Opening the digital doorway

Digital transformation is now mentioned as often as innovation in technology conversation, but it’s worth it, by Johan de Villiers, Managing Director, First Technology.





Technology trends have a tendency to climb into corporate culture and lingo with a tenacity usually reserved for bulldogs. Terms like ‘innovation’ and ‘digital transformation’, ‘cloud’ and ‘Internet of Things’ have shifted from dark hallway conversations to C-Suite tabled motions. And, thanks to their mantra-like repeatability, are often dismissed as nothing more than pretentious buzzwords of little value. Until now. Now, the ideal of digital transformation is more than just a concept that the guy in IT mentioned, it is a business imperative that can ensure sustainability and long-term success.


Digital transformation is important to your organisation because it opens the doors to digital innovation. Innovation is essential because the market is crowded, the economy still embattled and the business that’s to remain sustainable and capable must be flexible and adaptable.  Digital transformation can potentially allow for the organisation to become more sprightly in its innovation, but it isn’t a one size fits all block of technology. It is a strategic investment and, according to Deloitte, can only be a success if it develops digital capabilities which are aligned with culture, people and structure, and towards organisational goals.

A successful implementation


However, digital transformation is also about putting the enterprise on disruption alert – you don’t want to be the business which wasn’t ready when that sassy genius in the garage comes up with a big idea.  According to Forrester, ‘digital transformation investments are ultimately about business survival through disruption.’ It makes sense, be the disruptor, not the disrupted. Be the company that directly influences customer expectations and goes beyond the traditional to the digital.


An excellent example of a company that has does just that is McDonalds. The company quickly realised that a hamburger isn’t strong enough to define their business, so they went with a digital transformation process instead. In 2015, they introduced kiosks for people to customise their hamburgers, soon after that, led the way in Apple Pay mobile payment solutions. McDonalds has also revamped its digital capabilities to allow for more customer engagement through social media, internal communications and operations.


So, that’s nice for McDonalds, but it’s not a strategy that will work for every business. It begs the question – what does successful digital transformation look like? Well, nobody knows. Yet. The benchmarks are still being set and the definitions still being defined. What is known, is that successful digital transformation needs to at least tick three boxes at the start – it must be strategic, it must be qualitative and it must fit the business.


Follow the leader


The next logical question is – who needs to lead it. According to the Harvard Business Review, it’s the CEO. They need to be the savvy digital leaders who understand what it means to create an agile organisation. However, in a recent report from Altimeter, it’s the Chief Marketing Officer who is most likely to get the job, with only 19% of CIOs or CTOs taking the reins.  The real answer isn’t one specific role or department, it’s the entire organisation. Digital transformation has to be adopted by everyone and it needs to be driven by the C-Suite, the leaders each taking control within their remit to ensure that it is implemented strategically and effectively.


In South Africa and, indeed, the rest of the continent, digital transformation is leaving its mark. It is not quite the Dark Continent anymore and countries such as Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa and Egypt are making interesting strides into the digital frontier. Some, as with many technologies in Africa, are leapfrogging the first world to innovation in the third.

Until next time, thank you for your continued support of First Technology.


Warm Regards

Johan de Villiers Managing Director

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