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Non-profits falling behind in digital era

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Despite 98% of non-profits indicating that technology is very important to their operations, the sector still faces challenges to its digital transformation, compared to other industries, writes SIYA MADYIBI, Head of Corporate, External and Legal Affairs at Microsoft SA.

According to a recent survey conducted by Microsoft polling NGOs across South Africa, which found that the non-profit sector is fast having to play catch-up when it comes to fully embracing digital transformation.

Out of the 55 non-profits surveyed, only 12 said that 80 percent of their employees and field workers have access to devices, and 16 reported that their field workers are using technology to better serve their cause.

A lack of funding and poor internet connection were cited as the biggest barriers to adoption. Several respondents indicated that there was often an internal belief that technology is too expensive and they face challenges regarding weak team structures and collaboration, and restricted funding models.

Why non-profits need to digitally transform

Non-profits operate in much the same way as do big businesses and enterprise. Each tries to maximise a return on investment of often limited resources in order to satisfy the objectives of various stakeholders or customers.

Just as successful enterprises must constantly innovate to meet and shape customer preferences, so too do non-profits need to adapt to meet the demands of today’s digital world. Finding new and innovative ways to reach customers and shareholders, or beneficiaries and donors, is one area that both enterprises and non-profits respectively share.

In the survey, non-profits indicated that technologies like cloud computing can help them keep detailed databases of their beneficiaries, update records easily, search for records faster and back up information on servers that are not on their premises. Other respondents reported that they use mobile technology to capture and share pictures and reports for evidence of implementation. This allows their team to share progress with funders, opening doors for more funding.

Overcoming the obstacles

Organisations that are agile enough to effectively adapt will be well positioned for the future; those who aren’t, risk becoming redundant as new models emerge that better serve beneficiaries and match donor interests.

Rise the connected non-profit

Here’s how non-profits can digitally transform their organisations:

1.     Become a digital-first organisation

A digital-first organisation is one that embraces technology across business functions, rather than treating IT as a separate department.  It must become a culture that flows from top managers to all levels of the organisation, not just the IT department.

2.    Choose the right tools for the job

Traditionally non-profits have used a variety of disparate technologies to store, manage and analyse data. However, the emergence of cloud computing has unlocked a vital resource for addressing the world’s problems. Cloud services utilise data to create new insights and lead to breakthroughs, not just for science and technology, but for addressing the full range of economic and social challenges and the delivery of better human services. Cloud also improves communications and productivity, and is much more cost-effective than traditional software.

3.    All staff need to become digital staff

The reality is that digital intersects the work of all staff in any organisation. Non-profits need to create digitally-savvy, mobile workforces who are well equipped to flourish in a mobile-first, cloud-first world. They can do this by arming staff and field workers with adequate devices and equipping them with the necessary skills to serve the broader needs of the non-profit community and the beneficiaries they service.

At Microsoft we are committed to helping non-profits use cloud computing to solve basic human challenges. One of our ambitions for Microsoft Philanthropies is to partner with these groups and ensure that cloud computing is accessible to a greater number of people and meets the widest range of societal needs.

This is why Microsoft recently announced that it will be making Microsoft Azure available to eligible non-profit and non-governmental organisations, by offering Azure credits. This offer adds to the existing comprehensive suite of Microsoft cloud services that are available to non-profits to empower their missions.

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Gadget goes to Hollywood

Gadget visited the Netflix studios last week. In the first of a series, ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK talks to CEO Reed Hastings.

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Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is no stranger to Africa. He has travelled throughout South Africa, taught maths in Swaziland for two years with the Peace Corps, and visits close family in Maputo. As a result, he is keenly aware of the South African entertainment and connectivity landscape.

In an exclusive interview at the Netflix studios in Hollywood, Los Angeles, last week, he revealed that Netflix had no intentions of challenging MultiChoice’s dominance of live sports broadcasting on the continent.

“Other firms will do sport and news; we are trying to focus on movies and TV shows,” he said. “There are a lot of areas that are video that we are not doing: sports, news, video gaming, user-generated content. We don’t have live sport.

Reed Hastings at the Netflix studios in Hollywood last week. Pic: ADAM ROSE

“We’re not replacing MultiChoice at all. Their subscriber growth is steady in South Africa. They serve a need that’s independent of the Internet, via low-price satellite. There is no intention of capturing that audience. If they’re growing, it’s because they serve a need.”

While Reed ruled out any collaboration with MultiChoice on its satellite delivery platform, despite its collaboration with another pay-TV service, Sky TV in the United Kingdom, he did not close the door. He stressed that Netflix saw itself as an Internet-based service, and would pursue the opportunities offered by evolving broadband in Africa.

“If you look in other markets like the USA, how Comcast carries us on set-top boxes with their other services, it could happen with MultiChoice, the same as with all the pay-TV providers.

“We’re really focused on being a service over the Internet and not over satellite. Our service doesn’t work on satellite. Where we work with Sky is on Internet-connected devices. We’re happy to work on Internet-connected devices. We tend to work on smart TVs, but need broadband Internet for that.

“Broadband is getting faster in Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa – we can see the positive trendlines – so it’s more likely we will work with broadband Internet companies.”

Hastings is a firm believer in the idea that one content provider’s success does not depend on pushing another down.

“HBO has grown at the same time as we have, so can see our success doesn’t determine their success. What matters is amazing content with which the world falls in love.”

Click here to read about Netflix’s international expansion, and how the streaming service selects content for its platform.

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Take these 5 steps to digital

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By MARK WALKER, Associate Vice President for Sub-Saharan Africa at IDC Middle East, Africa and Turkey.

Digital transformation isn’t a buzz word because it sounds nice and looks good on the business CV. It is fundamental to long-term business success. IDC anticipates that 75% of enterprises will be on the path to digital transformation by 2027. 

However, digital transformation is not a process that ticks a box and moves to the next item on the agenda – it is defined by the organisation’s shift towards a digitally empowered infrastructure and employee. It is an evolution across system, infrastructure, process, individual and leadership and should follow clear pathways to ensure sustainable success.

The nature of the enterprise has changed completely with the influence of digital, cloud and the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), and success is reliant on strategic change.

There is a lot more ownership and transparency throughout the organisation and there is a responsibility that comes with that – employees want access to information, there has to be speed in knowledge, transactions and engagement,” he adds. “To ensure that the organisation evolves alongside digital and demand, it has to follow five very clear pathways to long-term, achievable success.

The first of these is to evaluate where the enterprise sits right now in terms of its digital journey. This will differ by organisation size and industry, as well as its reliance on technology. A smaller organisation that only needs a basic accounting function or the internet for email will have far different considerations to a small organisation that requires high-end technology to manage hedge funds or drive cloud solutions. The same comparisons apply to the enterprise-level organisation. The mining sector will have a completely different sub-set of technology requirements and infrastructure limitations to the retail or finance sectors.

Ultimately, every organisation, regardless of size or industry, is reliant on technology to grow or deliver customer service, but their digital transformation requirements are different. To ensure that investment into artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, knowledge engines, automation and connectivity are accurately placed within the business and know exactly where the business is going.

The second step is to examine what the business wants to achieve. Again, the goals of the organisation over the long and short term will be entirely sector dependent, but it is essential that it examine what the competitive environment looks like and what influences customer expectations. This understanding will allow for the business to hone its digital requirements accordingly.

The third step is to match expectations to reality. You need to see how you can move your digital transformation strategy forward and what areas require prioritisation, what funding models will support your digital aspirations, and how this tie into what the market wants. Ultimately, every step of the process has to be prioritised to ensure it maps back to where you are and the strategic steps that will take you to where you want to go.

The fourth step is to look at the operational side of the process. This is as critical as any other aspect of the transformation strategy as it maps budget to skills to infrastructure in such a way as to ensure that any project delivers return on investment. Budget and funding are always top of mind when it comes to digital transformation – these are understandably key issues for the business. How will it benefit from the investment? How will it influence the customer experience? What impact will this have on the ongoing bottom line? These questions tie neatly into the fifth step in the process – the feedback loop.

This is often the forgotten step, but it is the most important. The feedback loop is critical to ensuring that the digital transformation process is achieving the right results, that the right metrics are in place, and that the needle is moving in the right direction. It is within this feedback loop that the organisation can consistently refine the process to ensure that it moves to each successive step with the right metrics in place.

There is also one final element that every organisation should have in place throughout its digital evolution. An element that many overlook – engagement. There must be a real desire to change, from the top of the organisation right down to the bottom, and an understanding of what it means to undertake this change and why it is essential. This is why this will be a key discussion at the 2019 IDC South Africa CIO Summit taking place in April this year. With this in place, the five steps to digital transformation will make sense and deliver the right results.

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