Digital Workplace: The view from South Africa

The state of digital workplace adoption in organizations covers a wide range of stages, and South African organizations are no different. Some companies are working on a digital strategy, while others are in the early stages of implementation. But very few companies have a proper digital workplace strategy in place or have enabled a truly digital workplace.

A digital workspace goes beyond the traditional brick and mortar view of a business to create physical and virtual spaces for employees to work in which helps them be more productive. A truly digital workplace enables a more effective way of working, raises employee productivity and engagement, and allows businesses a new way of accessing and dealing with customers.

Before we dive deeper into how businesses as a whole, and South African firms specifically, are responding to the digital workplace, let’s start with a definition.

The Digital Workplace, Explained

A digital workspace ensures staff has access to all necessary tools to get their job done in the most efficient and effective way with regard to internal-facing (finance to HR) applications and external applications (social media tools to CRM). It allows easy access to information and has the scale to grow and quickly add more technologies or processes as required.

On the back end, a digital workplace is also secure and protects all business IP, building an intelligent history of information that ensures a business retains all its data even after a staff member moves on.

A digital workspace brings together the worlds of security and employee productivity and ensures it happens anywhere, anytime. It creates and enables the modern worker as depicted below:

Resistance To The Digital Workplace

Although the benefits of the digital workplace are palpable, it can be hard for organizations to achieve. While many grasp the meaning and impact of the digital workplace, there is still a shortfall on having the actual plans or knowledge required to implement a successful digital transformation strategy that fosters a “virtual office.”

At times, it can be easier for small-to-medium enterprises to adopt digital strategies. Large enterprises tend to be slower to transform as it takes much longer to see the resultant benefits and ROI.

And although the benefits are clear to most, not all organizations feel the need to create a digital workplace or transform. Dimension Data released a series of Digital Status reports, including one on digital workplace adoption in South Africa. The report found 26 percent of responding organizations said they do not find value in digitally transformative technologies.

Reasons for companies not fully embracing or adopting the digital workplace include:

  1. Massive investments in current infrastructure: Many businesses have already invested large sums of money into current on-premise environments.
  2. Lack of understanding or inadequate planning: Without a proper understanding of what a digital workplace can do, the need to move to one can be underestimated.  Also, a poor plan or lack of stakeholder participation can slow down the process.
  3. Protection of jobs or fear of job losses: The high level of talk about which jobs will not exist in five years causes fear of the unknown among people. This can have an impact on adoption rates.
  4. Maturity of the job force: A digital workplace requires a level of maturity in the workforce, comprising skill level and willingness to change.
  5. Continuous enablement: To truly transform and create a digital workplace, organizations need to have a continuous strategy. Transformation is ongoing, which might seem daunting, but is a sure way to ensure competitiveness and longevity.

    Others Embrace The Change

    Other South African firms are clearly embracing the idea of the digital workplace. The survey highlighted that mobility is still critical for workplace initiatives and has remained a core focus for SA businesses. Other major focus areas were video communication and the consumerization of IT.  The report noted the critical role cloud computing is playing, with most organizations turning to cloud deployments over on-premises environments as part of their digital workplace strategies. While this approach allows for better cost models, the report did notice security improvements are needed.

    The most interesting part of the research was the focus on machine learning and artificial intelligence. These two trends are top of mind for South African organizations — from data processing to reflect trends and insights, to information access.

    These organizations clearly realize the important role that next-generation technologies play in their future competitiveness and it will be interesting to see how these innovations are applied to further eliminate geographical boundaries and connect workplaces and people around the world.

    Digital Transformation Benchmarks

    Digital transformation improves business processes and therefore, enables increased profitability. To ensure continuous improvement, it’s necessary to continuously measure digital transformation efforts and adjust as needed. Many tools can be used to measure the adoption of digitally transformative technologies and resultant productivity. As organizations improve and implement their strategies, benchmarks can be set to measure progress against items such as:

    1. Do we have an improved sales-closure rate due to increased productivity?
    2. Has revenue increases when compared to the prior year?
    3. Have more deals closed due to crossing selling, information sharing, and trend identification?
    4. What is the cost savings realized?
    5. Has employee retention improved?
    6. Has talent attraction improved?
    7. Has time to market improved?

      Dynamics Forcing Change

      The world is changing with new tech-savvy young adults entering the workplace, urging businesses to change and adopt a new way of working to stay with the times. Changes in the economy are also forcing businesses to rethink how they recruit new people and staff retention remains a major concern. People, in South Africa specifically, want more freedom and flexibility due to traffic, the ever-increasing price of transport, and the need for a better work-life balance. While implementing a digital workplace comes with challenges, the question is no longer if you need one, but when.

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