As global governments seek to lead the way in building back stronger, more resilient and interconnected economies, facilitating accelerated digitalisation for business will be mission-critical. The pace of evolution as necessitated by the events of 2020 provided a glimpse of what is possible – we now stand at a critical juncture, with the available tools to truly revitalise and reimagine vital industries.
The building blocks laid today must supplement and support the ability to ‘work from anywhere’, empower data innovation, and realise the mass potential of multi-cloud flexibility. The opportunity to deliver a digital-first recovery and build a pathway towards the future of work is here. Technology stands poised and ready to meet these ambitious objectives.
Understanding the DNA of local economies is key to the enablement and provision of optimum support for what is an increasingly diverse business environment, spanning large entities as well as Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). SMEs account for 90% of business, and more than 50% of employment worldwide, they form a critical facet of our economic ecosystem. According to the World Bank, formal SMEs contribute up to 40% of national income (GDP) in emerging economies – and these numbers are significantly higher when informal SMEs are included. It is fair to say they are the backbone of the global economy.
Traditionally, smaller businesses have been slower to digitise than larger counterparts, however, according to the OECD, 70% of SMEs significantly intensified their use of digital technologies due to 2020’s global crisis. According to a thought leadership piece published by McKinsey, “SMEs across South Africa represent more than 98% of businesses, employ between 50 and 60% of the country’s workforce across all sectors, and are responsible for a quarter of job growth in the private sector.” The article goes on to say that SME’s should use technology to grow their reach and efficiency at lower costs in order to overcome their scale disadvantage when compared to larger organisations. It is vitally important that this segment of the economy is supported in its quest to thrive in the digital era – and this means matching their ambitions with speedy, connected, and personalised services.
The same is true for large businesses which are often motivated by a desire to improve or expand existing technologies when determining locations for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). With access to tech a key driver in attracting global FDI, digital transformation will prove to be a key determinant in laying the infrastructure to sustain and enable economic growth in the future. With the share of FDI stock in global GDP increasing from 22% to 35% between 2000 and 2019, it is imperative that digital infrastructure can meet growing demand and support evolving economies in the years ahead.
Building an environment for businesses to thrive
Context is everything. For a business of any size to thrive it must exist within an environment that supports its growth, as survival is about more than individual resources or capabilities. The South African Government has put various measures in place to support SMME’s who have been affected by the pandemic, such as the Debt Relief Finance Scheme.
When we examine the future of work, we can see that professions such as healthcare workers, software developers, and green energy professionals will be in great demand, with technology underpinning the foundations of all these jobs. It’s critical that the digital foundations to enable these professions to flourish and meet their full potential is in place, and accessible in all locations. As sectors such as science, sustainability, and manufacturing progress, so too must the infrastructures which enable their evolution.
There are a variety of steps to take on this journey towards a thriving and interconnected digital ecosystem. Through transforming procurement processes with the provision of transparent and easy to use digital portals on hybrid cloud applications, modern high-growth industries can be empowered while becoming resilient to cyber-attacks. Streamlining these processes will future-proof, protect, and boost accessibility to essential procurement services, which are already an essential part of many global business operations.
The prioritisation of digital transformations to boost efficiencies in supply chains and establish eCommerce platforms with the provision of end-to-end customer experience will also be imperative, with 5G and edge computing infrastructure key. As product-led businesses evolve and pivot towards a digital-first economy, the framework to support their business journey must be central to any future vision.
This is all against the backdrop of an urgent push towards a more sustainable, more circular economy – one that takes into account the full life cycle of the products we use to reduce impact on the environment, and reuse and repurpose as many times as possible. Nurturing businesses with a supportive ecosystem that incentivises these developments in alignment with a green transition and the possibility to ‘work from anywhere’ will set all sectors up for success.
We know that economic recovery requires a nuanced approach with both long-term and short-term strategies. Reinforcing the private sector with digital infrastructure will provide fertile ground for increased innovation and support continued transformation across all industries. As the largest subset of business, SME needs must be at the heart of any digital strategy. Amazing work is already being done by governments around the world to support vital business sectors – and with a reinvigorated sense of purpose, we are well-positioned to build back better societies and economies for good. Levelling the playing field and turbocharging digitalisation for businesses will not only boost SMEs and larger employers who rely on rapid connectivity and communications, but also the communities they serve. If harnessed effectively, technology can be an enabler and an equaliser, supporting new and agile ways of working, customer interaction, and data innovation. It can facilitate growth potential right across the board and create a better future with an infrastructure to serve all of us.