With the enormous changes and expenses wrought by the pandemic, many large digital projects were put on the back burner while companies weathered the storm.
Now, as the world starts to emerge from the turbulent uncertainty of the past two years, are companies ready to reinvigorate their digital strategies, or will the hurt take a little longer to heal?
According to Odette Pieters, COO at FlowCentric Technologies, although the pandemic accelerated technology investment in many businesses, spend was primarily on employee communication and collaboration tools; mobile devices and services; bandwidth and network capacity; and information security.
“These investments were made to help businesses survive by ensuring employees could remain productive while working away from the office. Few were made to fundamentally improve core business operations,” she says, adding that now that a semblance of normality has returned, organisations are re-evaluating their digital strategies and the challenges that accompany them – especially those challenges highlighted by the pandemic and operational integration.
However, in South Africa, this process is complicated by other factors such as the volatility of the rand, load-shedding, soaring petrol costs and a myriad other challenges facing businesses.
Where To Work
Many employees became accustomed to working from home during the pandemic and diverted the funds they traditionally used on transportation to other areas of their lives. This has made many of them resistant to give up what they now regard as a perk.
“With rising fuel prices, employees are more determined than ever to continue working from home and companies understand how important this desire for flexibility has become,” Pieters says. “However, permitting remote work indefinitely comes with unique challenges that have caused many organisations to revisit their digital strategies to ensure that they can adequately accommodate their remote workforce.”
Losing Experienced Employees
Internationally, businesses have been hit by what’s termed the Great Resignation, blamed in part on the pandemic as employees, including CEOs, suffer increasing burnout, reassess their work environments and re-evaluate their priorities.
Although not on the same scale as countries like the US and UK, South Africa has also been experiencing higher resignation rates since the start of the pandemic, according to Remchannel, Old Mutual’s reward management platform. Worryingly, this is being led by an exodus of skilled professionals.
Pieters says the departure of many top and middle management executives from South African organisations is lengthening the life cycle of digital projects in local organisations.
“The loss of experienced staff often means that corporate know-how and organisational memory disappears with them. This makes capturing and retaining existing best practices more challenging for companies,” she adds.
Taking Time To Regroup
Another challenge is the fact that many companies invested a lot in time and money over the past two years just to keep going during the height of the pandemic. They now want to achieve some level of equilibrium before making any more changes.
“However, further delaying digital reform projects could potentially affect the business’ long-term survival,” Pieters says.
She maintains that businesses should balance these decisions against the advantages and return on investment of proceeding with technology projects:
- The cost of delay: One of the biggest advantages of process improvement and automation is the tremendous ROI to be gained from faster processing with fewer errors. Automation can increase productivity by as much as 90%.
- Systems obsolescence and data growth: As technology moves towards obsolescence, it becomes increasingly difficult to find experts to work with the old systems. The longer a company delays, the more data these systems collect, which the company may need to migrate to the new system.
- Overburdened employees: Workforces at organisations have become more burdened due to less staff but higher output demands. Automation can help reduce employee stress by eliminating time-consuming and redundant tasks, giving them more time to focus on productive outputs that have a long-lasting effect on the company. Additionally, knowledge workers are demanding more flexible hours and work environments. To deliver on changing expectations, businesses will benefit from digitising work and process so that employees have the option to work from anywhere at any time in a measurable, trackable manner.
- Loss of market share: There is no competitive advantage quite like process improvement and automation. The before-and-after data following an automation software implementation can be staggering. Without these optimisations, an organisation runs the risk of falling behind competitors.
“We’re living in times of great uncertainty. However, companies that embrace digital now will be better able to seize future opportunities, improve their agility and create a business with the resilience to respond to changes,” Pieters concludes.