Many companies are hovering around the “six out of 10” mark in terms of their digital transformation, despite being several years into the journey.
Participants in a recent C-Suite roundtable discussion on IT modernisation hosted by Tech Central and sponsored by Okta and Obscure all described a long, slow journey that is still far from over.
Swapping old technology for new, moving to the cloud and achieving a “mobile first” environment was all about ease of use, data sharing, collaboration, productivity, enjoyment of work, and working remotely on any device, said Max Faun, Okta’s head of Europe, Middle East & Africa consulting.
“Getting this done is entirely possible and comes down to a few guiding principles and potential pitfalls to avoid.”
Other benefits were increased automation and security, he said, but it came with some common pains. A series of technology actions needed to take place, including making sure all your apps were unified and simple to access while also delivering efficiency, automation and security.
Tourvest is roughly at a 6.5 mark on its digital journey, and began long before the Covid pandemic, said Imraan Kharwa, its information security officer. While the lockdown had accelerated the transformation for many organisations, for Tourvest it cemented the need to continue overhauling its infrastructure. One immediate change had been introducing two-factor authentication for security purposes, Kharwa said.
The people as well as the technology also needed careful handling, he added. “We’ve had to drive a cultural shift for the adoption of new technology. I have employees who are millennials, baby boomers and generation Z, and getting adoption at different levels requires different levels of awareness and input. It’s been taken differently by different stakeholders — the board has embraced it, but some employees have had real difficulty adopting it, even though it’s a pretty frictionless and seamless system.”
Faun pointed out that users within a business don’t think about security or the backend systems. They just want IT to do its job, let them work on the move, and be instantaneous. If the tools provided weren’t frictionless and easy, they would bypass the IT department by using shadow IT, he warned.
Before any modernisation could happen, it was crucial to build a business case for it first, Faun added. “This is often the biggest pitfall. We know we need something for a technology reason, and we take it to the board only to be told we have no budget for it. Although we need it, we haven’t made a business case for why this would save costs or increase the return on investment.”
Companies should tackle their digital overhaul through a phased migration, running a hybrid environment until it was complete, he advised. “It’s a gradual shift, you can’t simply turn off legacy systems as you have entire businesses running around them. It’s not a bad idea to modernise one portion at a time, work out what you’ve got along the way, and over time migrate and decommission the rest.”
Donovan Francesco, head of DevSecOps at DotModus, highlighted that there is often a trade-off between security and features, and in moving to the cloud it was important to hold the essential fabric together, too.
Investec’s data privacy officer, Janine West, said her best advice was to work very closely with your technical partners, especially around information security. When Investec assessed new vendors or partners, it ensured they would be very much part of its journey and scrutinised what the risks could be up front, she said.
BCX was probably at six out of 10 in the digital journey, particularly around security and identity and access management, said Basil Mukhebi, its senior cybersecurity manager.
BCX had set up a centre of excellence to handle identity governance, and all departments needing identity creation, identity management and other services now go through the centre.
It defines the required policies and standards, and selects the technologies best able to support a digital transformation from an identity point of view. “This gives us a common language and common toolsets that departments can use to set up identities for a project, and the Centre of Excellence will drive the implementation of the solution from an identity and access management point of view,” Mukhebi said. “The key is to ensure that all departments are involved, so we conduct ongoing education and awareness.”
Nedbank had adopted a holistic approach to its digital transformation, said Paul Morley, its executive for group data services. The bank was modernising its entire transactional core, all its backend applications, platforms and apps, and had introduced unified onboarding with a single client site sign-on.
A big part of the process involved having a fresh mindset, too. “Trying to embrace the challenges that the new disruptive world brings with the same thought processes that we’ve had for the last 40 years is doomed to failure,” Morley said.
A problem for Rean Opperman, the CIO of Afriplex, is that the pharmaceutical industry is highly dependent on legacy systems. “While there’s a degree of modernisation, you can never completely replace all the legacy. In terms of where we are on the journey, we set out a few years ago understanding this is not going to happen overnight, and we needed an agile approach.”
Afriplex started with a simple project to move all its mail servers. “To make it work you need buy-in from the users, so a degree of training is needed even before the system is implemented,” Opperman said. “You need to pitch the system, make sure everyone is on board, and then start the process.”
Netcare is also coming from a legacy environment, with legacy systems and paper-based processes running alongside some new applications. The Netcare group has five different companies that run semi-autonomously, all at different stages of transformation, said Gavin Kandier, its digital transformation officer. The overall journey began two years ago and should end by 2021. “That’s the plan, although I’m sure there will be other digitalisation efforts after that as well,” he said.
Sandra La Bella, senior executive for IT at The Unlimited, rated her company’s digital progress as a high eight out of 10. “We are literally turning this organisation upside down. Our strategy is to be brand-led, data-led and systems-led, which we are really taking to heart. We are replacing the whole of our CRM, and all our apps are being redone,” she said. “It’s a massive transformation being done in full agile. The journey has been incredible.” One point worth emphasising was that IT lay at the heart of these journeys, and it was crucial to have a very strong business product owner driving the journey, she added.
For MTN, the future doesn’t only involve a digital overhaul, but also a rethink of its offerings, said Ernest Ngassam, its GM for information security architecture and technical excellence. This communications company is carving out a new market by tapping into financial technologies and offering its customers more content like videos. “We have a market dynamic that is moving, and we have to tap into new trends by trying to embrace new offerings and providing the services that consumers want, so we are confronted with the notion of transformation and modernisation,” he said.
That meant the journey involved more than just modernising its technologies and infrastructure around traditional telephony, like voice, SMS and data. “It also means looking at it from the perspective of defining innovation, moving from one state to another, and offering services that are of high value to the customer, or maybe improving the ecological platform. So modernisation can mean two different things, depending on the context,” Ngassam said.
As a far smaller business, the law firm Fluxmans faces different challenges. A legal environment had to be very conservative about its data, said its IT manager Belinda Milwidsky, which had made the debate about whether to move to the cloud exceptionally difficult, because people didn’t trust it. “The data security aspect is a huge concern to us,” she said.
Cost is another factor for smaller entities. Before she could introduce any changes, she had to write a business case and be very specific about the cost and likely outcomes, and even then the expense could prove prohibitive.
The Gautrain started a digital transformation three years ago and had achieved a lot, said Henry Denner, its head of IT security. “The biggest challenge we’ve had is that the business doesn’t want to adapt because they had this culture of not trusting in IT,” he said. “Covid effectively forced the business to adopt these technologies, so we’ve had a lot more adoption over the last few months and done a lot of enhanced development for applications to make things better for our users and our customers.”
A core change had been switching from an IT-centric approach to a customer-centric approach, he said. Too often a company asked what a technology could do, when it should really be asking what its customers wanted. “The customer should lead, and the technology should enable the customer to pick what they want.”
The enforced IT acceleration had been useful in giving employees confidence in IT, and they had become powerful advocates for change.
Once people from other business units saw the improvements made elsewhere, they realised they could achieve the same and the momentum grew, Denner explained.
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