[Column] Dumisani Moyo: Navigating the winds of change in a digital-first world
Business leaders are facing an increasingly disruptive business environment, driven by supply chain constraints, critical skills shortages, hyperinflation, slowing economic growth, and persistent energy challenges, to name a few.
Following the devastation caused by the COVID pandemic, business leaders are now faced with navigating yet another set of disruptive market conditions.
Armed with valuable lessons from the chaos caused by COVID, the key question for business leaders in this ever-changing and challenging business environment is how they can future proof their organisations to survive current market disruptions while remaining focused on proactively sensing and responding to future market opportunities.
While COVID left us with many painful scars, it also taught us valuable lessons
While I recognise that the COVID example has been overused, it is still very relevant and serves as an excellent case study for understanding the importance of being agile and adaptable in business.
We went from the world we knew to operating under extremely restrictive lockdown conditions overnight in March 2020. These changes and their subsequent impact were abrupt and far-reaching, leaving business leaders with little time to prepare and pivot their strategies to deal with the ensuing disruption, which would devastate businesses for the next two years.
Before delving into pivoting business strategies and models, it’s worth noting that many business leaders struggled with issues such as ensuring their employees had access to the tools and resources they needed to do their work remotely, as well as how their employees would collaborate and maintain high levels of productivity while working from home.
Consider what most South African company executives went through on March 23, 2020, when the President declared that South Africa would go into full lockdown to contain the impending global coronavirus epidemic.
For many retail executives for example, the ability to quickly pivot their business models from brick-and-mortar operations that relied on customers walking through their front doors to those that could operate in lockdown conditions leveraging e-commerce or online platforms meant the difference between disaster and survival.
Furthermore, the ability to manage the complex processes of selling online suddenly became the most important priority for executives. Managing stock and secure payment processes, as well as ensuring that customers’ purchases were delivered in a reasonable and acceptable timeframe, added to the complexities.
As Charles Darwin argued in his famous Theory of Evolution in the 1800s, if an organism does not adapt to its environment, it will die. Only those who can adapt to their new environment survive. COVID presented business leaders with a difficult choice: adapt or die.
The role of technology in driving business agility and adaptability
Much has been written about the many benefits of implementing and using technology in business, but is technology truly the panacea? Can it provide much-needed respite and act as a tailwind to assist businesses with overcoming market disruptions?
There are numerous examples of companies that have successfully used technology to overcome disruptive market conditions. Some have focused on simplifying their business processes and operations to improve efficiencies and reduce costs, while others have focused on accelerating their transformation and using technological advancements to better serve their markets and customers.
All these approaches have one thing in common: they use technology to implement agile and adaptive business models that leverage technological advancements such as machine learning, artificial intelligence, and predictive analytics, to name a few. This use of technology enables these businesses to be more responsive and adaptable in dealing with sudden changes and disruptive market conditions.
Looking ahead — emphasising adaptability and agility while prioritising and securing the future through innovation
It goes without saying that businesses must develop resilience and adaptability to navigate market disruptions. However, as the saying goes, in adversity lies opportunity. Leaders must also focus on innovation, which is critical in driving growth and enabling businesses to capitalise on emerging opportunities.
Business leaders are increasingly looking to technology as the answer. According to IDC, digital spending in Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) is expected to reach $897 billion by 2026, growing at a 15.5% CAGR over the next five years.
According to a survey of 1,200 CEOs worldwide conducted by Ernst & Young on the business environment outlook for 2023, the majority of CEOs saw potential reward on the other side of the economic downturn and aimed to emerge stronger than their competitors. These CEOs agreed that to realign their operations and increase investment in their companies’ futures, they needed be agile and adaptable to changing market conditions and disruptions in the macroeconomic environment.
In the African context, technology is a powerful catalyst for innovation. It can help the continent address a wide range of challenges: from access to quality healthcare and education for its people to financial services and logistics networks that facilitate the movement of goods and services, allowing citizens to trade across borders within and beyond the continent.
Take heed of tech opportunity to improve chances at success
To summarise, there are valuable lessons that emerged from the COVID pandemic. I believe these lessons are still relevant and will be critical in assisting business leaders in navigating the current market headwinds. Business leaders must ensure that their organisations are agile and adaptable, and that they have the correct technology to do so.
Of equal importance is ensuring that they focus on innovation to capitalise on emerging opportunities. A Deloitte Insights article titled “Uncertainty and innovation at speed; How digital maturity can boost the ability to innovate” asserted that “to thrive in an increasingly uncertain world, organisations need to be able to innovate quickly, not only now but after this crisis subsides. Those that are more digitally mature may have an edge”.
Dumisani Moyo is the Marketing Director at SAP Africa