NOT so long ago, the “4th Industrial Revolution” (4IR) was a term we would come across in debates about the in-thing or the future — whether or not the world was wholly ready for it. Well, ladies and gentlemen, the future is here. And opinions about readiness at this point have fast become irrelevant.
The Covid-19 pandemic has spurred organisations into mission critical digital capabilities or, at the very least, digital aspirations to ensure survival. This article discusses where the 4IR organisations’ boards must now direct their IT-related efforts in the new Covid-19-induced landscape and beyond.
The overall perspective of IT
Boards must now undergo induced evolution and maturation to allow information technology (IT) to be considered an equal in the boardroom’s round-table discussions. IT, bringing digital capability to the table, now represents the continued survival of an organisation as well as growth opportunities. This need for evolution and maturation is in two parts:
IT governance: The organisation will now demand more from its organisation’s IT capabilities. Consequently, IT governance will have to form a bigger part of the boardroom’s conversation on corporate governance. The board will now have to pay more attention to IT, allow for a top-down and bottom-up again integrated conversation around the management, governance and investment on IT. IT must now be taken in a new context as a mission critical enabler of strategy.
IT leadership: The 4IR organisation will now have to accept C-level IT leadership to wade through the uncharted waters as a necessity. One whose cost is now justifiable because of the near certain loss-ridden alternative. The digital inclination of the 4IR organisation would require adequate ownership and leadership that feeds directly into the topmost organisational strategy.
Investment in people
The biggest asset the organisation will always have is its people. If the right people are not in the organisation, it will have to find them or turn its employees into the right people. The board will have to take a closer look at gearing up the skills in the organisation for the digitally laden environment the organisation is to thrive in now.
Digital skills and digital readiness of the people must be a priority as they will form the very basis of how the organisation will operate internally and ultimately perform in the marketplace. The fully digital employee experience should be targeted as the end state with a digitally empowered workforce.
Online learning designed and delivered within the organisation must be fully embraced as a critical training and information sharing capability. The board must embark on a well-thought-out digital reconditioning exercise of the organisation’s human resource. This, of course, must be informed ultimately by readjusted strategic objectives.
Investment in big data
It is mandatory that the organisation’s sales paths now be as short as possible as and simultaneously more informative than ever. This is in the interest of both the organisation and the customer. In the modern digital environment, vast and seemingly excessive amounts of data (Big Data) are available for consumption to the organisation. Knowing more about the customer and marketplace via data analytics and online social market interactions has become an immediate necessity.
Used effectively, this can radically improve the customer experience as the organisation will aim to operate in a more informed, more targeted, and more responsive manner upon endeavouring to deliver their product to the customer. Digital capabilities not only present more information with regards to market execution but also vast options and efficiencies in reaching the customer.
Bear in mind the move towards a digital way of life is equally apparent to the customer. It only follows that their propensity to seek, receive and/or consume the organisation’s products via digital means will increase. The board must be ready to guide the organisation to meet the customer on the dance floor on this one, deliver on customer convenience and expectations and, subsequently, the organisation’s sales growth — a digital win-win cycle.
With the direction being a digital one, inevitably some business processes will become redundant. It is now worth the board’s effort, as tedious as it may be for management, to direct a rework of how the organisation goes about achieving the day-to-day tasks that make it tick from the minutest task all the way to the product or service reaching the customer. A bite-size approach would be most efficient here, starting small and expanding outwards. Bottom-up, as it were.
Ultimately, the organisation’s business processes, clear strategic objectives and digital orientation must be squarely aligned. Automation must be preferred and optimised. Digitally measurable and trackable efficiencies must be exposed. The organisation must become one whose workflows are digitally inclined and can be evaluated, drawing on digital evidence of inefficiencies or better alternatives.
Investment in technology
As with any investment, investment in technology must serve the organisation’s needs first and foremost. The board must be careful not to pursue technology for technology’s sake, but instead to enable the organisation to meet pre-existing objectives by using technology. Technology must follow business needs and goals, not the other way round.
Regardless, the investment in this case must be made. The board must be prepared to spend to achieve the capabilities required in their digital transformation efforts. It is of paramount importance that this investment be guided by the aspired-for ubiquity of digital capabilities and intentions to avoid yearly budget overruns on ill-planned technology capital expenditure. Future considerations, all drawn from the organisation’s long-term digital strategy, must be the sole guide to technology implementation to support business goals.
In some cases, disruptive technologies may surface that an organisation would stand to gain from.In such instances, implementation would mean more BPR. As a rule of thumb, if they match the overall digital strategy and shorten the hops to reach the customer from within the building or in the marketplace, they are worth considering.
A concerted security focus
The term “cyber security” at any given point must catch the board’s attention. However, the landscape of security concerns has mutated with the Covid-19 pandemic. Cyber threats are now more focussed on social engineering, preying on victims’ heightened paranoia, and the expanded network vulnerabilities with employees predominantly working from home. The 4IR organisation is now one which is highly mobile and dispersed, operating on a myriad of platforms, devices and technologies and may very well continue to be so after the pandemic has loosened its grip on humanity.
This means the traditional cyber security defences must be re-calibrated. A new set of security concerns are becoming all too apparent. Interplay of technology and behaviours in the work-from-home set-up present an immediate need to reconsider cyber security provisions. In addition to this, the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) conversation has skipped to the forefront of security and policy considerations for organisations. The board must appreciate the new dynamic needs, co-ordination and investment now required to protect the organisation’s cyber space.
The 4IR is here. The modern organisation’s board simply must accept and adapt or endure the almost inevitable sink into oblivion.
Mujuru is a published academic writer and speaker and an IT specialist.