10 Tips for Digital Transformation in Africa

Written By: Ridwaan Bardien
Date: May 4, 2022

Tip 1: Incorporate Plug-and-Play business models 

Digital forces are reducing transaction costs with value chains separating into their component parts. Organisations can pick and choose from Third-party products and services to quickly integrate these into its gaps in its value chain. In other words, you don’t have to do everything yourself anymore. There are numerous applications in the cloud that you could leverage with a sort of “plug-and-play” mindset without having to go through the unnecessary expense and hassle of building yourself. In business projects, I am constantly asking myself if the process required is core to the business or could be outsourced or delivered from a cloud vendor. Cloud computing represents a good starting point in the digital journey, so ignore it at your peril, because your competitors or startups will not. 

Tip 2: Don't formulate a digital strategy just because everyone else is. 

Huh! Let me clarify this tip. CEO's and CIOs are flooded in the hyperbole around the "disruptive" potential of digital technologies. Terrified of being left behind they rush headlong into strategic planning which risks money, opportunity and wasting time. This could also steer the organisation away from its true needs, and correct priorities in what is a changing context. Don't start with "What is our Digital Strategy?". Rather ask how digital technology can improve the experience of your customer and how it can affect the value proposition to your target customer. Instead of rushing into a digital strategy, start with reimagining your current business model around digital. I constantly look back at the customer to see if we are adding value as opposed to simply adopting the latest technology. Having a digital strategy does not automatically guarantee success. Remember Kodak also had a digital strategy and looked how that turned out. 

Tip 3: Don't jump onto all Social Media Platforms. 

There are numerous benefits to factoring in Social Media marketing into your Digital Strategy. It should not be a one-size-fits-all approach however as you must choose your social media platforms carefully to ensure that you are active on the channels where your customers are. I personally do not believe in a shot-gun approach and prefer to focus on the lifestyle and demographics of the customer to understand where they are most likely to be found on social media platforms. 

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Tip 4: A digital strategy is a customer strategy 

Although it is widely accepted that customer experience is a key business driver for any business, many have failed to grasp that concept. In the digital age, the customer expectations are becoming much more demanding, so it is now essential for any company to think of the customer at the center when making any business decisions. Therefore ensure that you know who your audience or target market is and build your digital strategy with a customer-centric approach. You would be surprised how many "strategists" miss this. As a CIO I constantly put myself in the role of the customer to see how they will be impacted by the project we are currently undergoing. Go have a look at your organisation's business strategy again and see how much focus is on internal processes to satisfy your internal business units. 

Tip 5: Consider incorporating competitors as collaborators in your strategy 

Say what? Digitalisation is truly shifting the competitive landscape in various industries. New entrants tend to pop up from unexpected places. Travel agents are entering the insurance business, retailers are moving into the media business so your competitors are no longer whom they used to be. My research is showing that digital winners think very broadly about whom to collaborate with. Sometimes it is about collaborating with companies historically considered as competitors or simply collaborating to share data. 

Tip 6: Digital Strategy Does Not Equal IT Strategy 

An IT strategy developed independently of the business strategy or in support of a business strategy is not a Digital strategy. This is not about narrow focus areas like automating existing business processes like moving paper artifacts to a digital platform or implementing RFID in your warehouse. Companies that are looking to create revenue from digital technology require a strategy that is more powerful than mere digital substitution. What is needed is a digital edge so that physical resources and digital information is combined in new ways for the creation of revenue and value. True digital leaders are separated from the rest by having a clear digital strategy that is combined with a culture and leadership poised to drive the transformation. The takeaway here should be that strategy and not technology must drive digital transformation. 

Tip 7: Commit to constant innovation 

My findings also show that the digital masters are agile and quick to change to market conditions. A digital strategy should, over time, adapt and change with the market and with emerging technologies - the same way your business plan does. Once you have formulated your digital strategy your should schedule constant and regular reviews to keep your plan updated and in line with your business's performance and achievement of goals. Make sure your KPIs are quarterly, monthly and weekly. That once a year expensive session formally titled "business planning" is old skool thinking. 

Tip 8: Culture change goes hand in hand with a Digital strategy. 

Change management is the hardest part of the digital transformation, so it is crucial to have an effective change platform to assist with the implementation of your strategy. In established companies, the greatest challenge is often trying to get the organisation to work and collaborate across functions and silos as there will be disparate priorities, timelines, and lack of mutual familiarity. If this is not addressed, then prepare yourself for fragmented results and the customer will encounter a disjointed digital experience when dealing with your organisation. Communication of your strategy to your organisation is not enough and effective action starting with the C-Suite is required. I frequently make use of cross-functional teams to assist with the breaking down of silos as these team members can become your Digital "evangelists". 

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Tip 9: Don't think out of the box, get rid of the box. 

Although "digital" is on everyone's lips, business leaders are only addressing the impact of each digital trend on a certain aspect of running their business. What is needed is a deeper understanding of the ongoing mega-shift that is transforming the very nature of businesses and societies. To be a true digital leader you need an entirely new mindset. "Experts" within your organisation might be holding you back as they sometimes only have a narrow view of digital and what it can entail. They are your typical "in the box" thinkers. Make sure that when crafting your strategy you have consulted widely on the power of technology to democratise, speed up and scale every form of action and interaction. 

Tip 10: Understand the difference between a Digital Strategy and Digital Transformation 

And lastly, make sure you understand the difference between a Digital Strategy and Digital Transformation. Most people and organisations are confused about this idea. See my article: Digital strategist or transformer? - which one are you? for more detail. 

Digital Strategy is a journey, not a destination 

In my research into and the crafting of digital strategies and digital transformation projects, these are some themes which were quite prevalent which I thought would be apt to share with a wider audience. Of course, there is no single blueprint for transformation that works well for everyone, but these tips can help you make you consider overlooked items. See how these tips can influence your thinking around your digital strategy formulation process and I hope that it offers food for thought on your Digital journey. 

Author:
Ridwaan Bardien

Third Stage Consulting

Third Stage Consulting Group is a global thought leader in business transformation, ERP software systems, operational change management, and business advisory. Let us take your organization’s digital transformation to the Third Stage.
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