Navigating the Digital Age

Digital – along with its many variants and associations – has become a pervasive buzzword of our times.  More than just some contemporary hype, it is fast becoming the de-facto medium for social interactions and commercial endeavour.  Indeed, many organizations cite digital as the mainstay of their strategic ambitions and the facilitator of the value-creating assets that will sustain their businesses well into the future.  And why not?  The opportunities and benefits that digital technologies promise to bring are set to dwarf and wildly disrupt traditional offerings.  But how do we get the most from our digital setups?

Variations of Digital

Though most organizations have resolved to ply the digital path, for obvious reasons, the nature and extent to which they have invested in and committed to this journey varies significantly.  While some are merely digitizing and others are digitalizing, a bold few are executing all-encompassing digital transformations.  It is worth noting that these descriptions are not just different words to describe the same practice but actually represent different faces and varying degrees of the “digital movement”. 

The first – that is digitization – is the creation of technology-based versions or replicas of existing processes and artefacts.  It is thus another word for basic automation.  The second – digitalization – involves a more substantial (re)construction of key assets using digital technologies such as analytics and artificial intelligence.  Digital transformation, on the other hand, is a more extensive strategic activity that seeks to challenge and reimagine an organization’s value co-creation and capture capabilities to the extent that it may materially alter the entire business model (or large aspects of it). 

The Make-up of Digital

Digital is not equal to technology.  It is far more involving than that.  It is the facilitation of human activities and experiences – from socialization to commerce – using new-age technologies and devices.  Simply put, it uses modern technologies to enable things to be done simpler, faster, more conveniently, and in a more customized way.  In that sense, digital is more than the sum of its parts.

Building digital assets to solution needs or drive service delivery requires bringing together many important elements.  These make up the various components, which fit and work together to enable interfacing, processing, and servicing.  They include core services and platforms, channels or user interfaces, analytics and AI, and digital marketing, which are enabled by technology and encapsulated in a conducive culture.  Additionally, as our reliance on technology increases and its associated threats become a menace, the need for robust controls is also brought to the fore.

Optimizing Digital Components

Ebo Richardson: Optimising digital services

Regardless of whether an organization is merely digitizing or wholly transforming, both the digital capabilities used by its personnel and those used to service customers must perform optimally if goals are to be achieved.  Optimal performance essentially means the organization must undertake some concerted work to fine-tune all components across the spectrum.  Since the digital construct comprises distinct components, each must be improved in a manner that is commensurate with the nature and size of the organization and its customer base.  The objective is to make each as good as possible.

So, how should this optimization manifest?  Those responsible for the separate components should ensure best-in-class configuration and execution, as per the typical standards described below:

  • A robust, resilient, and scalable technology infrastructure, to provide the necessary processing power, storage and network connectivity.  This will ensure that platforms and applications have the needed resources (dynamically allocated) and function in a highly available environment.
  • An effective data management approach that ensures appropriate access to, use of, and protection for customer and transactional data.  This will be the “fuel” for all services.  Solid analytics would also birth optimized product development, tailored experiences, and targeted sales and marketing.
  • Effective operational and security controls that safeguard assets and processes, as well as assure efficient day-to-day operations.  The objective here would be to achieve >70% controls automation.
  • A set of well-architected and highly available core platforms and services.  This is where the servicing or solutioning of customer needs or requests happens.  For a Bank this will most likely be the Core Banking, while a Telecoms Operator may point to the IN (Intelligent Network).
  • Friendly, intuitive, and consistent channels that make it easy for customers to engage and transact.  This will be a primary touchpoint and will therefore be perceived as the key value delivery hub.  Obviously, top-notch design considerations must be applied here, including user interface (i.e. look and feel), fulfilment processes, and usability.
  • A strategically-aligned digital marketing machinery that churns out well-crafted, targeted, and well-timed messages (and stories) using all available media.

A culture that is agile and future-oriented will be the glue that makes these components work well together.  It will also create Ambassadors who will evangelize the offering to colleagues and customers.

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The writer is the Chief Enablement & Information Officer with Absa Bank Ghana.