What a difference 10 years makes. In 2007, Apple released its first smartphone, services like Uber, WhatsApp and Instagram did not yet exist, and high-speed mobile broadband and fibre were a distant dream for most users in Africa. Now, there are 2 billion smartphones in global circulation and people depend on them for everything from messaging to shopping to banking to hailing a taxi. Kenya alone has at least 39 million internet users, an internet penetration of 89.7%.
But this is just the beginning of a digital technology revolution that will transform how we live and work in the next five years. With artificial intelligence, FinTech (especially blockchain) and the Internet of Things coming of age, we can expect digital disruption to accelerate. As was the case with the mobile revolution, CIOs must be ready to lead their organisation through massive changes in customer behaviour, technology usage, workplace practices and business models.
Innovation – the key to survival
The only way established organisations can survive and thrive is to embrace a culture of innovation. As futurist Graeme Codrington put it in a recent Sage podcast: “One of the most important things you can do to be responsive to change is to experiment – leaders need to create a mindset and a culture that allows for constant experimentation.”
CIOs are now expected to guide their organisations to new ways of working and even new business models. After all, an IDC Survey reveals that more than 40% of line-of-business executives view the CIO as the Chief Innovation Officer. As the people with their fingers on technology’s pulse, they should embrace their role of championing innovation and agility in the business.
It’s not as easy as it seems. CIOs need to start creating an open, collaborative culture where digital natives can grow and thrive. Constant change also means using today’s open business management solutions and the power of the cloud to quickly and cost-effectively build out new apps and services. And of course, the entire team will be need to be upskilled to keep up. Everyday learning should be part of the culture – waiting for annual training seminars simply won’t cut it anymore.
The cloud smashes barriers to technology adoption
We’re lucky to live in a time where huge technical infrastructures and a massive IT team are no longer necessary to access world-class technology. Deployment is also fast, provided companies are running an open platform that allows them to easily plug in other services and apps via an API.
Cloud-based solutions help enterprises to grow and run a lean, agile business without the high upfront costs, protracted implementation cycles, or complex business process re-engineering.
The concept of using cloud software services is becoming a reality in Africa. According to IDC, by next year, at least half of IT spending will be cloud-based, reaching 60% of all IT infrastructure, and 60–70% of all software, services, and technology spending by 2020.
Do you want to digitise your factory floor processes and machines to increase automation? Well, today, Internet of Things sensors are cheap and open, and it’s easy to provision a software solution from the cloud using nothing more than a credit card.
Testing new technologies are easier, faster and less risky than ever before. In fact, the risk today is not experimenting and not trying new things. Companies that are not keeping up with the pace of change could find themselves left behind by a changing world—just think about what happened to Kodak after digital cameras, and DVD stores after Netflix.