As more companies prioritise the digitisation of their business models in an attempt to ensure survival in a Covid-19 world, technology is emerging as a great enabler to solve real business problems.
However, a panel of leading women in technology told a flash forum, hosted by Wired for Women and Gibs, that employee fears around automation and digitisation had to be addressed. These concerns demonstrate the need to bridge the gap between what appears to be a terrifying new normal and building the future.
Evaluation and Resilience
Amanda Dambuza, CEO of IT and business project management consultancy Uyandiswa, said the past year had been a period of critical evaluation for many businesses, and had demonstrated the importance of resilience.
“Resilience is the ability to absorb stress, recover your business and survive under traumatic circumstances. While many (small businesses) won’t survive, others will rise up; there is great opportunity.”
Dambuza explained that while technology does not solve problems on its own, it is a great enabler. The businesses that will emerge from the past year as winners will be those who have been able to successfully change their business models and adapt to become purpose led.
“A business’ ability to solve real social problems, their ‘why’ is critical. Businesses have to be aware of the environment they operate in and cultivate a niche.”
Kume Luvhani, co-founder and managing director of South African tech company Vaxowave explained that people and processes underpin technology, and any digitisation strategy must suit both the organisation and its balance sheet.
“Businesses need to ask themselves how they plan to transform their processes to support an agility agenda. Innovation and how they pivot inform the resilience of both large enterprises and entrepreneurs,” Luvhani said.
Organisations who can pivot and reskill their workforces are those who will emerge as winners, she continued, citing the example of virtual meetings, which have demanded a change in systems and talents.
Penny Futter, Group CIO at African Bank said she has been “amazed at how quickly organisations are able to change and adapt. Survival is a great motivator for change.”
She said digital innovations in the financial services industry have encompassed four important elements – platform banking; partnership and collaboration; data and trust.
“Digital innovation is the ability to provide clients with a convenient solution, and customers are driving the change at pace.”
While data offers the opportunity to understand customer needs and offer the right products and services, Futter said this includes a burden of trust.
“Technology is changing the way we do business. Customers globally are demanding trust, and they are right to do so. Trust is business critical and a differentiator in a crowded market, not simply a compliance or public relations issue. Leaders who are able to embed strong values and ethical technology can build a foundation of long-term trust with all stakeholders and encourage customer loyalty,” she said.
Kelebogile Mosiane, chief technology officer for Airports Company South Africa, explained the company’s revenue streams, both aeronautical and non-aeronautical, had been badly impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Our customers have high expectations for us to ensure that their travels are safe, and we have had to rethink many of our tech platforms in the new normal,” she said.
New additions include touchless technology for safety and hygiene, borderless security and mobile applications.
“We have embraced new technology but change management is a critical element of the process. You have to engage and train people for buy-in. The fact is, people are scared that tech is going to take their jobs.”
Managing the processes of change
Jeniffer Ramnath, technology change executive at Absa Group’s engineering services, told the forum how Absa’s three-year, R17 billion separation from Barclays equipped the bank with new change capability that has stood it in good stead and enabled rapid re-organisation across 14 countries amid the Covid-19 crisis.
The successful completion of the project, whose unprecedented scale and complexity had not been seen in recent times in South Africa, provided priceless learnings for the group.
“For organisations embarking on large and complex projects, quality is critical, as you want little or no impact on your customers.”
Ramnath said meticulous, upfront planning, as well as collaboration and communication were critical to the success of the project. Structure and process are essential, as nothing can be achieved without the proper governance.
“For effective change management, you need a team of people driving the same agenda. The big milestones must always be celebrated, and failures unpacked for learnings,” she added.
City Press is a media partner of Gibs’ flash forums.