When it comes to digital transformation, mid-sized businesses do not have the same resources as their enterprise counterparts. Money, people, and time will always be a constraint. Similarly, unlike giant corporates that have dedicated teams to manage their IT modernisation initiatives, most mid-sized organisations simply aren’t in a position to do the same. However, they still need to transform to remain competitive.
To unpack how mid-sized businesses can do more, with a whole lot less, Altron Systems Integration and Huawei, in conjunction with media partner TechCentral, recently held a roundtable at The Saxon, themed ‘Accelerating digital transformation for mid-sized businesses’.
Attendees were a dynamic mix of small to mid-sized businesses, ranging from entrepreneurial consultancies, education, and youth development all the way to a young bank.
Developing skills, infrastructure
The very first challenge that was brought into the discussion was the lack of skills available in the market to assist mid-sized businesses with their digital transformation requirements, and the cost that some of these high skills came at.
Several delegates expressed the need to focus on the development of youth and the improvement of the infrastructure needed to reach the young candidates who could potentially be educated to fill the gaps and normalise the cost of skills.
It was highlighted by a firm focused on industrial psychology that they felt some of the skills were priced far too high due to their demand from international markets making it unaffordable for local businesses to deal with them and there is a drastic need to develop more cost-effective ways to access these sorts of skills.
A few other organisations shared several of their initiatives aimed at addressing these shortages and the challenges young recruits face. It was encouraging to hear that there are many excellent and inventive programs in the country that are uniquely South African and hold huge potential to address the skills development issue at a grassroots level.
Access to technology
Another massive challenge in South Africa is dealing with poor infrastructure from a power and connectivity perspective, not to mention the lack of basic services and conditions that our youth face which affects their ability to contribute and be productive in a
Access to technology in an affordable way was another key issue that was discussed, and the need to reduce the risk of high costs when it comes to testing new technologies, emerged as critical. One business has endured several failed technology projects, all of which came with massive costs, and had these technologies been made available in an as a service model, they could have saved a lot of time and money.
Its cost risks like these often deter mid-sized businesses from embarking on digitisation strategies and it was raised that some businesses are so “hungry” in these tough economic times, and so focused on surviving, that digital transformation is one of the last things on their mind. Changing these outlooks is critical to driving digital transformation.
Cultural challenges in our country and in our businesses were also raised, in the sense that there are deep routed cultures in mature businesses based on the belief that ways that are tried and tested and have worked in the past are best, and this is often the reason why the flame of innovation and digitisation is snuffed out.
It was agreed around the room that an emphasis on business outcomes, and how digitisation can help achieve them, is key. Adopting methodologies like OKR’s “objectives and key results” to create focused objectives used to achieve these outcomes is essential to ensuring their ultimate success.
A data expert from one of the leading data scale-ups in South Africa highlighted how important it is to know and use the data within the organisation to guide business decisions and prioritise any elements that are critical parts of their digitisation strategy.
He also cautioned that using examples such as Uber to drive a business’s digital strategy is not always the correct approach, and business-to-consumer-focused organisations have very different needs than those of business-to-business. Companies must also understand how their digital-savvy customers want to engage with them, and ensure that their strategies accommodate these customers’ needs.
One organisation that delivers HR solutions to a large network of businesses, suggested that creating networks between organisations, and working together to solve these issues and develop solutions that suit the way African businesses engage, would be a route to continuous success and growth for the economy. They felt this was a better route than looking to other countries to solve South African issues.
The role of the cloud in digital transformation inevitably came up, and all agreed that the cloud is a forgone conclusion when it comes to any digital strategy and that on-prem or self-owned or built solutions are really no longer an attraction to businesses wanting to leverage technology to gain an edge.
In ending, it is clear that there is still much work needed in this space, and businesses that don’t move forward with clear objectives and strategies are at risk of being disrupted by nimble startups with solid digital strategies.
Digitisation definitely enables businesses but it also opens up new risks and challenges and these need to be carefully assessed and managed to ensure success, too. Digital strategies need to include a strong focus on security and adoption and implement ongoing improvement methods to mitigate against failure of the strategies.
It is also clear that the best way for small to mid-sized businesses to digitally transform is to partner with organisations that offer digitisation services and technologies as part of their core offerings to expedite their transformations and lower the associated cost and risk.
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