By Kathy Gibson – The shift to remote working has led to improved productivity for 29% of organisations, with that figure leaping to 70% for companies that had implemented digital transformation before the pandemic struck.

These are among the findings from the study “Remote Working in South Africa 2020”, conducted by World Wide Worx for Cisco, and polling 400 companies.

“Digital transformation emerged as the key differentiator in remote working productivity and collaboration,” says Arthur Goldstuck, MD of World Wide Worx and lead analyst on the project.

The study found that, at the time when remote working became mandatory, only 37% of companies had rolled out a digital transformation strategy, defined as the digital enablement of all processes within an organisation.

Fifty-six percent stated that their digital strategy was under way, but not yet advanced. At the same time, 95% confirmed that digital transformation was very important for their organisations.

More than half (56%) of respondents said the Covid-19 lockdown had a large impact on their digital transformation strategy.

These numbers correlate with other international studies: in related research, 71% of technologists point to digital transformation projects that have been implemented within weeks rather than the months or years it would have taken before the pandemic.

“As it turns out, many companies had the ability to work from home, but the Covid-19 crisis ultimately gave them that push to make digital transformation happen,” says Garsen Naidu, Cisco South Africa country manager.

Ninety-one percent of IT decision-makers reported that their employees were very effective when working from home, indicating that there is a good foundation to build on for the medium to long term.

While remote working has been quite an adjustment for both companies and employees, for those that have gotten it right, through digital enablement, it has worked seamlessly. Having thus seen the efficiency and impact of it, 38% of the study’s respondents said they would allow staff to continue working from home after the crisis is over.

“It is clear that the more a company embraces digital evolution, and the more willing it is to allow its employees to do so, the more it will benefit in terms of productivity,” says Goldstuck. “The digitalisation of the office is not only about the shift to home office, but about a clear strategy behind both digitalisation and its intended benefits.”

Naidu adds: “With less than half (37%) of companies indicating that they have advanced with their digital transformation journey or have a fully rolled out strategy, there is a long way to go to realising complete digital transformation for the entire business landscape.

“On a global scale, South Africa currently ranks 78th on the Digital Readiness Index that was published by Cisco in early 2020,” he points out.

“The level of technology availability, its utilisation, and adoption reflects a country’s current level of digital readiness. Cisco deemed it important to contribute research to help the continuing dialogue on technology’s future impact on organisations, the way of work and the workforce.”

The study found that, for most organisations, remote working devices were not issued until it was necessitated because of the Covid-19 crisis, as staff had to be able to continue working from home.

Before the lockdown, 57% of businesses had issued less than a quarter of their staff with laptops for remote work. Only 25% of respondents said that more than half of their staff were given laptops for remote work. After lockdown, companies reported that the latter group leaped to 53%, while the former dropped to 28%.

Nevertheless, while there was no widespread roll-out of remote working devices before lockdown, the study found that 70% of employees in office jobs were generally well prepared for working from home when the lockdown was announced.

“This reveals that using remote work tools is largely intuitive and training was generally not required. It also shows digital transformation was taking effect before the lockdown restrictions and subsequent work-from-home had started,” says Goldstuck.

“Ultimately, employees don’t need training for work-from-home tools when ongoing digitalisation has done the training for them.”

Respondents were also asked about the work-from-home practices of their employees and how they have adopted these practices. Almost every respondent said their employees were sticking to work hours (at 98%) and indicating availability throughout the day (at 99%).

This is followed by 97% saying their employees dress appropriately for video calls and maintain contact with a manager about work progress. While the proportion is not small by any measure, being prompt for online meetings was ranked last (at 95%).

Alongside the basic technical requirements, including connectivity, a computer or laptop and collaboration tools, IT security has played a key role in enabling remote working.

When asked about how data security strategy has changed in organisations, almost no respondents reported mild to no shift. It picks up with a mild shift, at 23%, and steadily increased to just under half (49%) of respondent reporting there had to be a heavy shift in data security strategy to accommodate remote working.

“The availability of digital applications and solutions that power remote working has enabled many South African companies to remain operational,” says Naidu. “Yet, we must not forget that a significant proportion of South African employees do not work in an office environment.

“With digitalisation, however, technology is having an impact on all sectors of the economy, be it manufacturing, agriculture, transportation or retail.”

The companies that are able to embrace digital transformation can do almost anything online, Goldstuck adds.

Doing anything in a digitally transformed company becomes simply a matter of scale.

“It is not only about change – it is about organisations awakening to the potential.”

There are many strategies that will underpin the consumer and business response, he adds.

Every industry will have a different experience and will have to adapt and resurface in a different way.

“But they all have one thing in common: they have to have a digital awakening – it is a necessity for the new future.”

He says there are three strategies that companies can leverage: collaboration, capacity and transformation, of processes and mindsets.

Dierdre Fryer, head of solutions engineering: Africa at Syspro, explains that true digital transformation happens when digital processes start to add value to the business.

The digital transformation journey embraces digitisation, then digitalisation and finally digital transformation, which is a co-ordination change effort at scale, diffused through all aspects of the business.

The pandemic has accelerate the journey for  many organisations, which have had to quickly become more agile and responsive.

But even before the crisis, we were seeing a “right now culture”, where customers started to expect instant experiences.

“This put a lot of pressure on businesses to do things faster and differently.”

Globalisation is a real thing, she adds, and organisation are more integrated around the world than ever before.

“We are also social butterflies; people love social media. It is an important concept that we have to be mindful of. Our brand and our delivery are out there so there is a demand to always get things right.”

The customer is also a lot more information today, Fryer says. Customers do a lot more research and by the time they make a buying decision they have done the comparisons and got the insights.

The final element is choice, Fryer adds. “Choice has become an important factor. When there is so much choice you have to really up your game to make sure your product is the one chosen.”

These pre-Covid drivers are still behind digital transformation, but the pandemic has accelerated them, wile adding things like security as well.

When embarking on a digital transformation, companies are advised to consider carefully what they want to achieve.

“Why do you want to do things? What is the value it will bring?” Fryer asks. “What is the outcome and what is the purpose – there are the first questions you need to ask.”

She adds that there are different reasons for a digital transformation focus. It could be information transformation to create competitive advantage; or it could be operating model transformation to create new business models or revenue streams.

The most common reason is customer transformation, aimed at improving the customer experience – and this needs to include all the parts of the business that contribute to the customer experience, Fryer warns.

Mark Walker, associate vice-president: sub-Saharan Africa at IDC, reiterates that companies need to get on to the digital transformation journey and move along it quickly to take advantage of the opportunities..

Covid-19 has accelerated the move to digitalisation, with some studies indicating is has brought digital transformation forward as much as 5,3 years, he adds.

“This is a reality, it is now, it is a journey.”

The key component is focus, and organisations should focus strongly on where they are, where they are going and how they will get there.

Walker explains that the 3rd Platform, comprising mobility, big data/analytics, cloud and social, forms the basis of digital transformation.

We are now seeing these technologies extending into next-generation security, augmented and virtual reality, Internet of Things (IoT), cognitive artificial intelligence (AI) and more.

Organisations across the board need to become digital enabled – and are making moves to do so, Walker adds.

These include government, education, retail, transport, healthcare, services and manufacturing.

According to an IDC survey in May, about 56% of CIOs at large organisations in sub-Saharan Africa are currently engaged in some kind of digital transformation initiatives; 25% are starting this year; 12% are planning in the next two years; and only 8% have no plan.

The key motivations cited for digital transformation are customers excellence and operational excellence.

In South Africa, the key focus is on accelerating existing DX effort to meet new customer and operations agility needs for 58% of respondents.

About 44% of CIOs will continue their digital transformation initiatives as planned at the start of the year.

Meanwhile, 27% are initiating new digital transformation effort to meet the change or changing customer and operation needs.

Banking is big adopter of digital transformation, with Covid-19 driving this faster than ever.

Retail banking is switching to a more digital approach, with 76% of them scaling up their online efforts.

Corporate banking is also switching to a more XaaS  model, which will grow to account for 4% of total corporate banking revenues by 2023.

Digital trust and stewardship is under the spotlight, with 89% of banks prioritising data and systems security.

The banks are looking to efficiently and agility, with 52% of organisations looking to cloud-first strategies.

In addition, many banks are looking to partner with fintechs to offer new services on new platforms, Walker adds.

The same picture plays out in most industries, he points out, which different technologies being employed to meet the business needs, with cloud-based platforms often behind the moves.

“There are significant changes in industry and government right now,” Walker says.

Organisations’ success will be predicated on how they deploy technology to meet the new imperatives.

CIOs are still the main driver of technology adoption at 66%, with the CEO/MD driving it in 54% of organisations.

However, the CEO and CIO, plus the CFO, should be working together to drive digital transformation, Walker explains.

There are also implications for human resources, so this discipline needs to be involved in strategy as well.

Chief operating officers will also be deeply involved, prioritising the key functions that will be impacted by digital transformation.

Among the benefits of digital transformation, productivity improvements are top of the chart at 55%, new and expended revenue streams are at 39%; customer advocacy and loyalty at 33%; cost efficiencies at 29%; and process improvements at 25%.

“Of course this comes at a price,” Walker says.

The alignment between lines of business (LoBs)and IT are critical to digital transformation success, with 46% of respondent saying IT develops the technology roadmap on its own, without input from LoBs.

The relationship is ad hoc, say 26% of respondents, with IT providing support and implementing solutions only as requested by LoBs.

IDC warns that DX is a reality. Companies that done adopt it will be left behind

CIOs are urged to accelerate DX, scale digital platform develop trust in digital services, and deploy an agile infrastructure.