Digital transformation. What does it mean to you, to me and to the companies who use the term so openly? DR THOMAS OOSTHUIZEN, Global Consulting Director at Acceleration, shares his insight and experience on what the term may mean and should mean.
Words… words … words … When I speak to clients, I hear many different interpretations of what “digital transformation” is, illustrating that the term confuses as often as it clarifies. Some believe that it’s simply a matter of using digital channels to sell and service clients more effectively, more efficiently and in a more personalised manner.
A significant number think it is about a new application or digital marketing initiative. Many regard it as a matter of using technology to drive business process innovation. And others say that their goal is nothing less than to be the Uber of insurance or the Airbnb of banking. Digital transformation has come to mean all of these things and more.
But when a term becomes shorthand for so many perspectives, it loses much of its usefulness. If we are not clear about the definition of digital transformation when we discuss it in boardrooms, how do we create a meaningful strategy for the future? And how do we align our organisations behind our vision?
Definition impacts strategy and the level of its conversation, so it matters
What is clear from my discussions with large brands is that C-suite executives know that their industry, business environment, and customers are evolving, and that their brands and organisations also need to adapt.
What they often do not know is how to bring about the changes that will help their companies to be profitable, sustainable and competitive in an era of disruptive change (yes, disruption has also become an overused and misunderstood term).
The reality is that most companies are reluctant to disrupt their own industries, often because they fear cannibalising their customer base or eroding their own margins. Hence, most choose to tweak some aspects of their business with digital technologies rather than to transform their business models in a fundamental manner. Many scholars like Clayton Christensen suggest that a new business, outside of the current business, is often the best way to have the best of two worlds. It means a company can become more consumer centric by using data and technology well in its current business, whilst also experimenting with more disruptive options enabled by technology.
For example, they may change how they understand and engage with consumers with the aid of digital tools and channels. This is an imperative and no longer up for debate. Unless this is done, nothing else is possible. This is an approach that has the advantage of being realistic and manageable to implement. But is it enough for a large brand to keep the competitive high ground in today’s fast-changing consumer environment?
After all, consumers judge their experiences with all industries they deal with by the benchmarks the digital disruptors have set. Why should interactions with an airline or bank not be as easy and personal as dealing with Amazon? These are the big questions customers are asking – brands should be ready to answer.
Asking the right questions
We recommend that executives begin by discussing their business’s context, challenges and customers so that they can have a clear view of how digital competitors, technologies, and consumer behaviour will affect their brands in the years to come. This exercise is about clarifying language so the organisation can build a digital strategy based on a shared understanding of its challenges and desired outcomes.
The broad questions senior managers should be asking are:
· How exactly is digital technology changing the way our customers behave and the way that existing, emerging and potential competitors do business?
· What are the best companies across industries doing across the spectrum of digital enablement? What can we learn from them about the future of our industry and our business?
· How should we change our business to defend and extend market share, grow profits and ensure relevance as digital technology evolves in the years to come?
· An interesting point to note here is that the real nature of digital disruption for an established industry isn’t always obvious. Think, for example about Uber, which may have a dramatic impact beyond the taxi industry in the years to come. By making personal transport an affordable service commodity, it could eat away at the edges of the car and auto insurance industries.
Brands therefore must understand how consumers behave rather than simply looking at direct competition. Remaining relevant is not simply a matter of creating an app or smartening up their website, but finding ways to use customer data to create more meaningful and relevant customer experiences at every touch point. It is notable that consumers often do not have finite industry boundaries.
Beyond the obvious
By looking closely at competitors and the technology landscape, executives can see how emerging technologies and disruptive rivals could attack their market share. They can then create the strategies necessary to protect their market share and possibly identify ways to expand into new markets using digital technology.
The next step is how to do it, and the answer won’t be the same for every business. Some businesses will have visionary leadership, agile processes, innovative cultures, young workforces with digital skills, and modern technology platforms, so they’ll be able to embrace digital transformation more wholeheartedly.
Others may be encumbered by conservative leadership, legacy technology, regulation, siloed processes, and their workforces. They’ll need to look at their assets – data, customers, skills and channels – and find ways to put them to work in a digital world. In some cases, they might need to launch new brands, form joint ventures or innovation groups to fast-track their digital programmes.
In either instance, what really matters is that the business stays close to consumers, keeps its eye on new technologies, and keeps building new products and experiences that meet consumers’ evolving needs. There is no excuse not to become more consumer centric – for that to happen, data and insights are the starting points – and how marketing technology can support exceptional customer experiences. In the very least, this will enable a strong defensive against disrupters, even if it won’t protect a brand indefinitely.
So ultimately, underpinning the organisation’s ability to meet these goals is its ability to gather, organise and analyse customer data.
Smart home arrives in SA
The smart home is no longer a distant vision confined to advanced economies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.
The smart home is a wonderful vision for controlling every aspect of one’s living environment via remote control, apps and sensors. But, because it is both complex and expensive, there has been little appetite for it in South Africa.
The two main routes for smart home installation are both fraught with peril – financial and technical.
The first is to call on a specialist installation company. Surprisingly, there are many in South Africa. Google “smart home” +”South Africa”, and thousands of results appear. The problem is that, because the industry is so new, few have built up solid track records and reputations. Costs vary wildly, few standards exist, and the cost of after-sales service will turn out to be more important than the upfront price.
The second route is to assemble the components of a smart home, and attempt self-installation. For the non-technical, this is often a non-starter. Not only does one need a fairly good knowledge of Wi-Fi configuration, but also a broad understanding of the Internet of Things (IoT) – the ability for devices to sense their environment, connect to each other, and share information.
The good news, though, is that it is getting easier and more cost effective all the time.
My first efforts in this direction started a few years ago with finding smart plugs on Amazon.com. These are power adaptors that turn regular sockets into “smart sockets” by adding Wi-Fi and an on-off switch, among other. A smart lightbulb was sourced from Gearbest in China. At the time, these were the cheapest and most basic elements for a starter smart home environment.
Via a smartphone app, the light could be switched on from the other side of the world. It sounds trivial and silly, but on such basic functions the future is slowly built.
Fast forward a year or two, and these components are available from hundreds of outlets, they have plummeted in cost, and the range of options is bewildering. That, of course, makes the quest even more bewildering. Who can be trusted for quality, fulfilment and after-sales support? Which products will be obsolete in the next year or two as technology advances even more rapidly?
These are some of the challenges that a leading South African technology distributor, Syntech, decided to address in adding smart home products to its portfolio. It selected LifeSmart, a global brand with proven expertise in both IoT and smart home products.
Equally significantly, LifeSmart combines IoT with artificial intelligence and machine learning, meaning that the devices “learn” the best ways of connecting, sharing and integrating new elements. Because they all fall under the same brand, they are designed to integrate with the LifeSmart app, which is available for Android and iOS phones, as well as Android TV.
Click here to read about how LifeSmart makes installing smart home devices easier.
Matrics must prepare for AI
By Vian Chinner, CEO and founder of Xineoh.
Many in the matric class of 2018 are currently weighing up their options for the future. With the country’s high unemployment rate casting a shadow on their opportunities, these future jobseekers have been encouraged to look into which skills are required by the market, tailoring their occupational training to align with demand and thereby improving their chances of finding a job, writes Vian Chinner – a South African innovator, data scientist and CEO of the machine learning company specialising in consumer behaviour prediction, Xineoh.
With rapid innovation and development in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), all careers – including high-demand professions like engineers, teachers and electricians – will look significantly different in the years to come.
Notably, the third wave of internet connectivity, whereby our physical world begins to merge with that of the internet, is upon us. This is evident in how widespread AI is being implemented across industries as well as in our homes with the use of automation solutions and bots like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. So much data is collected from the physical world every day and AI makes sense of it all.
Not only do new industries related to technology like AI open new career paths, such as those specialising in data science, but it will also modify those which already exist.
So, what should matriculants be considering when deciding what route to take?
For highly academic individuals, who are exceptionally strong in mathematics, data science is definitely the way to go. There is, and will continue to be, massive demand internationally as well as locally, with Element-AI noting that there are only between 0 and 100 data scientists in South Africa, with the true number being closer to 0.
In terms of getting a foot in the door to become a successful data scientist, practical experience, working with an AI-focused business, is essential. Students should consider getting an internship while they are studying or going straight into an internship, learning on the job and taking specialist online courses from institutions like Stanford University and MIT as they go.
This career path is, however, limited to the highly academic and mathematically gifted, but the technology is inevitably going to overlap with all other professions and so, those who are looking to begin their careers should take note of which skills will be in demand in future, versus which will be made redundant by AI.
In the next few years, technicians who are able to install and maintain new technology will be highly sought after. On the other hand, many entry level jobs will likely be taken care of by AI – from the slicing and dicing currently done by assistant chefs, to the laying of bricks by labourers in the building sector.
As a rule, students should be looking at the skills required for the job one step up from an entry level position and working towards developing these. Those training to be journalists, for instance, should work towards the skill level of an editor and a bookkeeping trainee, the role of financial consultant.
This also means that new workforce entrants should be prepared to walk into a more demanding role, with more responsibility, than perhaps previously anticipated and that the country’s education and training system should adapt to the shift in required skills.
The matric classes of 2018 have completed their schooling in the information age and we should be equipping them, and future generations, for the future market – AI is central to this.