges.

“While the digital native is faster to innovation and challenge resolution, they are also more demanding,” he adds. “They have high expectations around the digital services they consume and these expectations challenge their employers and service providers. The latter have to constantly improve their services and practices to keep up with demand and meet the digital native at the edge. This friction creates constant disruption and innovation that then creates a continuum of opportunities and differentiation within the market.”


The concept of the digital native is invaluable to the business and economy. Digitally inspired individuals have the potential to reshape how organisations approach work, customers and innovations, and South Africa cannot afford to be left behind. However, there are significant local challenges that are inhibiting the rise of the digital native within the country.

One of the most critical challenges is infrastructure. The underlying fabric of connectivity and electricity is fundamental to the digital native’s ability to thrive, generate innovations and transform expectations. This makes unreliable infrastructure problematic. And it’s not the only issue. There is also limited access to digital skills and training alongside resistance to change within conservative organisations. Plus, public policy and regulations remain constrained and constraining, and the cost of access to the digital technologies they need to unlock their full digital potential. However, these are the very challenges that the digital native is uniquely positioned to overcome. While South Africa battled a weakened infrastructure and increasingly complex loadshedding complexities, there is no doubt that digital will find a way.

“The pandemic, for example, was a global disaster but also resulted in massive investment into remote working capabilities, online education, healthcare data analytics and many other areas where digital innovation flourished,” says Tullett. “Digital has a way of finding creative solutions under pressure. This should be cause for hope, that even within the dire complexity that surrounds the country right now, digital natives are discovering new ways of powering through the problems, literally.”


Optimism is one thing, but what if the country doesn’t find a way to achieve the balance required to ignite the development of the digital native? The biggest risk is the growing digital divide. Already bordering on a chasm, ongoing limitations and inequalities could see it tear through the country and the economy.

“It can manifest commercially, with companies falling behind local or global competitors who have taken advantage of the emerging skills within their digital native workforce to transform their businesses and processes,” says Tullett. “Companies that have successfully adopted new technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and automation will always have a significant advantage over their slower-moving competitors.”

This digital divide can happen at any level. On the national level, we will see investors holding back due to barriers around digital initiatives – barriers that may be infrastructural but can be economic and regulatory. On the social level where groups of people who are unable to access digital platforms for work, education, commerce, public services and social interaction are left behind as the world surges on ahead.

“It is critical that country, company and individual encourage and embrace digital transformation and clamber over the challenges to ensure that the potential of the local digital native isn’t lost,” concludes Tullett. “This is why this will be a focal point during our upcoming IDC South Africa Summit, because organisations need to be prepared to not only deal with the digital native’s expectations, but also cater to their innate needs.” The IDC South Africa CIO Summit 2023, is taking place in May at the Sandton Convention Centre, and will examine the current state of the digital economy, its impact on citizens, customers, employees and operations, as well as the key challenges that must be addressed and how to solve them.

COVER IMAGE: Loyola University

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