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We ought to outpace crisis in the leap to digital technology

OPINION
By Kris Senanu | April 18th 2021
Abstract technological background made of different element printed circuit board. [Courtesy]

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit home, the adoption of existing and new technologies for resilience and business continuity took the front seat for nearly all businesses.

The goal: Remain competitive in an unpredictable economy by reducing costs and maintaining revenue.

We then saw a shift; the rush to adopt digital technologies, thanks to its pervasiveness, to not only take us through the pandemic, but with an impact that would far outlast any continuity plan.

Our daily lives have definitely been transformed, with digital technology becoming a basic part of our customer journey.

Any tech salesperson will tell you that our greatest predicament is not that technology’s strategic importance to many businesses remains highly underrated, but that many boards are still debating the strategic importance of technology and going digital in general.

Sadly, since we don’t expect a pandemic for another 50 plus years, one wonders what will happen to the folk who miss out on the current wave of technology transformation.

Enter Covid-19, the adoption of digital technologies took precedence. We saw businesses respond much quicker than would be in conventional times; spurring a shift to digitally enhanced service offerings and a faster digitisation of interactions.

The realisation

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I recall once engaging a client in the Micro-Financial Services sector. The client had an 18-branch network and a customer base of slightly over 25,000 across the country.

He had been on my hit-list for some time for a secure link of their branches with the Cloud technology to enhance collaboration.

Countless meetings later, selling sessions to the board and an “IT guy” that now only owed me a text “Boss, I will be in touch”, the wait was remarkably painful than ditching them altogether. With the pandemic, the ritual that is bank hall visits had to be cut to a bare-minimum, yet customers needed their money.

Never mind that in such times, we thrive in the “just checking that my money is still there” mentality. In spite of not taking up my entire suggestion, they opted for a basic text-based application, enabling customers to access their account data and perform basic transactions.

To say that the use and adoption of digital technologies is not a priority for organisations would be ill-informed, but the realisation that it requires the right culture and environment to be seeded before it can flourish and demonstrate great results, would be a safer bet.

The interactions prior to going digital for any business, serve as an opportunity to showcase technology’s contribution towards strengthening the business model and the incentives brought on by this.

The next normal is finally here with us, with the good news that funding for digital initiatives has increased more than anything else; more than the increase in business costs, the number of people in new technology roles and the number of customers we are serving.

The pronounced birth of the networked economy we have been waiting for is finally here, but, wait! Are we moving at a pace faster than we did in the pre-crisis times?

In support of, and to facilitate innovation, digital value must become the DNA of any business. It goes further than a budget endorsement to adopt solution 1 and 2 in order to reach the next customer or to save on costs.

A truly digital DNA only flourishes with the right set of talent; upskilling and reskilling, integration between digital technologies and a mental shift by the leadership about the role of technology in the business.

On the individual front, given the preference for mobile access, the impact of technology can only be felt once we address the disparity in access to critical infrastructure known as the Internet.

According to IMF research, a 10 per cent increase in Internet penetration could raise real per capita GDP growth by 1 to 4 percentage points in sub-Saharan Africa.

This speaks to the potential of our great African economy, given the fact that three-quarters of the people on the continent are either unserved or underserved when it comes to Internet access.

While it may be untimely to bet on this trend, the pandemic has been the best eye opener on; the impact of digitalisation on business resilience and stability.

Ultimately the reality is that the impact of digital technologies on productivity can only be properly seen if we invest in our talent, the people that generate our revenues and the corresponding infrastructure on which we layer our services.

This is the only way to safeguard the permanence that is our ‘Next New Normal” and unmask the ghosts of ambiguity of technology that we have guarded for far too long. 

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