The extent of global disruption over the past few years has put the adoption of digital technologies at or near the top of every business leader’s agenda. Organisations that had already invested in digital transformation when the pandemic struck in early-2020 were far better placed to adapt quickly and show greater resilience to the changes brought by widespread lockdowns.

While much of this pressure has eased, adoption of digital technologies has not slowed down. In fact, recent data from IDC predicts that direct digital transformation investments will accelerate to 16.5% CAGR between 2022 and 2024, accounting for 55% of all ICT investment by the end of 2024.

For technology vendors and their implementation partners, the rapid adoption of digital technologies – driven by the cloud – presents immense opportunity for growth. However, skills pressures and a legacy of on-premise solutions that require a different mindset to the new cloud-first technologies can create challenges.

Changing nature of digital transformation requires new skills, mindset

“SAP has a strong legacy as an on-premise business, but that has changed radically over the past few years,” says Cameron Beveridge, Regional Director for Southern Africa at SAP. “In light of the accelerated digital transformation of all industries and the rapid adoption of cloud solutions, many organisations require new skills to run their core business processes and support transformation initiatives. However, a pervasive skills shortage across Africa, is forcing organisations to implement  innovative solutions to ensure they have access to the correct mix of skills to drive their digital transformation efforts.”

The nature of digital transformation projects has also changed. In the past, organisations would embark on large-scale, capital-intensive and lengthy digital transformation projects that involved significant investments into on-premise infrastructure and skills, with all business applications hosted on-site.

“Today, technology providers and implementation partners have to shift attention away from immediate sales targets and instead adopt an approach of long-term, continuous improvement and ongoing value generation,” says Beveridge. “Digital transformation projects have to show quick time-to-value, and take an iterative approach where new features and benefits are unlocked across the entire business. But much of this depends on the quality of skills available to organisations undergoing transformation.”


Skills shortage a top concern for African enterprises

Preliminary findings from research conducted by SAP in South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya show that 69% of organisations believe it likely or certain that they will experience a skills gap in the next year. 54% of organisations also said that attracting new, sufficiently skilled recruits will be one of their biggest technology challenges in 2023.

According to Brent Flint, Head of Enterprise Applications at Dimension Data, the transformation of skills to suit new cloud environments is one of the key challenges that companies currently face. “Without the correct skills, digital transformation becomes incredibly difficult. Whether organisations have legacy skills from their on-premise solutions and are looking to migrate to the cloud, or they are scaling into new markets and need additional skills capacity, investing into an optimal skills mix is essential to the success of digital transformation initiatives.”

Part of the rush for digital technologies and the capabilities they enable is due to the adoption of hybrid work models following the impact of the pandemic. Recent research illustrates that organisations that embrace hybrid work capabilities can achieve higher growth than their more office-bound peers. Gartner estimates that 75% of organisations that exploit distributed enterprise benefits will achieve revenue growth 25% faster than competitors in 2023.

“The pandemic has also accelerated the global mobility of individuals, and local skills are now more available on an international stage,” adds Beveridge. “Gone are the geographical constraints regarding where one works. Skilled employees can now work outside their own countries without having to emigrate, placing greater pressure on local organisations to source appropriate technology skills to support their transformation efforts.”


Upskill, reskill workers to improve skills availability

Lauren Wortmann, Vice President: Applications at Dimension Data, advises that companies focus on upskilling and reskilling their existing talent pool to ensure the business has adequate to an optimal skills mix. “In some cases, organisations can reskill their existing workers, for example by training IT teams who were supporting on-premise solutions to pivot to cloud skills. In other cases, new recruits will need to be upskilled to support business applications and processes in the cloud.”

The astonishing success of cloud technologies has led to many on-premise digital transformation projects being replaced by cloud implementations. According to Wortmann, the cloud offers greater agility and scalability, easing the path for high-growth companies to achieve greater efficiency and driving innovation at scale. “To ease the switch to cloud-first skills, organisations should create opportunities for physical transfer of skills from more experienced employees.”

Flint adds: “Access to offshore skills can also ease internal constraints, but localisation is important. It’s attractive to chase the sun and go to where skills are most available and most affordable, but any digital transformation project is after all a people-led endeavour. Aspects such as cultural alignment, language and local knowledge can make a huge difference to the outcomes of transformation efforts. To achieve optimal digital transformation outcomes, organisations will have to partner well, lean on the expertise and skills base of their vendors, and build strong internal skills development capabilities to ensure a ready supply of work-ready skills.”


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