The 2 Challenges that SA’s “Culture of Digitalisation” Faces

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Image sourced from Harvard Business Review.

Technology is only successful if it is used. And today, business leaders in companies around the world need to shift from a tech-centered view of digitalisation and start considering how to nurture a culture that embraces technology wholeheartedly.

This shift is becoming increasingly urgent because mobilising teams, channeling resources, and accelerating learning and development doesn’t happen overnight, but on the other hand, disruption can strike fast.

It’s better to be ready and adaptable to the future, both resource-wise and also culturally, than risk being unable to compete. Many early adopting businesses are already some way down this path, for instance automating processes to improve product and service experiences, maintain business continuity in the face of disruption, and streamline operations across the entire enterprise.

Plus, you want people in your corner who are empowered and able to take on the day-to-day, complex, and even unexpected challenges and tasks with the necessary tools and skills, as well as resilience and confidence.

While there are some universal aspects to making this cultural shift, such as communicating the benefits of digitalisation and involving your people in the transformation, there are two specific challenges that South Africa faces.

Namely:

  1. Defaulting to a MacGyver mindset

When faced with a “build or buy” decision a lot of companies tend to build it themselves. While this might have been appropriate in the earlier, more experimental days of digitalisation, today this is a counter-productive and costly approach to take.

The wider technology ecosystem has matured to provide most, if not all, of the building blocks you need from a technology standpoint. For businesses, the challenge, art, and competitive differentiator are no longer derived from building the technology, the magic comes from joining the dots between the various existing capabilities in order to best solve business problems, drive customer experience and make better, data-driven decisions.

Tapping into the expertise and technology that is already out there is essential to driving digitalisation at scale across the organisation. It is quicker: you can deploy in weeks and months, rather than the years it would take for an in-house team to do it themselves.

By which time the technology would be out of date anyway. It is cheaper and less burdensome on already over-stretched IT departments: support, maintenance, and continuous development are all taken care of. This leaves your IT department more capacity and resources to work on the core, strategic projects that are integral to your actual business.

Finally, today, existing low-code and no-code solutions are accessible by the business people that need to use them, bringing the power of automation, AI, machine learning, and other technologies closer to where they get deployed and where the decisions are made and implemented.

Embracing change is a lot to take on. So don’t do the unnecessary heavy-lifting building technology that is ultimately a utility. Far better to stay in your lane and focus on your core business and clients while relying on best practices, proven operating models, and technology that already exists and works today.

2. Failing to reskill appropriately and at scale

Collectively we are still failing to reskill South Africans to take advantage of the opportunities for employment and a sustainable career path presented by digitalisation. For sure, jobs will be lost – for the most part, work that is boring, repetitive, and not done very well by humans. But many jobs will be created that involve humans doing more interesting things that they are better suited to do, but only if they have the right skills.

Unfortunately, for new entrants to the workplace we are still focusing on building skills for the “bodies in a seat” type jobs, and not appropriately reskilling the people who currently are the bodies in a seat, doing jobs that could easily be replaced by a machine – notably being the manual interface between two disparate digital systems.

This is especially egregious given general South Africans’ digital savviness, especially with mobile technology. As mentioned above, advanced technology is now within easy reach of the typical business user – you no longer need to be a data scientist to unlock the power of AI for instance.

With the right training, customer-facing employees can access digital technology to better understand data, and make decisions that serve the customer and the business. That’s truly digitalisation at scale.

In a country with an expanded unemployment rate of 46.6% in the third quarter of 2021, this is an opportunity that cannot be missed but will require a concerted, aligned effort between government, education, and business.

So yes, pay attention to the things you need to do to drive the cultural shift in your organisation that encourages your teams to embrace change and lean into new ways of working augmented by digital technology. But in South Africa, this cultural shift will be built on shaky foundations if reskilling is not adequately addressed, and a DIY mentality continues to be entrenched.


By Greg Newton, South Africa country manager at Blue Prism.

Edited by Luis Monzon
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