Digital innovation is accelerating in South Africa, notes Pax Mataitsane, Applications Sales Director, Oracle South Africa. From call centres using chatbots and automatic transcription to improve customer service, to financial advisors harnessing machine learning and data analytics, rapidly matching client and solution, and emerging use cases of IoT sensors and AR/VR training in the mining and manufacturing sectors.

While each of these are prime examples of digital transformation (DX), they are only part of the picture. True digital transformation is not simply the implementation of ad hoc projects or the utilisation of new technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) for the sake of using them – it’s an organisation-wide effort to transform the business into an agile, data-driven, responsive partner for clients.

DX leaders essentially focus on three key areas to drive a seamless transformation:

Build an organisation structure and establish KPIs to enable DX

Two of the key inhibitors to organisation-wide transformation are the existence of strong silos and the belief that DX is “someone else’s problem” – and, typically, that someone else is the CIO.

This leads to a state of misalignment, where innovation can only occur through the areas where the CIO has influence – and therefore limits the impact of the overall project. To combat this, organisations vary in approach, but one popular answer is the creation of a digital innovation office – according to IDC’s South Africa CIO Survey, 35% of organisations are using this method. Regardless, the use of KPIs owned by all lines of business and centred around product/service innovation rates, data capitalisation, and employee experience is key.

This is done to ensure project/employee alignment, better user adoption, and increased stakeholder support, and it must be coupled with a sufficiently modern HCM platform to aid in continuous management of these objectives.

Break down silos by building a modern digital platform

The use of technology such as AI-powered chatbots in customer service can deliver true value to customers. But to derive that value, the chatbot must be connected in meaningful ways to the rest of the business. Front and back end must be able to seamlessly communicate, with data passing to and from the CRM system, for example, so that each interaction is recorded and allows the organisation to produce insights and adjust operations accordingly, without compromising the security of the system or the customer. This is true for any new technology.

To avoid the creation of innovation silos, leaders should focus on building a “digital platform” that can orchestrate data between internal and external systems and applications, with an “intelligent core” that adds insight and intelligence to support actions. The platform can take the data generated by chatbots or by IoT sensors and convert them into actionable insights for the rest of the organisation. This step is crucial not only for the innovation capabilities of the organisation, but to ensure that security is not compromised in pursuit of the goal.

Modern CRM and ERP applications should be able to integrate with such a platform. As a real-world example, Liberty Health is implementing Oracle cloud-based financial solutions to better integrate, but also empower, the company’s mobile workforce at the very points they serve 350 000+ customers across 27 African countries.

Build capability around digital skills

As the adoption of new technologies increases, the importance of employees with the skills to deploy and work with them is also set to increase. Organisations will need to get creative, not only in how they approach the search for permanent staff, but also in how they accommodate new employment constructs.

The rise of the gig-economy – especially in areas like software development – will likely become a source of skills for South African firms in the future, and employers will need to be able to accommodate this new work style. Indeed, 60% of South African CIOs highlight making better use of external IT services as the skills fulfillment path for DX, according to the IDC South Africa CIO Survey 2018.

This means new Human Capital Management systems that can respond with agility to this requirement will need to be put in place. Talent management will become a key capability in this new landscape and ensuring that organisations can predict future requirements and maintain visibility of their labour force and associated skills will be key to delivering on that goal.

AfrAsia Bank, headquartered in Mauritius, with a representative office in South Africa, has shown great success in this regard, using Oracle HCM Cloud and its digital tools to boost its HR management efficiency by up to 75%.

This was primarily accomplished by providing the organisation’s 400 employees with greater autonomy over their performance and development through a single centralised touchpoint, while also improving talent identification and retention across the global organisation.

Digital transformation is a process of continuous reinvention. While ad hoc projects can deliver limited value, to become disruptive in one’s market requires an organisation-wide approach. To meet that objective, organisations need to assess their structure, their infrastructure, and their collective skillset or risk being left behind.

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