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'Perception of Africa being behind in digital transformation untrue'

'Perception of Africa being behind in digital transformation untrue'

Contrary to what may be believed, thanks to the much-publicised difficulty some countries in Africa have experienced with digital migration in broadcasting, for example, the continent is actually moving at a reasonable pace in terms of digital transformation.

In a discussion over Africa's readiness to embrace a digital future and adapt the workplace, as a key area of society, Giorgio Heiman, vice president of Africa at Orange Business Services, says that while it is true that there are challenges on the continent in terms of infrastructure, it must also be noted that mobile connectivity is experiencing unprecedented growth.

"I think it is important to first of all state that the perception of Africa being behind in terms of the digital transformation because it is an emerging market is not true. Our African customers have the exact same needs as customers in Europe, Asia and the US, and use the same technologies that are used by large multinationals globally,

"The maturity of IT governance in Africa is at a satisfactory level and we are seeing the same trends in terms of the digital transformation from Africa that we are seeing from the rest of the world," he adds.

Heiman is the ICT telecommunication multinational's head of global solutions and services, emerging markets and indirect channels.

He says that the continent is currently regarded as one of the world's largest regions for business growth opportunities, which is raising investor interest in several areas- including markets heavily reliant upon infrastructure such as banking, e-health, e-government and education.

Digital transformation is happening, in both the consumer and the business arena, across different regions on the continent, Heiman says. This activity is underpinned by network connectivity, unified communications, customer contact centres, machine-to-machine, cloud infrastructure and security.

In a discussion of Africa's progress towards full digital incorporation, Heiman acknowledged that there are challenges.

He lists these as the reliable provision of power, availability of broadband and fibre services (both in and outside of city centres), and limited inter-African bandwidth between African countries (as a result of limited trade between these countries).

"For companies looking to enter Africa, there are several different cultures, languages and regulations. For African companies, (the challenges) are power, infrastructure, distance between populations, the availability and retention of skills," Heiman continues.

Busy transforming

Businesses in Africa will have to be ready to capitalise on the opportunities that experts believe characterise a digitally transformed society.

In the context of digital transformation, the ideas of 'business readiness' and 'customer obsession' have relevance says Heiman.

"This relates to two parts of the digital transformation – the digital outside and the digital inside. The digital outside looks at customer interaction at all levels and the digital inside looks at the processes and tools at a business level,

It is important that the IT community assists businesses to become prepared for the digital transformation and aware of how business models are changing. Business Readiness is not only about the technology, but also about people. It is ensuring that a business' workforce is educated on the digital transformation and what this means for the business and how it operates going forward," he says.

Part of this readiness includes the ability to leverage the cloud and bring on board analytics. Heiman says that many companies across Africa are beginning to understand that technological evolution or digital transformation is happening quickly and they have to be on par with the rest of the business world.

"This is even more relevant in a market such as Africa where there is a shortage of IT skills. The adoption of cloud technology means instant deployment, cost savings and a way around the current challenges such as an unreliable power infrastructure," he adds.

Technology aside, the other key consideration within the evolution of the business environment is the human dynamic.

There are several HR issues that decision makers must take cognisance of, including the need to educate and upskill employees regarding digital transformation, the role of social media in the workplace, how to interact digitally, as well as the best approach to ongoing issues like BYOD.

"In general the digital transformation involves changing the way people are involved in the business, warranting a lot of education and enabling of the changing ways in which the company will make decisions and organise around project, for example," Heiman says.

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