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. 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, Huawei and TechCentral recently held a round-table event at The Saxon, themed “Accelerating digital transformation for mid-sized businesses”.
Attendees were from a mix of small to mid-sized businesses, ranging from entrepreneurial consultancies, education and youth development to a young bank.
Developing skills, infrastructure
The first challenge raised was the lack of skills available to assist mid-sized businesses with their digital transformation requirements and the cost of some of these skills. Several delegates focused on the need for youth development to reach young candidates who could potentially fill these gaps and normalise the cost of skills.
An industrial psychology firm said skills were highly priced due to the demand from international markets pushing up costs for local businesses and said there is an urgent need to develop these skills.
Other organisations shared several of their initiatives aimed at addressing these shortages and the challenges young recruits face. It was encouraging to hear there are many uniquely South African programmes that 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, particularly from a power and connectivity perspective, not to mention the lack of basic services.
Access to affordable technology and reducing the cost risk 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 said had these technologies been made available as a service model, it could have saved a lot of time and money.
Cost risks like these often deter mid-sized businesses from embarking on digitisation strategies as they are so focused on surviving these tough economic times that digital transformation is one of the last things on their mind. Changing this outlook is critical to driving digital transformation.
Cultural challenges in the country were also raised, in the sense that some mature businesses believe that tried and tested ways that have worked in the past are best and are not prepared to take the leap of faith needed to adopt innovation and digitisation.
It was generally agreed 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 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 an organisation to guide business decisions and prioritise any critical elements of the digitisation strategy.
He also cautioned that using examples such as Uber, for instance, to drive a business’s digital strategy is not always the correct approach, as business-to-consumer-focused organisations have very different needs from 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 customers’ needs.
One organisation that delivers HR solutions to a large network of businesses suggested that creating networks between organisations that suit the way African businesses engage would ensure continuous success and growth for the economy. They felt this was a better route than looking to other countries to solve South African issues.
Inevitably, the role of the cloud in digital transformation came up, and all agreed that using the cloud is a forgone conclusion when it comes to any digital strategy; and that on-premises or self-owned or built solutions are no longer an attraction to businesses wanting to leverage technology to gain an edge.
It is clear 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 which need to be carefully managed to ensure success. Digital strategies need to include a strong focus on security and implement ongoing improvements to mitigate against failure.
It is 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 that expedite their transformation and lower the associated cost and risk.
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