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The time for change is now

Tal Nathan, Britehouse Digital.

Tal Nathan, Britehouse Digital.

Let's imagine you're a professional athlete with a recurring knee injury. The starting point for curbing this issue is figuring out what's causing the problem in the first place. While you may be experiencing pain in your knee, the pain could be caused by any number of things. Perhaps you're wearing the wrong shoes. Maybe there's a problem with your technique. Your knee ailments could even be a knock-on effect from a weak muscle in another area of your body.

The fact is, it's impossible to fix something if you don't know what's causing a problem in the first place.

In business, any effort to boost efficiency and promote greater productivity should start with taking a good look at existing business practices and operational structures. In doing so, you'll be able to identify bottlenecks, inefficiencies and ways of working that could do with a little streamlining. Are staff members bogged down by unnecessary admin? Do they lack the equipment they need to get their jobs done? Could certain tasks be simplified using technology?

While Kevin Hall, national sales manager at Elingo, admits that making large-scale changes can foster efficiency, he believes that productivity is often hampered by smaller issues. Proper measurement and reporting on everyday activities allows a business to identify inefficiencies that commonly go unnoticed. All too often, businesses just throw digital solutions at old-school problems and expect these unproductive behaviours to magically disappear. This is the wrong approach.

Digital transformation is about so much more than digitising archaic processes. This only yields incremental improvements in productivity. True digital transformation entails transforming the way we do business, says Tal Nathan, CTO at Britehouse Digital. While digital transformation has changed the productivity and efficiency game, he argues that the best is yet to come. "If we jump head-first without understanding the business case, we may become disenchanted by the lack of results. As the saying goes, the biggest challenge for transformation is the status quo. Technology can take you so far, but we can't forget the people in the organisation that need to adapt and change the way they work in order to truly transform."

Cultural change

Implementing the latest and greatest technologies in no way guarantees productivity and overall business efficiency. "Successful digital transformation isn't just about technology – it's about business, and business involves people," notes Lionel Moyal, Office Business group lead at Microsoft SA. "Simply adopting the latest solutions without a commitment to a new company-wide business strategy is not the right recipe for success. Indeed, digital transformation efforts hinge on the ability of leaders to take a fresh look at their business and inspire widespread cultural change." For Moyal, businesses that fail to take note of the people aspect of digitisation and automation can actually hinder productivity and efficiency. "Innovations should not introduce distractions, but rather remove obstacles that impede productivity by simplifying everyday work. The key is to consistently apply a user-centric, people-focused approach to any innovations introduced into the work environment." 

New ways of doing things and digital technologies may replace people in some regards, but one mustn't forget that people actually have to use these innovations, continues Moyal. For example, if people are given the freedom to complete tasks using various methods, they can choose the most convenient method for each particular task or situation. This amplifies their ability to multitask and get the job done as quickly and smoothly as possible.

"Quality, focused and goal-orientated training means every person leaves the training environment, more capable and hopefully more motivated than before," adds Hall.

The old adage goes: "If you put rubbish in, you get rubbish out." And this could not be any more true than in reference to the implementation of new, `more efficient' processes, says Kyle Woolf, CEO of Saicom Voice Services. This makes it critical to train staff correctly. During training, not only are staff members taught about the optimisation of business operations, but they're also given the opportunity to respond and ask questions about things that employers may not have considered. This allows business executives to rethink things and create even more efficiency than they originally thought possible. "Having proper management, training and an open dialogue between management and staff is often the difference between success and failure."

Change management

Andrea Lodolo, CTO, CA Southern Africa, cites fear as one of the main reasons why businesses struggle to implement new, more efficient processes: fear of making tough calls, fear of investing in new technologies, fear that people won't support new processes. He believes that business leaders must be the pioneers of change and should constantly engage with staff around what systems they need and want. To achieve success, changes must be supported by management, which comes back to training, both for management and their teams, he asserts.

"Any new process needs change management, to ensure adoption, otherwise people just go back to their old ways," agrees Hall. Businesses can implement new processes and systems, but if employees aren't keen on the changes, these efforts will be a waste of time and money. Ensuring that employees are comfortable with automated solutions and ways of working again comes down to proper, and regular, training, says Henk Olivier, MD of Ozone Information Technology Solutions. The trick to getting this right is illustrating why these changes will be beneficial and how they will make everyone's lives easier. And with proper change management and comprehensive training, business systems can be phased in with minimal disruption to current business operations.

If you look at many of the companies that have been around for some time, their operational structures today are probably quite similar to those that were implemented years ago. This is because change doesn't happen overnight. Implementing new solutions and processes takes time. But when done properly, the benefits can be significant.

Is South Africa ready for real productivity?

"Much hype around South Africa's digitisation journey has been published in the media. But the reality is that South African businesses are not being proactive enough in the investment of the right technologies to make this a reality." This is according to Citrix SA's Brendan McAravey.His assertions are based on the findings of a 2016 study commissioned by Citrix, and conducted by BMI-TechKnowledge (BMI-T). The study explored the link between digital investment and long-term productivity. "The report suggested a sense of complacency among the South African business community regarding investment in progressive technologies," he notes.

What is most concerning about this complacency, stresses McAravey, is the fact that local companies are willing to put themselves at risk of becoming irrelevant on a global stage, as other countries surge ahead with digital transformation projects that create innovative and technology-driven businesses. The report found a disconnect between technology workers and business respondents to be the predominant reason for this lack of enthusiasm around the potential of digitisation. "IT workers better understood the vital importance of digital transformation to improve productivity and – ultimately – transform a company. Which means that business leaders are failing to acknowledge the need to proactively invest in the future, today." 

Given how innovations such as cloud, mobile, big data analytics and IoT have changed and improved the way our global counterparts work and live, South African businesses now have a choice, says McAravey. "They can either invest in technology for the purpose of innovation rather than just operational efficiency, or they can opt to ignore the fact that digitisation is inevitable and continue on a path to global irrelevancy. The latter ultimately places companies at risk of technological devolution against more innovative competitors on a global scale. In order for South African businesses to become more agile, competitive and relevant, proactive investment in innovative technologies is an imperative."

Is a remote workforce for you?

Studies show that remote and digitally enabled employees are more productive and efficient. In line with this, embracing a remote workforce saves money, and granting staff greater mobility makes it easier to recruit top-qualified candidates and boost retention rates.

For Henk Olivier, of Ozone Information Technology Solutions, the benefits may be obvious, but businesses must be properly prepared before adopting this approach. He contests that business leaders must put proper policies and procedures in place before looking at a remote workforce. This process entails asking a few important questions:

  • How will I measure the employee's work?
  • What will be my costs and the employee's costs?
  • How will the communication work?
  • How will it affect the IT security inside and outside the business?
  • What will the benefit be to the employee and to the company?
  • How will I control the employee's output?


This information is from a study commissioned by Citrix and conducted by BMI-TechKnowledge (BMI-T), examined the impact of ICT on South African businesses.

  • The study saw a total of 329 interviews being conducted with both business leaders and technical respondents from 254 companies.
  • 53% of all respondents opt to invest in technologies simply for the benefit of ‘keeping the lights on' rather than for competitive-edge innovation.
  • As many as 83% of respondents identified a direct link between digital transformation and the achievement of strategic business objectives.
  • However, only 31% of business respondents specified that their organisation had been driving digital transformation at the highest level.
  • On the flip side, all respondents understood that the right investment could result in improvements to growth, innovation and productivity.
  • Respondents felt that should a business invest in the right technologies to enable digitisation, there would be a 53% improvement in productivity, a 68% improvement in business growth and a 69% improvement in innovation.
  • Skills remain a problem – 56% of all respondents identified skills shortages as the top challenge to achieving technological innovation.
  • 75% of respondents did not see the need for a Chief Digital Officer and only around 5% of respondents regarded technology as a threat to their current job role.
  • The general consensus was that human input would always be a necessity. Nearly 35% of business respondents ultimately didn't see technology having any impact on their role at all.

This article was first published in the April 2017 edition of ITWeb Brainstorm magazine. To read more, go to the Brainstorm website.

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