The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in South Africa massively disrupted the market. Suddenly, people were forced to work remotely with the emphasis falling squarely on being online and connected.
But while challenging, the rapid push for digital transformation in South Africa has also unlocked new opportunities for companies across industry sectors, according to Andreas Bartsch, Head of Innovation and Services at PBT Group.
“Online shopping, banking, education, and the like became normalised virtually overnight. And while working remotely is not a new thing as such, the scale at which it had to be done was. For instance, job interviews had to be managed remotely, with new employees having to be onboarded online as well,” says Bartsch.
“Client introductions took place online with no physical face-to-face engagement happening at all. And from a business perspective, the underlying application systems and data had to be accessible from anywhere, triggering many migrations into a cloud environment.”
This has resulted in a different mindset required to adjust to the behavioural challenges associated with the ‘new normal’. For example, new skills associated with virtual meetings entailed everything from etiquette on whether to put a camera on, what calls could be recorded, and being mindful of the background, to name just a few.
The dramatic changes that took place coincided with the availability of more sophisticated technologies like the cloud, 5G, edge computing, and the Internet of Things (IoT). All these started maturing while the pandemic was taking place. However, it also highlighted how technology has the potential to make everything possible.
“From an organisational perspective, executives had to adjust as a matter of survival and then needed to consider both the medium and long-term impact that this shift would have on their operating environments. However, this also opened the door to new opportunities people did not consider before,” says Bartsch.
For instance, automation has become a central theme to digital transformation. With the emphasis turning to artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), attention has shifted towards establishing smarter organisations driven by data. It also meant that those companies wanting to benefit the most from the changes happening, had to ensure that their data would allow the enablement of these technologies.
Furthermore, the push towards digital transformation highlighted the importance of finding the right talent. New skills become critical in this new environment. Those who have been able to best adapt, will be the ones that are the most successful.
As organisations start to adapt to the cloud, they also need to understand the cloud services available to them. This is no easy task even for companies in the ICT space. Most, if not all, organisations are still trying to catch up to the skills required in this changing market. From a talent perspective, working remotely has become standard operating procedure. At most, companies will adapt to a hybrid environment that will be differentiated to enable people to work from any location. Employees must be willing to empower themselves with the skills needed in this regard.
“Companies will have to identify innovative ways to attract and retain talent in this regard. There will be a significant emphasis on getting the right skills and expertise in place. However, people have already shown they can be more productive especially if they do not have to commute. But there is a risk that they can become overworked, so companies must balance this very carefully too,” he says.
Throughout all this, it is about putting people first and retaining the skills that will be critical for a company to remain competitive.
“As such, people need to have the ongoing desire to enhance their own careers. Communication skills will be even more important than ever. Executives must also show that they have a good understanding of what technology can do and how it can support and enable the business to embrace the cloud and let their employees be more effective working remotely.”
And because much of this is data-driven, governance cannot be neglected. Companies must plan on what data is required, how its data is protected, and what the regulatory requirements are that go with it. And as the business embraces more technology associated with digital transformation, it will result in more data being generated. This makes it critical for the business to effectively use the data to make more relevant decisions.
“Ultimately, the environment provides great opportunities for the executive leadership to embrace technology and become more forward-thinking. Data must be nurtured as an asset for the business. As such, risks need to be carefully managed especially when it comes to migrating to the cloud, but the advantages it presents are clear,” concludes Bartsch.