By Ziaad Suleman, Chief Commercial Officer , iOCO
Necessity has indeed sparked invention as organisations have scrambled to adapt to the extraordinary circumstances brought on by the pandemic and the resulting economic downturn. Many have had to fast-track their digital transformation due to a dramatic shift towards the adoption of digital technologies to reduce face-to-face interactions—examples of this include e-commerce apps for online shopping and technologies that facilitate remote work.
Many companies rapidly developed at least temporary solutions to cope with new demands; however, according to IDC, companies that were further along in their digital transformation efforts in 2020 were able to respond more successfully to the crisis. McKinsey argues that the adoption of digital technologies across different sectors has been accelerated by several years, and they predict that many of these changes are here to stay.
The need for businesses to be agile, innovative and data-savvy is obvious; however, digital transformation is complex and characterised by uncertainty. Many African companies lack the skills to take advantage of digital technologies and new ways of working. Building the skills to realise a transformation strategy is costly and time-consuming, and in an economic downturn, businesses need to focus their resources more carefully than ever. Few companies can transform themselves alone, and selecting the right transformation partners with the specialised skills and capabilities to help reimagine their business and technology while mitigating risk can make all the difference.
Don’t go it alone
Ultimately, African businesses, and the countries they operate in, won’t gain the full benefits of digital transformation if they try to go it alone. While Africa has fewer legacy challenges to deal with and is therefore adopting digitised solutions faster out of necessity, the end-to-end business transformation that is necessary to achieve digital success requires fundamental shifts in the way companies operate and deliver value.
There is no doubt that African operations are at least as sophisticated – if not more so, depending on the sector they operate in – than their international counterparts, but the flip side to being able to leapfrog technologies is a shortage of skills as a result of the “technology rush”. Every business needs to make systems and technology an integral part of its business strategy to manage costs, streamline operations, remain sustainable and gain a competitive edge. Data analytics, cloud and cybersecurity are widely regarded as the most important transformation technologies, and companies across the continent have started competing with each other to gain access to specialists in these fields.
It’s not only a lack of skills that is hampering Africa’s digital transformation initiatives. Budget restrictions and increasingly complex IT environments have their own roles to play as many businesses attempt to do more with less.
A partner that has the experience, expertise and portfolio of capabilities to assist businesses in transforming themselves digitally has therefore become essential to success. The Digital Transformation Strategy (2020 – 2030) points out that digital transformation is a driving force for innovative, inclusive and sustainable growth. “Innovations and digitalisation are stimulating job creation and contributing to addressing poverty, reducing inequality, facilitating the delivery of goods and services, and contributing to the achievement of Agenda 2063 and the Sustainable Development Goals,” it states.
Those benefits are already being felt across the value chain, but far too slowly to achieve the digitally enabled socio-economic development much of Africa is aiming for. The support of a technology partner in a company’s transformation initiatives can help African organisations better meet current and future business challenges and goals, rethinking how technology can be used to provide flexible, scalable solutions that can reduce costs and deliver real business value.
Focus on people
People, not technology, are the most important determinant of success in digital transformation. Focusing on technology to the exclusion of people, process, data, culture and broader business strategy is the primary reason attempts to digitally transform fail.
As many as 70% of digital transformation efforts fail, primarily because of the people element. It’s always going to be difficult to transform a business, because you need to get people, ways of work and culture to change. Transformation brings so much uncertainty yet so much opportunity and optimisation. The fear of the unknown is one of the things slowing organisations down in their transformation efforts.
Digital transformation should be about unlocking value. It’s the new way of doing things to future proof the business. As a result, digital transformation should not be seen as an independent strategy. Many organisations come up with a digital strategy and a business strategy which sit side by side. If you do this, you are trying to achieve digital transformation in isolation, instead of transforming the business strategy, which incorporates a digital future.
Faster, better decisions
A company contemplating digital transformation should adopt technology as an enabler to either outpace the industry it operates within, or to remain relevant within its’ industry, or as a differentiator to leapfrog its’ competition. Regardless of where a company is in its technology landscape or digital journey, it is important to determine where their industry is heading and where the business should be going (despite the current climate of uncertainty), developing a transformation strategy, and aligning its people around it. Next, it should reimagine its business model based on customer needs. The third step is for the business to examine how the enablers that drive transformation—current data, technology, operating models and talent—enable or hamper digital progress and finally, it should consider orchestration, or how to manage the transformational change.
CIOs, CDOs, CEOs and CFOs are coming under immense pressure to select the right solutions and cloud models from a plethora of options. These are sometimes risky decisions. Major investments into the wrong solutions or cloud models could see organisations locked into something that does not support the business’ strategic direction now and in the future.
Balancing costing, total cost of ownership and returns on IT investments can be challenging, particularly at a time when many budgets are being cut. Organisations have a variety of new technology options, like hyperscale cloud, better security and automation, blockchain and other exponential 4IR technologies, and are asking how they take what they have and pull together these new technology enablers to link back to their strategies. This is the role of trusted partners, which can help them develop roadmaps, assess TCO, and justify the value of the spend to the board, so they can make decisions better and faster.
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