Ryan Barlow, in his newly appointed position as Chief Digital Officer (CDO) for fintech specialist e4, says that South Africa remains in nascent stages of digital transformation. Barlow, who was previously e4’s Chief Information Officer, says that while significant strides have been taken from a digital standpoint, the implementation of transformation initiatives remain at relatively low levels.
“Digital solutions are developed enough to provide customers with a seamless, intuitive and self-explanatory service. Whether guided by bots or through workflows, digital services are well established enough to grow and meet the ever-evolving needs of consumers. Where we see a chasm developing is in the transformation piece. Not enough is being achieved and time is potentially running out for this to happen,” says Barlow.
This lack of transformation, according to Barlow, has become more evident because of Covid-19. While organisations have continued to struggle with the inner-challenges of transformation, such as compliance and governance, Covid-19 has forced them to take digital transformation more seriously.
“Digital solutions are established enough to grow and evolve, but if organisations want to remain relevant, and have digital-first and ultimately digital-only solutions in place, they need to transform with a sense of urgency,” says Barlow.
Beyond automation and networking
Supporting Barlow’s view is a PWC report entitled Digital Champions: How industry leaders build integrated operations ecosystems to deliver end-to-end customer solutions, which noted that while Digital Champions, were noteworthy because they view digitisation in ways that are far-reaching and aggressively innovative – well beyond automation and networking. It was disappointing to note that none of the manufacturing companies we surveyed in South Africa are Digital Champions and most fall into the Digital Novice category (the least digitally mature companies in the report).
While this specifically addresses manufacturing, Barlow says that it is representative of most local industries. In an Industry 4.0 report by Deloitte, when compared to the rest of the world, the current adoption and impact of industry 4.0 on the African continent remains low. Similarly, the report found that the adoption level of smart technologies that accelerate industry 4.0 remains at a foundation stage in the South African manufacturing industry overall, with some sector differences. A stronger usage of advanced analytics exists within the automation and automotive sectors, compared to others.
“In this report one of the findings is that the adoption of cloud solutions is currently more driven by consumers than businesses, which is the exact issue we are seeing when looking at digital transformation. Businesses can no longer afford to be driven by consumer demands, they need to innovate and drive digital solutions and not the other way around,” says Barlow.
He says that e4 believes that an executive focus on digital transformation is necessary: “We should see more CDO appointments within the industry as the role becomes more critical to the overall success of the business. It is an important part of gearing up for the digital age. e4 is already ahead of the curve and can assist those who need to expedite their digital transformation objectives to survive.”