SMEs have had to face challenging and uncertain times in the last year and a half, from reducing staff numbers to scaling back on operations or closing altogether. But despite our weak economy, the rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations and the easing of restrictions has given room for positive sentiment for growth and development by South Africa’s business leaders. 

PwC’s 24th Annual Global CEO Survey polled 5050 CEOs across 100 countries from January to February of this year, with 37 of the participants from South Africa. The results show a double-edged sword – not only has the pandemic been an incredibly negative force for SME operations, but it has also driven the acceleration of digital transformation and e-commerce in the country. South African CEOs are willing to embrace the tech automation revolution to be more competitive in the years to come.

Economic growth

When asked about their outlook on the economy 76% of all CEOs believe 2021 will see growth, and of South Africa’s CEOs, 57% believe we will experience economic growth over the next 12 months. Additionally, 47% of South African CEOs feel confident about their individual business revenue growth, higher than the global average of 36%.

 This is no doubt in response to optimism surrounding the vaccine rollout in South Africa and eased restrictions allowing for increased economic activity, but 52% of all CEOs did reveal they are still extremely concerned about the COVID-19 health crisis and its effects on their business operations.

Digital transformation

Despite many companies working on moving their operations and employees over to a digital first approach before COVID-19, the pandemic has accelerated CEOs belief in the move. South African CEOs showed their interest in digital transformation in the survey, and their positivity towards the shift with the following:

  • 90% agree that Artificial Intelligence (AI) will significantly change the landscape of their business over the next five years
  • 49% feel their budgets for emerging technology will increase by 10% or more
  • Of all the CEOs, 36% plan to place focus on improved productivity via the automation of technology

Top business concerns 

Despite the positive sentiments, South African CEOs seem to be more worried about the following issues than their global counterparts:

  • Inefficient business infrastructure (65%)
  • Unstable energy costs (57%)
  • Availability of necessary workforce skills (51%)
  • Cyber threats (48%)

CEOs have reported increased fraud, particularly in the banking, technology, insurance and asset and wealth management sectors over the last year. Fortunately, South Africa is making headway with improvements in data privacy policy with the formalisation of the PoPI Act. Now, more than ever, it is vital that businesses who have access to sensitive client or customer data ensure they have a reliable Thawte SSL certificate applied to their website and a secure data backup solution via their web hosting service.

With one of the most pressing concerns for SME operations being COVID-19, how is the vaccination rollout in South Africa going?

While the current vaccination rollout is slow, there is a plan and programme in place. Government has secured enough supply to vaccinate 41 million adults, and hopes to do so by the end of 2021. 

What is the vaccine rollout plan?

The plan has been organised into a phased approached as outlined below:

Phase one

Vaccinate 1.2 million healthcare workers. This phase began on 17 February 2021 and hopes to wrap up during phase two. So far around 366,101 healthcare workers have been vaccinated.

Phase two

From 17 may, vaccinate 16.5 million who have been identified to have comorbidities. This includes the vaccine rollout for over 60s and other vulnerable members of the population.

Registration for the COVID-19 vaccine will be offered digitally and vaccination stations will be housed in dedicated public and private facilities throughout the country. These stations will be allocated to people based on location.

Phase three

Vaccinate the rest of South Africa’s adult population of 22.5 million people across dedicated stations.

Infographic detailing South Africa's vaccine rollout plan.

Source: Bhekisisa Centre for Health Journalism

Load shedding, lockdown restrictions  and the vaccination rollout will continue to have an effect on how businesses operate and future-proof themselves, but despite the challenges South Africa’s CEOs remain positive.