[Column] A resilient, cloud-based digital future

Digital transformation should come with one, well highlighted, disclaimer: one size does not fit all. The technology chosen for digital transformation needs to align with your specific business strategy. Not the strategy of company X or the approach of company Y. The technology must be specific to your business, its landscape, the threats, the challenges, and the unique slices of business individuality that lie in-between.

According to Jon Tullett, Research Manager for IT Services, International Data Corporation (IDC) South Africa, there are areas where there are broad adoption cloud solutions, but it is become increasingly important to leverage the full cloud stack of technology and techniques.

“Analytics, automation as a business process enabler, advanced security, and workplace optimisation are essential parts of the cloud technology stack that enable a robust digital transformation strategy and cloud investment stack,” he adds.

The real value of digital transformation lies in the strategy that drives it. There is no perfect blueprint that a company can pick up and run with – this must be curated within the context of the organisation. It needs to be relevant, have a long-term view of technology and business evolution, and capable of adapting to change on either a large or a small scale. It also needs to be measured against how well it achieves business improvements such as efficiency, cost savings, growth, and workforce optimisation, each one of these a measurable metric that every digital transformation strategy should include.

“Agility and adaptability are what digital transformation is really about,” says Tullett. “Consider those companies that have resisted digital transformation for the past few years. They have stuck with what they know because they know it works. This is a fair point, but then the unexpected happened in the shape of a global pandemic that has fundamentally changed how people work and the traditional cannot keep up. The digital could evolve and adapt, but those mired in legacy infrastructure had to make big leaps towards mobile working to survive.”

While a pandemic of this magnitude is not a common metric by which to measure business readiness, there is one element of it that is – the unexpected. This is what can shake corporate foundations and cause empires to crumble and see unusual ideas emerge from the dust. It is also something that digital transformation can help the business prepare for on myriad levels.

“A digital transformation strategy is also constantly evolving,” says Tullett. “You don’t fire and forget. You do not invest in a general idea and then leave it to wander aimlessly in a faintly digital direction.  Digital transformation is a technology purchase, the strategy is what you aspire to, and together they are what shape your company’s development. Your strategy is what outlines your aspirations and your vision, and this has to evolve as it adapts and learns and achieves these aspirations.”

A solid digital transformation strategy provides the organisation with a spring foundation. This is as stable as one cemented in traditional systems but has flex and movement and can adjust to the changing weights of the business. The digital toolkits add the bounce that the foundation needs to allow the business to adapt to its market and to be open to change.

“Goals and aspirations change and evolve too,” says Tullett. “But if you have a strategy that supports and enables change, your business is in a great position. The key point here is that the strategy has to be continually reviewed – it is gluing the future and the present together and you need that glue to be both flexible and strong.”

The strategy should also be asking pertinent questions of the business and its goals. It needs to ask how relevant the business is today and how relevant it will be tomorrow in terms of business value. It needs to be relatively confident of the medium to long term predictions that form its basis. And it needs to be adaptable enough that it will not fracture if the business needs to change course. Delays, disruption, downscaling, upscaling – all these factors can break a fragile strategy and they are standard operating issues. Imagine if the challenge is a major outlier like a pandemic or a market crash or an unexpected executive departure? A strategy blueprint must be a philosophy not a tablet cast in stone.

“The benefits of undergoing all this hassle and stress are numerous,” concludes Tullett. “Organisations that have taken the time to invest in digital transformation strategy are not just surviving, they are thriving. They are the companies that can put their 10, 000 staff online at home. The ones that can develop new solutions while locked behind closed doors. And the ones that can weather the storms.”

Digital transformation is not a trend or a hyped-up slice of kit or a box that the business can tick and forget. It is ongoing investment into solutions and strategies that take the business down the long road of change, disruption, and complexity with the agility it needs to either dodge the oncoming train or jump on board.

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