Buzz phrases such as “enterprise digitisation” are discussed among ICT and business industries alike with increasing frequency, but often hold little meaning to business decision makers who have historically left ICT initiatives to ICT-focussed departments. The global shift towards the digitisation of business, however, cannot be ignored by business leaders, and has become crucial to the survival of many organisations – with South African businesses being no exception.
“It’s vital for South Africa’s industry leaders to acknowledge that ICT and business objectives are no longer separate entities, and are in fact interdependent functions,” explains Patrick Shields, chief technology officer of Software AG South Africa. “The wall between ICT and business is slowly being broken down, and ICT is playing a far more active role in business than before.
“The importance of these departments collaborating closely cannot be underestimated, and all stakeholders need to be able to speak and understand the same language. Combining the value that both business and ICT jointly deliver, can lead to an exponential increase in an organisation’s effectiveness, agility and profitability.”
The global customer landscape is changing drastically, and quickly, and Shields explains that businesses need to adapt their offerings just as swiftly in order to remain relevant.
“Currently, there are upwards of two billion internet users worldwide – seeing a third of the human population connected today,” he says. “Due to this, we are experiencing a 40% growth in data year on year, which is speeding up. This presents a significant opportunity for businesses that have poised themselves to access and harness this data. This is especially relevant for African enterprises that serve a continent of mobile enabled citizens and consumers.”
Shields notes that the ability to ‘tap into’ data streams that describe customer and citizen behaviour presents unique opportunities to identify patterns, then program their existing systems to automatically respond to a range of “time sensitive” scenarios.
“This can have a profound effect on functions such customer service, internal processes, faster response to structural and legislative changes, and the identification and resolution of problems, among many other benefits. Digitising these functions means that they will be faster and more effective, but at a lower operating costs.”
According to Shields, about 75% of businesses who are embracing the digital change fall within the conventional industry categories – such as financial services, manufacturing and logistics. These enterprises are taking the first steps of digitisation by changing from ‘paper based’ processes to automated business processes.
While the digital business trend has entrenched itself quite thoroughly in the world’s leading economies, South African businesses are relatively late adopters to this new approach, as South African businesses in general are appreciative of the risks involved.
“The current economic challenges presented to South Africa’s organisations means that decision makers have a healthy apprehension when looking at projects without a thorough understanding of how it will work, as well as a thorough understanding and proof of the potential business value. South African decision makers do not want to invest time and resources into just another tool that sits on the shelf in their organisation, so it is crucial for software solution providers to prove value upfront, rather than promise the sky through convoluted sales-speak.
“That being said, being late adopters to digital business puts South Africa in the beneficial position of being able to learn from the lessons of pioneers, who have already experienced a range of trials, errors, and successes which have led to optimised performance of software solutions,” Shields adds. “One of the most crucial takeaways for business decision makers is that digitising business in no way requires an expensive overhaul of existing systems in order to be implemented.
“Proper digitisation should not mandate a ‘rip and replace’ approach,” he says. “Many organisations have already invested large amounts of time and money into creating and tailoring their existing systems, which are often thoroughly customised and carried large set-up costs. Rather than ripping and replacing expensive legacy systems and technology, our approach is to ‘wrap and re-use’ existing systems at a fraction of the cost, so that they remain and continue to function as designed, but are linked through a customisable integration layer.”
Shields explains that this integration layer, as seen in the word’s first digital business platform launched recently by Software AG in South Africa, connects existing systems to a central point of monitoring and management; is agile, allowing enterprises to quickly automate any form of business process, and gain real-time operational visibility through simple, practical dashboards.
“Digital change is disrupting traditional business models like never before. The updating and evolving of processes that needs to take place within companies to address the ‘big change’ will define how these organisations will fare in the future,” he notes. “Essentially, the digitisation of business is a race – and companies need to keep ahead of the competition in order to survive and capitalize on the digital revolution. This is the compelling reason why companies should embrace digital change – either leverage its opportunities and take full advantage of the significant benefits it offers to your organisation, or get left behind and potentially face ‘business irrelevance’ or ‘technological extinction’ within the markets, customers and citizens that you serve.”