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The Future Fast: Tech customers are now in power

Business across Africa has moved beyond merely having to digitally transform, and now demand return on investment. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK unravels the continent’s tech future with SAP Africa MD Cathy Smith



Photo by Thirdman from Pexels

As access to information proliferates and more business leaders understand technology, Information Technology (IT) companies are no longer in the power seat. 

This insight from Cathy Smith, managing director of SAP Africa, defines how tech has to be sold not just on this continent, but globally. 

In the past, she says in the latest edition of The Future Fast, IT companies told enterprises what they needed to buy and how often, and customers had very little choice about specific solutions.

“That has been the fundamental change that we’ve seen in the last few years, in that more and more ICT companies have emerged, and competition and choice has proliferated across the ICT industry, and customers have access to more information so they can make more informed choices. That has changed one thing, which is the customer experience.”

However, there is a second key change in the IT market. 

“With economies struggling as they have in the last few years, and with governance becoming a very important topic in terms of how business cases are put together… customers are no longer interested in doing 18-month, two-year, five-year projects before they can actually see a return on the investment that they had made. And they want to hold the owners of business cases accountable. So the appetite for complexity is really diminishing. More and more, customers want to see a quick return on investment.”

This demand for quick realisation of value means technology vendors have to be more “iterative” in their engagement with customers, meaning they have to keep going back to them to understand how a solution is working out. 

“It cannot be a five- or 10-year process,” says Smith. “We are talking about between six weeks and three months, and doing this together.” 

The obvious result is that companies like SAP are no longer interacting only with the IT department. Solutions that allow customers to be competitive in their own industries and differentiate themselves require the entire business “to interlock with the IT division, and to put together holistic strategies”. 

“So our need to be able to engage with chief financial officers, with chief marketing officers, HR directors, has never been more important, because we have to start thinking about the customer in their entirety. What is their business strategy truly? And then working together with all their stakeholders to make sure that we get the right solutions in place to help them achieve the objectives.”

This has, of course, changed internal processes at companies like SAP, and radically altered their approach to innovation.

To find out about the extent of this impact, watch the full interview on The Future Fast YouTube channel, or on one of these podcast platforms: