The digitally transformed workforce

It’s not digital control over human slaves. It’s transformative collaboration across human, machine and business.
By Tamsin Oxford
Johannesburg, 03 Nov 2022
Lauren Wortmann, Dimension Data.
Lauren Wortmann, Dimension Data.

The workforce has become one of the most important competitive differentiators for the business. It’s your talent that will hold a customer’s attention, shape the culture of your business, and define your sustainability and growth. There are significant ‘drivers of attrition’ as Gartner puts it – challenges and risks that push talent out of your business and into the arms of another, but out of all the key messages that come with talent acquisition and retention, there is one that remains consistent – empowerment.

PwC believes that empowering the workforce is key to delivering sustained business outcomes, and equally underscores the value of technology in helping people achieve their potential and reshape innovation within the organisation. It’s a view shared by Gartner in its report ‘How to Make Your Digital Workplace Happier, Faster and Smarter’, which eloquently suggests that IT within the workforce has transmogrified from an invisible resource to an essential toolkit. The challenge, says the research firm, is to drive real change in how people work while leveraging the existing momentum of tech implementation post-pandemic.

This approach is all about the key words of smooth, seamless and simple. It’s about investing in workplace transformation solutions and toolkits that reduce digital friction and, instead, make collaboration and interaction painless and engaging. With many workplaces adopting a digital-first, hybrid working framework, the implementation of the right tools and technologies is critical. The business must be able to embed resilience and reliability into its operational structure alongside flexibility and connectivity. People need to tap and go as they work smarter, using tools that automate processes, optimise systems, improve accessibility and, as Gartner says, ‘increase digital dexterity’.

It would be foolish to not mention Microsoft Teams, Zoom or Google Meet. When the world shut down, those applications booted up!

Lauren Wortmann, Dimension Data MEA

This commitment to an empowered workplace that delivers digital to the fingertips of its workforce will deliver results. After all, digital natives operating adeptly within a global digitised world will ensure that your business is competing on the right platforms and at the right levels. It also gives you the flexibility to hire people based on their talent profile, regardless of where they live or work in the world. The walls have come down and business fingertips can reach into the depths of Africa, Australia and everywhere in between to catch hold of talented people and pull them inside. With a digitally transformed workplace, workers are connected by shared systems rather than shared watercoolers, and are far more likely to stay engaged within your business than one that doesn’t allow them their freedom.

After all, research has found that the pandemic has made a solid 52% of people question the purpose of their day job, changed the expectations towards employers of 50% of people, and 58% have changed their perspective on the desirability of their workplace location. Welcome to the future – it’s mobile, it’s agile, it’s hybrid, and it’s connected. Most of all, however, it is digitally transformed across the business and the worker.


Plug your workforce into this digital mayhem

Brainstorm: Whatare some of the most extraordinary digital, automated, intelligent andinteresting tools that have evolved out of the past three years to supportworker efficiency and productivity?

Nkanyiso Mtshali, GDT senior support specialist, Aspen: Acrobat Sign has contributed to digital transformation objectives through its integrated capabilities with the likes of Microsoft 365, which is one of Aspen’s default platforms. Sign has enabled further transitioning from paper-based signatures to electronic versions, which facilitates an effective, efficient, streamlined process complemented by peace of mind that security protocols have been met.

Ronnie Toerien, HCM transformation director, Oracle Africa: The technology with the most benefit to employees in the last three years has to be the digital assistant. It has provided employees and managers with an easy way to interact with the system and HR staff in order to deliver a far more efficient service using their smartphones with little to zero training required.

Shakeel Jhazbhay, GM: Digital Business Solutions, Datacentrix: Interestingly, the tools most helpful for worker efficiency and productivity over the past three years are the ones that have already been around for a length of time. These include enterprise content management, business process management and some robotic process automation (RPA) technologies.

Tian Horn, account manager, Hyland: RPA’s adoption and enhancement has intensified over the last three years, and is expected to continue to do so, with one report by McKinsey & Companypredicting that automation solutions such as RPA will have a potential global economic impact of nearly $6.7 trillion by 2025.

Takalane Khashane, managing director, Iron Mountain South Africa: The gamification of the business world is becoming an everyday reality as a result of the accelerated uptake of augmented and virtual reality. These technologies were originally developed for gaming applications, but their uses and benefits are starting to be used by businesses to drive employee engagement and empowerment.

Brainstorm: What technologies have gone from the mundane to the surprising over the past three years and are now more about boosting the worker and transforming how they use their tools?

Lauren Wortmann, principal head of Applications, Dimension Data MEA: It feels like it would be foolish to not mention Microsoft Teams, Zoom or Google Meet. When the world shut down, those applications booted up!

Retief Zietsman, senior engineer, Troye: There has been a significant evolution in Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) capabilities over the last couple of years. SASE is now an all-encompassing suite of tools. This eases the burden on IT and increases user experience and compliance to security requirements.

Wilhelm Greeff, business manager, Decision Inc.: New platforms have emerged that cater for niche functions. So, instead of having to acquire an expensive all-in-one automation licence, companies can buy specific licences targeting areas such as finance process automation. By making the barrier to entry lower from a cost point of view, adoption will continue to accelerate.

Brainstorm: Are there any new innovations on the horizon?

Lauren Wortmann, Dimension Data MEA: AI is playing a fundamental role in innovations at the moment as it’s aimed at being incorporated into different solutions to further realise benefits within the return-on-investment that automation and digitisation allows for.

Jolene Castelyn, marketing executive, Ricoh South Africa: While it may not be the sexiest, perhaps one of the most important areas of innovation are the advances being made in natural language processing. So much business data is wrapped up in documents.

Dominic Richardson, CMO, Dax Data: Our digital future involves organisations adopting complementary technologies that integrate seamlessly and enable their teams to perform more efficiently. Adobe and Microsoft’s integrations are just the beginning of this type of tight integration.

Retief Zietsman, Troye: User mobility will continue to drive innovation in this space as analytics and AI evolve.


Fit for a king

King Price went to bed as an insurance company and woke up with digital people.

King Price, a privately held insurance company that offers short-term insurance and possibly some of the best adverts in South African television history, opted into digital transformation very early on, using the pandemic and lockdowns to take its investment a step further. The company went to bed an insurance company and woke up as a digitally transformed enterprise with empowered people and intelligent systems.

“The pandemic lit a rocket under what was already happening,” says Dr Eugene Wessels, the company’s group chief technology officer. “In the short-term insurance industry, the move to digital platforms and no-touch servicing and interaction accelerated way beyond what we dreamed of a couple of years ago.”

The company embraced a variety of different platforms and solutions so it could build stable foundations for the way forward. It had already been paying attention to digital and its value, so the move was more about facilitating further digital change than about completely ripping up and replacing its systems.

“We embraced the technologies that allowed us to facilitate remote working and create an on-demand workforce,” says Wessels. “It was important to be digitally enabled so we could support our workforce and this has delivered measurable benefits. We have also been spending a lot of energy focusing on skills development to promote this digital workforce we’re trying to build.”

The company has seen a lot of volatility in the workforce in terms of people moving to the coast, wanting to work where they feel joy, and has ensured it is digitally capable of retaining talent by giving people the tools they need to work remotely. Most of the focus for the company’s digital investment was into the back office with finance software implementations, cloud-based compliance tools and associated workflows and a bespoke cloud-based call-centre migration.

“We’re a call centre-heavy operation and so our business has changed around digitalisation and ensuring that our workforce is digitally equipped,” says Wessels.

“We needed a strong and reliable telephony system that would carry that along with emails, email routing, workflows, chatbots and robotics that are grouped into what I call the telephony engagement platform.”

King Price now has an RPA project that is dedicated to the optimisation of repetitive tasks and has successfully managed to land the invoice-processing element within the business – a robot processing mundane invoices at speed and more accurately. It has also built an analytical engine that uses AI and machine learning and is designed to consolidate customer knowledge and apply algorithms to optimise the client lifecycle and make it easier for employees to engage with clients.

“A lot of emphasis has gone into enabling the digitisation of the workforce and to make it easier for people to do their roles,” says Wessels. “We also introduced a claims management solution that allows them to interrogate claims more effectively and to manage claims processing alongside worker availability. We’re constantly optimising workforce tools to improve workflows and digital capabilities; for us, it’s history in the making.”

* This feature was first published in the November edition of ITWeb's Brainstorm magazine.