Africa – Rising to the Digital Transformation Challenge

Orange Business Services’ 2017 Africa Digital Transformation Survey of enterprise across several sectors in Africa yields interesting results 

The speed of digital transformation dictates IT strategies of enterprise across all sectors in Africa today.  Whether you prefer the term disruption, or the term transformation, one thing is certain: the digital revolution is taking place and gaining pace in Africa.

Consumers in Africa expect interactions with brands and businesses to be seamless, convenient and immediate and businesses across the continent are seeing digital transformation as a way to develop new operational business models that can deliver on these demands. Consequently, the fundamental challenge for CIOs in Africa today is to ensure that their IT strategy is moving at a pace that supports business ambitions in the context of each of the unique demands of each market within Africa – given that almost no two African markets are the same.

A survey was carried out by Orange Business Services in October 2017 among 30 CIO’s from its customer base of leading African businesses across the Finance, Retail and Oil and Gas verticals – to gauge their concerns and strategies around digital transformation.

“The digital landscape delivers a strong opportunity for multinational enterprises to get ahead of the curve, and they appreciate that delaying their actions could result in some businesses becoming irrelevant to their domestic, regional or global markets. The multinational enterprise customers of Orange Business Services across all verticals understand this, and are directly impacted by the need to transform and embed digital into their business model,” explains Mark McCallum, Country Manager, South Africa, Orange Business Services.

Budget is a big challenge

In terms of challenges related to digital transformation in their businesses, the majority of respondents cited budget as the biggest challenge, followed by knowledge & skills, security and deploying shadow IT, respectively.

Perspectives on the speed of change

The challenge for all enterprises is to be able to react quickly and efficiently to change, to innovation and to transformation at all levels. Digital transformation drives the need for infrastructure and services that deliver more than just connectivity.  According to the Orange Business Services 2017 Africa Digital Transformation Survey, 74% of respondents cited digital transformation as ‘critical’ to their company ambition and strategy, with the other 26% citing it as ‘important’. When asked about the speed of change taking place within their organisations, in terms of digital transformation, about 66% of respondents described the speed of change in their organisations as being ‘slow but steady’, while 30% said they saw daily changes.

“The notion of criticality and the emphasis on digital is well understood and is a topic that is being discussed in virtually all our interactions with our multinational enterprise customers who are seeking leadership and guidance on how to position and evolve in the face of the onslaught of the change to digital,” adds McCallum.

Creating a 360 customer experience is critical

With consumer growth booming in Africa, it is no surprise that 74% of respondents cited customer experience as ‘critical’ to the successful digital transformation of their businesses – citing ‘convenience’ as the most important aspect of their relationships with said customers.

Security is everyone’s concern

In terms of IT Security and cyber defence, the majority of respondents (73%) identified ‘Information Protection’ as the most important factor affecting their decisions or priorities. Data breaches were also a concern for 60% of respondents. When asked where they believe the biggest security threats lie for their businesses, 56% of respondents cited ‘ransom ware and viruses’, followed by ‘internal staff’ (36%).

“The traditional approach to putting in place security at the perimeter can no longer be applied in a truly digital environment.  The rapid expansion of the enterprise’s own perimeter with the IoT, M2M and other digital technologies means that a business needs to address both internal and external threats with structured and tiered cyber security layers.  The challenge for the enterprise is that they ensure they have the skills and budget to deploy and manage a layered true cyber security stack,” states McCallum.

Skills and workforce readiness

The driver of any business or organisation is its people, and when asked about the current state of readiness of their workforces to lead and implement their digital transformation strategies, 60% of respondents said their workforce was already ‘in preparation and training’, while 17% of respondents were confident that their workforce is ‘ready to go’. 23% of respondents said their workforce was ‘not ready’. The majority of respondents (60%) said that ‘buy in from business’ is the most important factor in preparing their workforce for digital transformation.

“The evolution, adoption and transformation of the business on the inside and on the outside depend on having a work force that understands and is ready to embrace the changes. While top down buy-in is important, it is up to the workforce to truly believe in and embrace these exponential changes,” McCallum says.

While many felt their workforce was ready to go, the survey results made it clear that organisations were facing important challenges when it came to the implementation of their digital transformation strategies. When asked what their main challenges were in terms of the implementation of these strategies in Africa specifically, 47% of respondents said ‘clear digital transformation plans’, while 43% said ‘availability of skills’. ‘Reliable infrastructure’, ‘regulation’ and ‘varying stages of technology adoption’ were also cited as top challenges.

Digital enablers

In terms of the delivery of their digital transformation strategies, and which technology solutions will be most relevant in this regard, ‘IoT’ and ‘mobility’ were the clear winners, followed by ‘security’ and ‘cloud’, respectively. When asked to select the outcome they expected from their digital transformation (respondents could pick more than one), 76% cited ‘increased efficiency’, 63% said ‘improved competitiveness’, and 60% said ‘increased revenue’. 53% cited ‘improved customer service’.

“Our enterprise customers are adapting their business and business models to the critical shift to enabling technologies like Cloud, Big Data/ Analytics, Mobility and personal and enterprise social collaboration.  Africa is currently at a crossroads with the strong adoption of reliable business grade broadband Internet services that are allowing enterprises to capitalise and effectively implement these technologies using Hybrid, SDWAN and SDN/ NFV,” says McCallum.

“It is often misunderstood that the critical factor to bring these enterprise ‘over the top’ digital technologies together is the underlying Internet and connectivity.  In Africa, where this has typically, and historically been the bottleneck and inhibitor, the landscape has now all changed and Africa is fully open to doing digital business,” he concludes.

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