Digital transformation: the term mostly abused
I had the privilege of working with a good number of high-tech wizards in a recent event where I found most of the chief technology officers (CTOs) are upset that the IT budget has been slashed due to the looming economic uncertainties and the ensuing challenges in the banking sector.
The vendors I met were more upset because they are not only having to bear the brunt of the budget cut but there is also the challenge in opening letters of credit. As for the senior management or the board, it is the easiest decision to manage a crisis!
While the pandemic has forced us to drive a digital transformation, albeit on a limited scale by the global standard, it has certainly brought on a large-scale transformation by the local standard. All kinds of corporates accepted work from home, online approval, virtual meetings etc. to deal with the challenges.
Had there not been such a crisis, our board and senior management would still be debating on the need for these changes. Ironically, the credit for the digital transformation in the last three years goes to none other than the coronavirus.
Post-pandemic, all countries are facing unprecedented economic uncertainty triggered by factors such as the Ukraine war, the China lockdown, and the high-interest rates to tackle higher inflation, to name a few.
In the case of Bangladesh, we have the additional challenges of depleting foreign currency reserves and a weak banking system. The board and the senior management may take a lesson from the pandemic on how driving a digital transformation can boost productivity and transform the economic culture. During a crisis, the team prefers to be led.
Digital transformation is something that does not just happen overnight. Its benefits are tangible over years of painstaking efforts.
Because of our national tendency to over-emphasise the pain of today over the gain of the future, we ended up de-prioritising digital transformation, which ensures long-term sustainability. As a result, we lagged as a nation. This behavioural trap is evident in most of the corporates in Bangladesh.
Another reason for not valuing the need and benefits of digital transformation is ignorance.
Digital transformation results in changes across an organisation that impacts the top-line, the bottom line, people and culture. And yet many leaders are still hesitant to invest in such transformations due to the lack of clarity on the returns on investment.
While advising companies in various industries, I have observed several challenges: 1. Most of the top management believe in the need for it, but hesitate to act on it; 2. Some embarked on it because of the pressure from the board; 3. Lack of leadership and team alignment within the organisation; 4. Fear and inability to manage the unknown; 5. Basic level of digitalisation like the paperless office is missing; and 6. CTO/CIO is keen to develop everything with its own team while the ready product is available on the market.
In my earlier job at Robi, the team was clear to drive digitalisation in the payment and collection systems well before the pandemic. When the whole country, including the telecom industry, was hit by the pandemic, Robi was least-impacted because of its pre-pandemic digitalisation initiatives. The digital recharge went up by 44 per cent.
As we move ahead making Covid-19 a thing of the past, let's keep the digitalisation process an integral part of our lives instead of a "one-off" feature. Let's not wait for another crisis to jumpstart our next level of digital transformation. It will not give any competitive advantage as others will be forced to follow equally.
If an organisation drives transformation as a continuous process, it will gradually develop a competitive edge, making it hard for the competitor to match.
The author is a telecom and management expert.