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Covid-19 puts technology in the driving seat

By Martin Pienaar, COO of Mindworx Consulting

The focus by many businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic has largely been on crisis management but forward-thinking companies are differentiating themselves by using technology to rise above lockdown restrictions. They’re exploring the experiences, products and customer engagement opportunities made possible by digitsiation that until now, they’ve largely ignored. These are the organisations choosing to shape their new normal, rather than have it imposed on them.

The tools for virtual collaboration have been around for years but this crisis has accelerated remote working by a decade or more. A renewed emphasis on the digital environment has created a demand for technologically orientated work skills as so many businesses are under pressure to reduce costs, improve customer experiences, and offer their services remotely. It’s not as simple as just rolling out somethig new, it requires business owners and managers to assess the ability of existing teams and reskill staff to perform digital roles as a way of preventing unemployment.

Among the skills in demand are project management in fast cycle development, robotics process analysis to automate repetitive and high volume tasks, business and process analysis to document requirements and streamline processes, and software development for companies launching and improving mobile apps and websites. There is also growth in customer experience and user interface skills.

Digitising business processes creates two other distinctive needs: demand for cyber security skills, and data analysts, machine learning and AI experts to make sense of, and benefit from, the massive new datasets created by increased volumes of information.

Experience is required to manage a crisis and scarce skills are in demand. Given the stringent labour laws in South Africa, so many companies are too risk averse to employ permanent resources when the economic outlook is as uncertain as it is, but still need the resources to move their businesses forward. Contract and part time employees are stepping into this void to add capacity and expertise.

Using gig workers is an efficient way for companies to scale up and down very quickly in the digital economy. Fortunately many talented workers prefer the flexibility of short engagements and would rather work outside the traditional organisation structures. But for those companies that are still employing permanent staff – and there are many of them – we’ve been running the entire hiring process remotely, including for very senior hires.

Companies that are brave enough to trust this virtual recruitment practice are benefitting from having their pick of candidates, leaving those with digital aversion, missing out. In the former category are a surprising number of government organisations that would not normally be associated with leadership in the digital sphere; in the latter are some large corporates that seem to have put innovation on hold for the moment. It’s evident that they are missing the opportunity to come out of the pandemic ahead of their competitors.

If you’re uncertain of how to get started, think of Amazon. They started off as a small company selling books online and then added music and now there’s nothing they don’t sell online. Their share value has increased by USD 400 million over the past few months. Ask yourself which aspects of your business are ripe for digitising, understand your differentiators, then drive those online. The onus is on all of us to keep our skills and our companies up to date. Even a hairdresser – who has no fear of being replaced by a robot – does better business with an active digital presence.

From our interactions with clients, suppliers and partners, we see that those who have shown adaptability to use technology to their advantage will emerge from this pandemic stronger and more resilient.

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