By Ashley Boag
‘Disruption’ is a word one hears in the business context all the time these days. Being told that your business is in danger from unseen and unpredictable forces is not comforting.
The truth is that potential of something coming along and hurting or disrupting your business has always been a reality. If you were a small retailer, the equivalent of a grocery Uber is not as worrying as a serious competitor opening its doors down the road from you. The local market might shift to new demographics, customers may relocate en masse for reasons beyond your control and a commodity crisis or natural disaster could quickly raise the cost of your staple products, thinning your margins to losses. I don’t need to tell business owners about disruption; they recognise it all too well.
Yet there is reason to focus on disruption: we are currently experiencing a technology revolution that is rewriting all the rules and doing so fast. In the past 15 years Kenya’s internet penetration has grown from less than one percent to over 70 percent. Uganda has passed the 50 percent mark for mobile user numbers and ICT is already nearly 10 percent of its GDP. Tanzania is fast growing its digital citizenry since introducing 3G, LTE and Voice-over-IP technologies.
These are great numbers, but they also signify the challenge modern companies face: we are all reliant on technology, from the humble phone and email interaction to customer-facing websites and customer relationship management systems. No enterprise leaves home without its enterprise resource planning tools (ERP) in tow – in fact, home is where the ERP is- and even that trusty system saves many executives from many sleepless nights. Having said this we now need more than ERP to clear a strategic path to growth and success in this highly complex world, we now need agility, deep insight (from structured & unstructured sources) and then to become innovative to find new paths.
Trends like this are growing. If you haven’t paid attention yet to the piles of documentation and mountains of data your business is collecting, you should. It’s not just about staying ahead and keeping up with audits. It’s about the future.
Data is a common example. Businesses don’t like uncertainty, which is why the unknown unknowns are so bothersome. But every aspect of your enterprise – equipment, staff, customers, markets, competitors, trends, suppliers, stock, etc. – generates data and often hides terrific insights. The question that every forward-looking executive should be asking him/herself is: do I have a plan to transform my business and effectively harness that data? This should be top of mind. Most companies are okay at understanding historical structured data to glean insights as to where they may have gone wrong but very few harness real-time insights and are using these to hone daily activities and eek out more immediate advantages. It need not be said that even fewer are yet immersed in predictive analytics with a deep understanding of both their structured data and customer behaviours but also all the unstructured data that now with the relevant technology you can blend to create more comprehensive insights and far more accurate predictions and simulations.
Other questions that one should be asking oneself include: How are mobile devices changing the habits of my customers and supply chain partners? How might technology help a competitor undercut me? How can automation create efficiencies and free up resources? And, is my business the lean and mean machine it ought to be? Surely if we have such high mobile penetration and social media usage customers will expect the same ease of experience and type of interaction from you as your customer.
The reality is these and many more challenges make one realise that we need to be ready to benefit from rather than be a slave to the trends that are inevitable. More importantly as this is an ever changing world we need to ask how whatever we do will fit into the longer term perspective and ensure its relevance in the longer term in terms of future-proofing your business yet providing sufficient flexibility to quickly adapt to new trends.
SAP HANA is the in-memory technology platform that can position your business for a successful, sustainable future and with over 40 years of industry experience, SAP caters to the nuances of 26 sectors. Not only does this provide a platform for the future but it ensures you can understand your business in real-time today and help build the basis of predictions for the future. The limitations now become only how creative you can be in embracing technology and combining information in new ways to optimise and adapt your business.
This is a great time to be in business as the world of transformative technology is truly your oyster. The real work is up to business owners: they need to ask themselves whether they are having the right kinds of discussions around the boardroom table? A vision and a concrete plan to enable that technology-powered future is no longer a nice-to-have, but a must.
Harnessing the power of Cloud or operating On-Premise, no matter the size of your business, SAP uniquely helps create that roadmap in partnership with you.
(Ashley Boag is the Acting MD, SAP East Africa).