As the seemingly endless waves of the covid19 virus surge crash against the shores of many businesses, one is left with the option of either panicking and throwing in the towel or learning to surf the waves with agility and true mastery.
One thing is certain, this pandemic has reinforced the need for businesses to think outside the box and transform operations with alarming alacrity to ensure delivery of products and services to customers. Digitalisation and automation are proven methods necessary for survival. But is mere survival enough especially in this competitive landscape? To answer this question, let us use this analogy of a football team.
If a football team employs a defensive strategy for the entire football game, can it win? The answer is a resounding "no". Whilst a defensive strategy can reduce the likelihood of the opponent gaining and scoring, it cannot be the only strategy if the goal is to win.
A for-profit business aims to win; therefore, employing the right mix of offensive and defensive strategies will help in gaining and maintaining a competitive edge. Strategies involving digitalisation and automation prompts businesses to invest and leverage technology to gain an edge over its rivals, through improved efficiencies, customer satisfaction and innovation.
Let us explore the concept of digitalisation. What does it involve? Digitalisation involves "leveraging the use of technology to transform, innovate or improve processes, operations and even business models in order to achieve a desired result."
To illustrate this concept let us consider the hypothetical local supermarket Top-Mart. Top-Mart chooses to conduct a review of its value chain and upgrades its website to allow customers to select, purchase and pay for items online with the option for in-store pick-up or delivery. Top-Mart also enhances its website by offering estimates for delivery and tracking. Additionally, Top-Mart reviews its supply chain and sets up its suppliers and distributors along key contact points, and implement integrated systems, to ensure instant simultaneous updates at every critical point. As an add-on Top-Mart expands to offer a drive-in option where items are standardised and packaged to allow persons to drive up, order, pay and pick up the items.
With digitalisation and automation, the possibilities are endless! The potential for transforming and expanding markets becomes a strong reality and businesses that digitalise and automate will stay ahead of the pack.
Additionally, digitalisation can and has revolutionised the way in which businesses define markets, business space and communication with clients, shareholders and potential investors. Leveraging technology allows businesses to access markets even where there are barriers to entry. This can be achieved through e-commerce facilities which also boosts accessibility and visibility. Technology also expands the business customer base, by providing a global network accessible through various media platforms.
Similarly access to employees and the workspace can be redefined through digitalisation. A business can be fully operational without having a physical business space from which to operate. The possibilities for networking through meetings are also endless, as distance, time and space are no longer significant barriers.
Regrettably, many Jamaican and other regional businesses fail to realise the global landscape in which we operate. The competition is not only local, it is global! However, our region is threading far behind our closest neighbours. Our athletes have successfully demonstrated to the world that “wi likkle but wi tallawah” and “don’t discount me because of where I am from”, yet many local and regional businesses fail to show how they can set the trend and become global powerhouses. This stance can however be improved by taking a critical review of the business modus operandi with a keen eye toward innovation. This will enable businesses to leverage technology to digitalise operations and become trendsetters.
Jamaica’s national anthem rings true, “give us vision lest we perish” yet increasingly businesses are characterised by a lack of vision and inaction. However, this is often disguised under the premise of a lack of capital. Capitalising on futuristic insights and choosing to think outside the box allows for revolution and will also guarantee a competitive advantage.
We all know the story that one of the largest tech companies today began in a basement, and how one of the largest digital online stores and distributors began as a small online book seller. The failure therefore is in the lack of ability to correctly read the market, inability to identify current and future trends and a general refusal to go on the offense especially with the aid of technology.
Unfortunately, some businesses in Jamaica and the region can only play defence and not a very good defence either. Therefore, the waves of covid19 will only inundate an already sinking ship, due to a failure to perceive and embrace change.
Businesses in Jamaica and the region need to embrace change, leverage technology and engage in digitalisation to become leaders in the local, regional and international markets. It is comforting to see some of the changes in the use of technology since the onset of the pandemic. However, there is still so much to be harnessed through digitalisation and automation.
Diana Morris is an ACCA member and the manager, compliance and risk at Guardian Life Limited