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Confronting digital disruption

How African businesses can capitalise on transformational functions in a brave new world

COMMENT | Vincent Maher | Africa faces a reckoning when it comes to its relationship with digital technology. Challenges related to infrastructure rollout and the high cost of data mean it’s difficult for enterprises and institutions to adopt new solutions that can transform their activities and functions, as well as uplift the continent. According to a World Bank report, African countries must increase the uptake of digital technologies to drive employment growth.

But for many businesses, transformation can also mean disruption. Are all companies built to withstand or accommodate these changing times? By understanding what transformation implies and adopting the right mindset, businesses can embrace digital disruption in a meaningful way.

Don’t be afraid of change

Businesses should be excited about the prospect of digital disruption. For traditional brick-and-mortar organisations, it represents a shift in consumer needs and lays the foundations for a tech-driven, digital economy. Organisations disregard this at their peril. We have witnessed the consequences of businesses ignoring, intentionally or otherwise, current trends, failing to meet the shifting needs of their customers, and subsequently being made redundant or undercut by competitors.

Digital disruption is not a one-time phenomenon. Companies need to be constantly on the lookout for the challenges and opportunities it brings. Decades ago, satellite TV transformed Africa, changing the media and broadcast landscape and bringing audiences across the continent together. Today, over-the-top (OTT) and on-demand streaming services are fast becoming the most popular way for audiences to engage with and consume content. Case in point, subscription video-on-demand (SVoD) subscriptions in Africa are forecasted to reach 13.72 million by 2027.

Africa’s financial services sector is another excellent example of digital disruption transforming an industry. Fintech on the continent is flourishing, with customers using mobile digital banking platforms to make online payments and transactions. The industry’s success is the result of acknowledging customer circumstances and using new technology to meet their needs – a critical component of Africa’s overall digital transformation journey.

Go where your customers are

As Africa becomes more connected, more of its citizens are participating in the global digital economy. That means they are growing accustomed to a global experience, and African enterprises must offer that same experience. Digital disruption reveals new opportunities to cater to that experience and streamline business functions.

Let’s say you transition your business away from traditional practices such as call centres, and replace them with digital services like mobile apps and digital communication portals. This transition helps you unlock new benefits while responding to new customer trends. A customer doesn’t need to make a phone call during working hours and spend time walking through processes with a company representative. Instead, they can do everything themselves 24/7, from checking their balances and making payments to reconnecting services and upgrading to new ones.

And this doesn’t have to be limited to a single platform. Whether you’re using an instant messaging app like WhatsApp or Telegram, USSD, or web applications, businesses should adopt a multi-platform approach and use those that are popular among their customers.

Be open to innovation

Industrial revolutions can’t happen if we sit on our hands and do nothing. Across Africa, start-ups and established enterprises are experimenting with how emerging technologies can be leveraged to meet newfound and longstanding business needs.

We see this in the different technologies that are starting to grab hold. For example, artificial intelligence (AI) has a more active role in business operations, manifesting in different ways (often on the backend, away from consumer visibility). AI and automated processes allow people to focus on more important work. By not having to worry about mechanical, repetitive tasks, you can free up personnel and resources for other projects and initiatives. AI is a tool that saves you time and money by letting you think strategically rather than primarily about what’s happening at an execution level. AI also offers valuable insight into your data, such as modelling customer behaviour and purchase trends.

We are also beginning to see blockchain technology make its way into local business activity. Companies are integrating digital collectables into marketing campaigns; one of several use applications that I’m sure we will see more of. As the demand for blockchain developers rises in Africa, the technology will usher in the next generation of digital disruption.

Ultimately, that’s what it’s all about. We cannot ignore these new developments and continue with business as usual. By leaning into digital disruption and rethinking customer engagement and digital development strategies, we can and should be using new technologies to their full potential to transform Africa’s business landscape.

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Vincent Maher, Group Executive: Head of Digital at MultiChoice Group

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