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Reflecting, Re-imagining and Relevance through technology

Alt text: Student in yellow shirt using vr headset
Source: Julia M Cameron
  • June 21,2021
  • Tags Graduation, Top Achievers, Graduates, Alumni, Success, Responsible leaders

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By Nompumelelo Mokou, Alumnus of the Year 2020: Business Leadership

When I embarked on the MBA in 2016, I yearned for new knowledge and validation of my views on strategies that build legacy organisations. At the time I had read Halftime by Bob Buford which compelled me to wrestle with myself, reflect on who I believe I am, striving to be relevant in all I do and find meaning in my daily activities. This MBA experience was far richer and more rewarding than I imagined because not only did I attain my goals but my personal life improved. This new world of engagement, knowledge, self-introspection and discipline propels relevance.

The same can be said for many businesses who had planned capital intensive projects, new office spaces, lengthy digital transformation strategies and intermittent pivots to new technologies before the global pandemic. Although most businesses were familiar with operating in uncertainty, drank the VUCA soda and aligned to inevitable change, most were not prepared for remote work, contactless engagement, heighten focus on employee experience and inadequate service delivery models. Most companies who had just embarked on digital transformation had to accelerate critical impactful aspects of digitisation quickly enabling remote work, reduce of office space, reimagine service delivery and reflect on their strategies. I consider relevance a key business pillar for survival and continuation especially when customers continually rethink their needs and low spending capacity.

The foundations of business are centred on its ability to be relevant primarily to its customers, employees, shareholders, community, industry peers, government, global business and investors. We always cite Kodak, Blockbuster, and Thompsons Travel as classic examples of businesses that delayed their pivots and were rendered irrelevant. The relevance economy is impacting what we eat, how we entertain, fashion (practical vs fancy) and wellness. In addition to this, companies and people, in general, have more discretion in how funds are spent or invested depending on necessities, critical projects and longer-term impact.

Living in times of the global pandemic is not only historical but it shone the spotlight on the relevance economy carried by technology.

Living in times of the global pandemic is not only historical but it shone the spotlight on the relevance economy carried by technology. Several technology companies Amazon, Microsoft and Zoom tripled their market capital and financial performance within six months. The technology disruptors and born-in-the-cloud start-ups took up space to deliver needed services. The NTT 2021 Future Disrupted report emphasises that digital transformation in all sectors is imperative and not a choice. The implementation of 5G in China enabled real-time monitoring of the spread of Covid-19, hot-zone demarcations, analysis of data to predict the movement of people and containment of the virus where possible. Companies like Zoom and Microsoft saw a massive increase in the uptake of video call applications enabling remote work, remote engagements and remote learning. Platforms like Udemy and Degreed also realised increased volumes with increased interest in online learning. In South Africa, companies like OneCart, Zulzi and Sixty60 took the market by storm riding on perfect timing, relevant platforms and the use of contactless technology. Lego reimagined its longevity through digitisation.

A McKinsey Covid-19 Briefing note titled, Making the most of the great reset, emphasises the need to assemble an approach at a personal and business level that recaptures what we had before Covid-19 whilst reflecting on lessons learnt during Covid-19. The term “New Normal” has evolved to “Next normal” as the different waves and variants challenge us to be prepared for inevitable change, practically. An interesting thought ruminates in my mind especially amidst high unemployment rates, an unequal society, need for new skills and uncertainty; what would happen if 40% of the youth in Africa invest in learning code, programming, robotics, data science, next-generation networking and connectivity (just to name a few). What impact will these new-age skills have on our society, Africa’s economy, our public sector digitisation acceleration, improved infrastructure and global competitiveness? What impact would this have in access to wealth, transforming education, increase new local technologies e.g. M-Pesa and perhaps a localised block chain platform to mitigate corruption and fraud?

Africa is a melting pot of opportunity, we can reimagine continental relevance.

Technology enables us to reflect and reimagine the endless possibilities when we rebalance the scale by pursuing relevance instead of aid. During our Economics lectures, we spent time pontificating about the root causes of a regressing economy when considering education, lack of key skills, unionised labour, changing operating models in manufacturing and mining and high reliance on imports. These discussions tendered to end with exploring opportunities that the largest population of youth in the globe could open. Africa is a melting pot of opportunity, we can reimagine continental relevance.

The NTT Predictions 2021 Report for CIOs, CEOs and Board of Directors states that resetting business strategies is primarily based on the duration of the disruption and behavioural change. Initially, the various scenarios that mapped pandemic disruptions estimated a six-month impact on the economy, business activity and productivity. At the time, there were no scenarios considering the existence of a second nor the third wave of infections with complex virus variations. The possibility of producing a vaccine was laughable, but technology and new information enabled this production within 12 months – a great historic achievement. Industry verticals are disrupted as new behaviours develop.

Education

My MBA thesis was focused on understanding what influences student preference to enrol in courses that incorporate e-learning. This topic was inspired by the “Fees must fall” campaign which alerted society that the high cost of higher education excludes the poor thus perpetuating social ills and poverty. I wanted to understand if e-learning could reduce the cost of higher education thereby increasing student access to higher education. My study focused on postgraduate studies like the MBA although some can argue that the costs of an MBA are synonymous with its prestige. As the education sector resets and reimagines, online learning and Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) are the next normal. These would not replace on-campus studies but augment the learning experience whilst in certain cases can be enhanced with the introduction of gaming and virtual reality.

Airlines

The industry is capital intensive due to significant physical assets as well as associated operating and maintenance costs. The tech industry introduced infrastructure opex and consumptive models to curb the burden of physical assets and anticipated diminished spent. Operating models like Uber and Airbnb largely operate through an opex model which leases someone else physical asset for customer benefit thereby pocket the market engagement facilitation fees. The airline industry can reimagine its relevance, predicting customer travel through data analytics and retain market share through new commercial models. The ability of airlines to consolidate, significantly reduce operating cost, renegotiate charges from airspace and airport regulators could enable them to pivot.

Government

The connected customer or digital citizen requires seamless public service delivery. South Africa, like many countries, is rolling out inoculation across various provinces. Global leading examples are Turku Finlan and Services Australia who used composable technologies to deliver citizen value through pandemic response measures. Turku used algorithms to optimise vehicle routing for food delivery by creating cohorts through the availability of data. Services Australia used digital assistants to orchestrate fast response thus significantly increasing citizen value. Successful governments are those that use clear, transparent data to navigate and optimise scarce resources.

Gartner CEO Survey 2020 quotes Alibaba Group CEO saying, despite uncertainties the world is moving toward digital-first and digital-everything. Even as a chartered accountant, I recognise the power and relevance of technology. My MBA journey enabled me to pivot leaving the audit profession in pursuit of a career in the technology industry. Like many organisations, Dimension Data is reflecting, reimaging and reviewing strategy to become relevant to our clients, employees, communities, shareholders and investors. After 40 years we are still optimistic as we strive for the next 100 years spearheaded by technology.

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