[Column] Cathy Smith: Transforming African businesses into intelligent enterprises to build resilience
Much has been written about the pandemic’s impact on business and its role as a once-in-a-generation catalyst for accelerated digital transformation. Across the continent – in enterprises large and small, and in every industry – business leaders have had to adapt with great urgency to survive the immediate disruption and ensure the long-term viability of their businesses.
Organisations that had already embarked on the journey toward becoming intelligent enterprises – those enterprises that seamlessly blend data, technology, systems and processes to enable real-time insights and decision-making across the business – would have had the benefit of a warship when the pandemic tsunami first struck.
Their greater resilience and adaptability not only cushioned them from the worst impact, but in many cases enabled quick pivots to new business models that secured their survival and accelerated their success.
The less prepared would have been floundering in their makeshift canoes, often tossed and turned with little means to steer their organisations through stormy seas.
There is no doubt that we are sailing in uncharted waters and towards an uncertain future.
Having the capability to quickly deploy new technologies – such as AI-assisted processes or scalable cloud applications – empowers organisations with agility and adaptability, both essential elements of success in our turbulent times. What’s more, it lends a sense of certainty to the decisions they make, as such decisions are grounded in accurate data.
New world of work = new challenges, opportunities
The hybrid work environment most organisations have had to adopt has created new challenges for managers and leaders to effectively motivate, guide and manage their teams. While challenging, this fundamental cultural shift toward more flexible work holds the promise of finally unlocking the possibilities of the digital workplace, which holds the potential for more measurable and manageable ways of work.
Organisations need real-time insight into employees’ current state of mind, their perception of their work, challenges keeping them from performing at their best and gaps in processes such as onboarding. This allows business leaders to make quick adjustments and maintain a positive and fulfilling employee experience at every step.
Using an experience management tool that produces measurable, data-driven insights can bring structure and consistency to how organisations respond to employee expectations. Technology is an invaluable tool here: only two in ten employees in one study strongly agreed that their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work.
New modes of leadership are also needed. I strongly believe the time is over for one-dimensional organisations that focus purely on chasing quarterly revenue targets.
Analysts estimate that purpose-driven organisations have 30% higher levels of innovation and 40% higher levels of talent retention. What’s more, one study found that purpose-driven organisations had a 13.1% average annual return on equity, compared to a 4.1% average for the S&P 500 over a ten-year period.
Employees also value purpose: 84% of millennials in one study said that making a difference is more important than professional recognition.
Empowering the next generation of digital workers
The matter of skills development, while long a priority of governments and organisations across the continent, is of even greater importance today. As organisations drive greater digitisation in their business models, the urgency of having a steady supply of work-ready digital skills grows.
Organisations will need to collaborate with public and private sector partners to ensure Africa’s growing youth population is equipped with the key digital skills that can support their growth and success. Initiatives such as Africa Code Week that bring together hundreds of partners from government, NGOs and the private sector have already introduced millions of kids to coding while empowering local teachers with vital digital skills training.
Africa Month an opportunity to chart new course
Our recent shared experiences across the African continent should teach us that no one is immune to disruption.
The world already faces the consequences of climate change which could disrupt the global economy in ways that far outweigh the impact of the pandemic. Scientists believe the COVID-19 pandemic is almost certainly not the last one we’ll see, especially if we persist with unsustainable ways of living.
However, the same challenges also hold the promise of transforming the way we work and live to bring us toward more sustainable, innovation-driven and fulfilling ways of working.
The pandemic has been a tsunami that has swept across the globe. We are still feeling the ripple effects through every industry and in every country.
As we celebrate Africa Month, we must also take stock of how we are preparing for the next inevitable disruption.
Investment into building intelligent enterprise capabilities in our public and private sectors could hold the promise of a tsunami-proof lifeboat that can protect organisations and their employees, customers and partners from the worst effects of the next wave, while bringing us all closer to calmer shores.