Kathy Gibson reports – We are living in tough times, and it’s harder than ever for organisations to thrive today – putting digital transformation squarely in focus.

IDC research shows that operational transformation is far away the top priority for South African CIOs, says Jon Tullett, associate research director: IT services sub-Saharan Africa at IDC.

“There is an inward focus on building digital-first experiences to achieve cost-efficiencies, and getting the most out of operations.”

Other business priorities are product innovation, sustainability transformation, workforce transformation and market expansion.

Although digital transformation is high on the agenda, there is still an understanding gap, says Kiv Moodley, country manager: South Africa at Workday, with some organisations still failing to make the move to digital transformation.

When embarking on change, it’s vital to get the people on board before implementing the technology, he adds. But South African organisations typically face challenges around being able to change, and understanding the need for change.

An IDC Spotlight study, in partnership with Workday, shows that the benefits of digital transformation include:

* Cost efficiency – organisations can scale and make more effective use of existing resources and staff by leveraging technologies to augment business processes. Indeed, 66% of CIOs reported that they have increased cost efficiencies through digitalisation.

* Agility and flexibility – this is vital in South Africa, especially given that global disruptions often take place alongside local disruptions. Successful digital transformation enables businesses to withstand disruption, take advantage of new opportunities and transition towards new ways or working or supply chains.

* Workforce transformation – empowering employees with digital capabilities increases productivity, enhances workplace experiences, strengthens engagement and ensures that businesses can show improvements though detailed analytics and forecasting.

* Customer experience (CX) – digital innovation can improve CX, align business process to the changing needs of customers, and deliver new products and services.

But the challenges are real: South African CIOs say there is a need to balance digital innovation with daily operations. There is also a lack of business and technical skills to support digital innovation at the same time as they need to implement innovation at speed and scale.

Local organisations also battle to reduce the digital acceleration gap and keep up with the latest technologies. The lack of skills exacerbates these issues, and the situation appears to be getting worse.

Going forward, CIOs plan to focus their digital efforts mainly on security and governance, risk and compliance (GRC), and big data & analytics. Also on the radar are enterprise applications, application transformation, robotic process automation (RPA), artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), public cloud, hybrid cloud, digital employee workspaces, and Internet of Things (IoT).

To sustain their digital transformation momentum, IDC recommends that organisations take the following actions:

* Spur automation;

* Monitor and measure;

* Utilise analytics and intelligence;

* Adjust and adapt;

* Invest in people;

* Choose the right platforms.

Moodley stresses that people are key to any organisation’s digital transformation efforts. “The biggest element for me is people. We always talk about people, process and technology. But many organisations don’t realise the untapped potential they have in terms of skills sets.”