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Opinion Piece: Data – the key piece in the Digital Transformation puzzle

The world is in the grips of digital transformation, as organisations of all shapes and sizes adopt or explore digital technologies and strategies in an effort to remain relevant and competitive in increasingly crowded market places. According to IDG’s 2018 State of Digital Business Transformation, while only 44% of surveyed organisations have fully adopted a digital-first strategy, almost 90% have plans to do so, indicating the stakes are high.

This bodes well for the end user, with customer centricity forming the heart of most digital initiatives, and with the introduction of new technologies transforming the way we do business, traditional business models are being torn up and reinvented too.

Understanding what Digital Transformation really is

Before we explore the impact of Digital Transformation, it’s important to consider what the terms truly means.

Digital Transformation is viewed differently by different people, so arriving at a formal definition is tricky. However, for the most part, Digital Transformation can be defined as leveraging technology to improve or create a process, product or experience in order to drive business value.

There are three primary philosophies that power Digital Transformation strategies:

  • The customer experience model: Digital Transformation in order to improve, enhance or create an innovative customer experience
  • The business model: leveraging digital technology to answer a business problem, and drive improved business value
  • The operations model: applying Digital Transformation to solve operational concerns within the business, improving processes and overall time to market

The role of IT

IT is still considered by many organisations as a cost centre, merely supporting business operations. However, for businesses to realise successful Digital Transformation initiatives, IT needs to become a more integrated and omnipresent part of the overall business – an actor for progress and a change merchant, rather than simply a siloed department.

With its expertise is rolling out projects and its understanding of technology, the IT department is in the best position to help businesses identify what technology will solve which problems, and how to use it most effectively. The business, though, will have a clearer understanding of the problems that need to be solved, or what the goal of a digital transformation initiative needs to be.

As such, for a Digital Transformation project to succeed, it requires the complete collaboration between the IT department and the actual business leaders. Businesses that rely solely on IT to deliver a business-wide digital strategy, or leave IT out of the loop entirely, rarely succeed.

In order to become change agents of Digital Transformation, and to realise the business goals for a digital initiative, IT teams need to understand the data that they have and will require, to effect this digital shift, in the process, effectively becoming data experts themselves. At a senior business level, leaders also need to understand the pivotal importance of data in executing a digital strategy too. Only then can an effective roadmap truly be implemented.

Why is data so critical?

Digital Transformation initiatives begin with an understanding of where the business is and where it eventually needs to be. Data can give businesses this valuable information, as well as a starting point by which to measure the success, or value achieved, from a digital initiative.

Data can give businesses a single point of truth, with the right classification, indexing and categorising. Properly managed and governed, data allows businesses to draw the insight they need into customers, regulatory requirements and even their own business and the competitive landscapes they operate in – the value and importance of data in the Digital Transformation cycle is clear.

Data’s value does not decrease once a digital strategy has been executed; quite the contrary, it becomes even more critical. Once a business is delivering on its desired digital strategy, maintaining it is essential.

Placing data under central management where it can be indexed, classified, easily restored, and safely accessed and used, forms a large part of the continued success for any digital initiative and it’s important to view data as the red thread that runs through all digital-first strategies.

To think of Digital Transformation as a final destination is essentially incorrect. Digital Transformation in its purest form should be viewed as a continually evolving process, with updates being continually added and rerun, much like iOS on an iPhone. Digital Transformation does not stand still, and it is only organisations with full control, understanding and access to their data that will be able to keep up with the pace required to compete in a truly digitalised marketplace.

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