Building a truly resilient community, business, or organization today depends on how well you can use data to increase visibility in each stage of the chain and how quickly you can respond to disruptions. But without digitalisation, it becomes more difficult to garner insights and respond to them successfully. Digital transformation provides organizations with a certain purpose: increased visibility across their entire supply chain.
Many of the socio-economic and development challenges arising from the pandemic are being tackled with digital tools. Although digital tools cannot fully replace the human element of social interactions, they are the next best alternative—more relevant than ever. Organizations need to stay in touch with their suppliers and customers, employees need to engage with their team to execute operational tasks remotely. Customers or consumers are increasingly demanding, leaving businesses to find all possible channels to reach them.
Digitalisation is a generic term for digital transformation. It is a key driver for operational resilience, which should not be considered as an end, but to ensure business continuity. Digitalisation is about leveraging technology and innovative tools to improve the efficiency of a process. According to Gartner, “Digitalisation is the use of digital technologies to change a business model and provide new revenue and value-producing opportunities; it is the process of moving to a digital business.” It makes workflows and processes easier and more efficient. Especially in today’s tech-driven world, it is crucial to adopt a digital culture to survive and succeed.
In every part of the world, particularly Africa, COVID-19 altered many reactions and responses, from school and workplace closures to keeping employees engaged and operational while working from home, restrictions on movement, and lockdowns. Handling cash, paying for daily essentials, and conducting business in person have become unsafe, and more people than ever turned to mobile money as a safer option. During the pandemic, the progress of digitalisation and infrastructure seemed to influence many delivery processes and channels.
In early 2020, it quickly became clear that mobile technology, digital services, and mobile money, would have a massive role to play in keeping people connected, delivering essential financial support, and providing safe, contactless ways to pay for consumables, and other life essentials. With more than $2 billion being transacted every day, mobile money became a part of a new daily routine for millions around the world. With 5.2 billion mobile users worldwide, the mobile industry has the reach and innovation it will take to deepen financial inclusion and build more equitable societies (GSMA, Industry Report on Mobile Money 2021).
Also, as Ghana’s digital services and payment system improve significantly, it is worth noting that the current trend in Ghana’s payment systems development is being driven by a growing local ICT industry and global trends in payment systems development. According to the Bank of Ghana, the development of payment and settlement systems in Ghana has been premised on some key objectives, including discouraging the use of cash for transactions while encouraging the use of non-paper-based instruments; promoting financial inclusion without risking the safety and soundness of the banking system; and developing an integrated electronic payment infrastructure that will enhance interoperability of payment and securities infrastructures.
This means governments must put in more efforts towards creating a “cashless society,” (focusing on mobile and internet banking) which should further promote non-face-to-face services, especially if we are to contain or live with such pandemic for a longer period or survive future disruptions.
However, the digitalisation of services must be accompanied by greater digital literacy and accessibility. While digitalisation can be seen more as a natural progression reinforced by the conditions created by the pandemic, challenges persist. These include low digital literacy, and the lack of internet access, to mention just a few. With all these getting more important — developing or improving digital literacy, managing remote and automated operations to increase the resilience of business models — there is an apparent need to invest more into digital literacy and digital infrastructure. Creating resilient capabilities which allow for service accessibility options or recovering from disruptions.
Partial application of digital transformation in one or the other of an organization’s processes or activities is not enough to compete today. Without understanding business processes, the mere application of technology will not help us, and we will continue to be exposed to the disruption of native-digital competitors in our sector. Initiatives must come along with the needed usage literacy and infrastructure. Consumers must be educated on using digital services and solutions introduced for efficiency. Beyond the application of new technologies, the digitalisation of an organization requires important cultural changes and ways of doing. Digital transformation requires general management to be aligned because it is not an isolated challenge in one division or another, it is a challenge for the entire business setup or organization.
Digitalisation requires cultural change, questioning existing models, and being open to new ways of adding value to the customer. It takes a lot of responsiveness to put the user at the center. Understand the end-user, be in their shoes, place them at the center of the whole process, and understand their needs from their point of view and reality. This way, it gets easier with usage and literacy.
Again, faced with the COVID-19 pandemic, many nations were better prepared than others to respond to the crisis and ensure the delivery of essential public services—including healthcare and education. The key differentiator was their level of digital resilience.
Estonia, brands itself as “the first fully digital republic”, has the world’s most advanced e-government along with a dynamic start-up community. From the onset of the pandemic, the government launched a global hackathon to incubate and scale practical solutions. Estonia’s digital responses to COVID-19 were successful because of the country’s digital maturity, including lessons learned from experience—For example, efforts to integrate telemedicine and electronic patient records into healthcare facilities in many parts of the country were ongoing since 2016, as well as the creation of the Centre for Electronic Healthcare in 2017.
The years 2020/2021 tell us that digitalisation cannot be ignored. A big lesson in all of this is that digitalisation and connected societies require a trained workforce. Across the world, including Africa, many countries still need thousands of new IT specialists to fill many available roles. Hence, the need for digitally enabled workforces is essential for digital resilience and the future of work, which can only be sustained through purposeful and constant investment in education and training.
Resilience as a concept is top of mind, both in our professional and personal lives. The global pandemic has forced us to rethink how to respond to unexpected situations, and manage new and ongoing risks, knowing that such events can happen in the future.
To prevent and recover from future crises, Africa must be digitally positioned to adapt early and invest in fundamentals like digital skills. This will not only improve its resilience but also its competitiveness while ensuring that the needs of many are met.
Author: Richard Kafui Amanfu – (Director of Operations, Institute of ICT Professionals, Ghana)
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