How to prepare for an uncertain digital future

The answer won't be found in Davos but within your own organisation, writes TransUnion Africa CEO Lee Naik.

Read time 4min 30sec
Lee Naik.
Lee Naik.

Admit it. Despite the endless articles on how new technology is going to revolutionise the way we do business, the thinkpieces on disruption, those glowing commentaries on virtual reality, 3D printing and more, you're feeling some trepidation about the digital future.

You're not alone, as this year's World Economic Forum in Davos deftly illustrated. One year on from the introduction of the concept of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, optimism is muted. There is a sense of uncertainty about the future, particularly around the implications of automation on the global workforce.

And even as world leaders are grappling with these enormous challenges, your executive is looking to you to futureproof the business. But how do you prepare for an uncertain digital future, when even the experts can't agree?

The answer won't be found in Switzerland but within your own organisation. If no-one quite knows where the Fourth Industrial Revolution will take us, it's up to us to prepare for anything, by embedding adaptability and digital capability within our people, processes and systems.

Practically doing so requires you to recognise and respond to several key ideas:

Don't do everything yourself

You're not just imagining it - the demands placed on IT (and the organisation as a whole) by the digital age really are too much. It's impossible to meet the disparate needs of the digital customer and maintain a high level of quality. So, why are you trying to do everything yourself, especially when starting from scratch and building whole new sets of capabilities? Why not just stick to what you're good at and let other people handle the rest?

One of the biggest enablers of digital thinking is knowing when you should partner, to deliver the value customers and end-users are looking for. That means hammering down what your core capabilities are, and what would be better served by outsourcing to the right partners.

Those partnerships don't only have to take place solely within a corporate space either. South Africa has an ever-growing number of innovation hubs and incubators, from Johannesburg's Tshimologong to Pretoria's Technology Innovation Agency. Ultimately, it doesn't matter how you meet organisational and customer needs, only that it gets done.

Speed up how you do things

The second big realisation needed is that you can't do everything at the same pace as a decade or even five years ago. Customers aren't going to wait for ground-breaking innovations if there's another product out there that does what they need.

To survive as an organisation, you're going to have to learn to speed up the product release cycle. Start with what customers or users need, and what can be done to meet this. Ask yourself whether your product development models allow for agile, iterative product and service creation. Once a viable solution has been created, it's time to release it to market (even if it's on a small scale to minimise risk) and see how it fares.

It all starts with you. What are you doing to keep you and your teams relevant?

Yes, there will be flaws that need ironing out, but done is always better than perfect. If the product shows value, then customers will stick with it as you get it right. Just look at Discovery, which is constantly taking new solutions to market and rolling out new features.

Empower people

According to the World Economic Forum, we could see the net loss of over five million jobs over the next few years. It doesn't matter what processes and systems are in place if staff are worried about what it means for their own relevance. To futureproof your organisation, you need to address these concerns.

So why not create an environment where employees can continuously raise their own value proposition? Invest in platforms that allow them to keep their skills up-to-date. Many large companies, such as General Electric, have put in place their own digital learning platforms and virtual schools.

Here at home, initiatives like WeThinkCode offer organisations new paths for sourcing and training digital talent. The long-term benefit of investing in these platforms is skilled employees able to work with automation and other disruptive technologies.

At the same time, you need to empower the way employees work. This is done by creating more flexible working environments, running internal wellness and innovation programmes, and incentivising exceptional performance. Both Vodacom and FNB, for example, offer their staff a R1 million prize to come up with and execute innovative ideas.

Ultimately, staying relevant starts within your own pocket of the organisation. Encourage the individuals and teams you work with, as well as give them the capabilities they need to do so.

So forget the big guns at Davos. It all starts with you. What are you doing to keep you and your teams relevant?

About Lee Naik

Lee Naik is CEO of TransUnion Africa and is recognised as one of SA's leading digital and technology transformation experts.

Naik has worked across all spheres of government and private sector industries. He has a deep understanding and appreciation of the transformative role technology can play and his experience ranges from developing first-in-country strategies and solutions to leading complex delivery programmes.

In his previous role as MD of Accenture Digital, he focused on helping organisations transform their businesses to remain competitive in an increasingly digital world.

A frequent speaker and commentator, Naik was recognised as a global top 10 commentator in the 2015 LinkedIn Top Voices awards, and was a recipient of the 2015 Standard Bank Rising Stars Award. In 2016, he was one of the top 10 finalists for the IITPSA's IT Personality of the Year award.

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