May 19, 2020

Businesses must go digital or face extinction

Deon Van Heerden
5 min
Businesses must go digital or face extinction

Ex-Apple CEO, John Sculley, recently warned finance companies that they should plan for radical change or prepare for obsolescence.  He went on to say that financial incumbents were “…in a race for their lives - and that the race was a sprint.” If you think these sounds like fighting words, you would be right, and the revolution is threatening more than just the finance sector.

The move towards digital has been on the agenda of the big consulting firms for years now. But many business leaders still seem to think of digitalisation simply in terms of moving business processes into the cloud and converting material from analogue to digital.

Perhaps starting with semantics is important if we want to better understand both the challenge and the opportunity.

Digitising something would be transforming traditionally analogue material into a binary representation to produce the same outcome. Wikipedia concisely defines it: “Strictly speaking, digitising simply means the conversion of analog source material into a numerical format.”

Digitalisation, meanwhile, is all about the benefits of shifting to a digital mindset. Gartner describes it as: “the use of digital technologies to change a business model and provide new revenue and value-producing opportunities; it is the process of moving to a digital business.

True digitalisation means understanding how your customers are engaging in a digital world and then shifting your own processes to meet them on the platforms they are using and through the mediums on which they are engaging.

The mobile phone serves as one of the best examples of the evolution of how people engage in a digital world.  

Earlier this year, a Bank of America survey showed that almost 40 percent of millennials (aged 18 to 34) engaged more with their smartphones than they did with their significant others, parents, friends, co-workers and even children.

Just two months before these survey results were released, the US census showed that millennials are now the largest living population group in the country, surpassing baby boomers (aged 51 to 69). To ignore the needs of your biggest market would be business suicide.

In South Africa, our younger generation (aged 15 to 34, according Statistics South Africa) make up 36 percent of our population. And, while the high cost of data may limit the amount of time spent on their phones, the propensity to use messaging platforms as their communication method of choice is just as high.

Failure to communicate

Consumers have become spoiled; we are used to being able to immediately access information on the fly and in real-time. We are not used to waiting to have our problems solved.

We have become accustomed to our digital lives where we can book our travel, pay our accounts, and communicate with our family in distant lands immediately, and via our phones.

More importantly, we absolutely hate the endless loop of soul-destroying frustration when dealing with call centres and clumsy IVR systems.

And yet, when it comes to many big businesses, we are forced into engagements that reduce us to a number in a queue, as we are funnelled through an impersonal system with amnesia hardcoded into its core.

In far too many enterprise call centres, customers are expected to verify details and authenticate themselves on multiple occasions as they are passed from agent to agent, waiting for someone to solve their problem or answer their query.

It’s as if businesses are trying to digitise their consumers!

Customer intelligence consulting firm, Walker, believes that by 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator.

Meanwhile research company McKinsey has said that customers who are used to operating in a digital world are demanding “…a radical overhaul of business processes. Intuitive interfaces, around-the-clock availability, real-time fulfilment, personalised treatment, global consistency, and zero errors —this is the world to which customers have become increasingly accustomed”.

Companies hoping to remain relevant in a digital world while still using traditional channels will have to resource their customer service divisions to handle the deluge of digital queries. This is neither practical nor possible. The sheer volume of queries, requests and comments will require a front-office which meets the customer of the platform of their choosing. The days of forcing customers to use specific platforms is simply bad business practice.

Bridging the gap

Companies which are looking to tap into the opportunities of digitalisation should start by understanding their customers better.  A thorough analysis of their customer, including how they interact, where they can be found, and how they want to be engaged with should be conducted – a digital gap analysis is required.  
In keeping with the true meaning of the word ‘digitalisation’, companies should be seizing the opportunity to change their processes. They should look carefully at their workflows and, if necessary overhaul them. More often than not it is the operational processes and the flow of data which, if not shifted to suit the consumer, will lead to poor customer experience.

Digitalisation offers companies the opportunity to truly delight their customers and it doesn’t require the daunting experience of ripping and replacing systems, or sinking capex into expensive proprietary builds. Far too often companies will decide, or be advised, that to engage with a digital consumer requires a custom-built app. True customer service is about building a user experience. This will not only allow your company to better engage with your end-user, but also nurture relationships with them which will translate into brand loyalty. What’s more, by creating a digital front office, you can drive efficiencies into your business which will significantly boost your sustainability and your bottom line.  

John Sculley was not being unduly dramatic when he issued his warning. The fight for survival in a digital world will be won by companies who understand what their customers want and who are smart enough give it to them via the device they are most connected to – their phones.  Those who don’t will simply become collateral damage in the digital revolution.

Deon Van Heerden is the CEO of Clickatell, a global leader in mobile solutions for business and consumer engagement. Van Heerden is an experienced executive with a broad range of expertise across strategy, finance, operations and worldwide sales. He is also a successful entrepreneur, founding two companies in the technology sector.


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May 28, 2021

Automation of repetitive tasks leads to higher value work

Kate Birch
4 min
As a new report reveals most office workers are crushed by repetitive tasks, we talk the value of automation with UiPath’s MD of Northern Europe, Gavin Mee

Two-thirds of global office workers feel they are constantly doing the same tasks over and over again. That’s according to a new study (2021 Office Worker Survey) from automation software company UiPath.

Whether emailing, inputting data, or scheduling calls and meetings, the majority of those surveyed said they waste on average four and a half hours a week on time-consuming tasks that they think could be automated.

Not only is the undertaking of such repetitious and mundane tasks a waste of time for employees, and therefore for businesses, but it can also have a negative impact on employees’ motivation and productivity. And the research backs this up with more than half (58%) of those surveyed saying that undertaking such repetitive tasks doesn’t allow them to be as creative as they’d like to be.

When repetitive, unrewarding tasks are handled by people, it takes time and this can cause delays and reduce both employee and customer satisfaction,” Gavin Mee, Managing Director of UiPath Northern Europe tells Business Chief. “Repetitive tasks can also be tedious, which often leads to stress and an increased likelihood to leave a job.”

And these tasks exist at all levels within an organisation, right up to executive level, where there are “small daily tasks that can be automated, such as scheduling, logging onto systems and creating reports”, adds Mee.

Automation can free employees to focus on higher value work

By automating some or all of these repetitive tasks, employees at whatever level of the organisation are freed up to focus on meaningful work that is creative, collaborative and strategic, something that will not only help them feel more engaged, but also benefit the organisation.

“Automation can free people to do more engaging, rewarding and higher value work,” says Mee, highlighting that 68% of global workers believe automation will make them more productive and 60% of executives agree that automation will enable people to focus on more strategic work. “Importantly, 57% of executives also say that automation increases employee engagement, all important factors to achieving business objectives.”

These aren’t the only benefits, however. One of the problems with employees doing some of these repetitive tasks manually is that “people are fallible and make mistakes”, says Mee, whereas automation boosts accuracy and reduces manual errors by 57%, according to Forrester Research. Compliance is also improved, according to 92% of global organisations.

Repetitive tasks that can be automated

Any repetitive process can be automated, Mee explains, from paying invoices to dealing with enquiries, or authorising documents and managing insurance claims. “The process will vary from business to business, but office workers have identified and created software robots to assist with thousands of common tasks they want automated.”

These include inputting data or creating data sets, a time-consuming task that 59% of those surveyed globally said was the task they would most like to automate, with scheduling of calls and meetings (57%) and sending template or reminder emails (60%) also top of the automation list. Far fewer believed, however, that tasks such as liaising with their team or customers could be automated, illustrating the higher value of such tasks.

“By employing software robots to undertake such tasks, they can be handled much more quickly,” adds Mee pointing to OTP Bank Romania, which during the pandemic used an automation to process requests to postpone bank loan instalments. “This reduced the processing time of a single request from 10 minutes to 20 seconds, allowing the bank to cope with a 125% increase in the number of calls received by call centre agents.”

Mee says: “Automation accelerates digital transformation, according to 63% of global executives. It also drives major cost savings and improves business metrics, and because software robots can ramp-up quickly to meet spikes in demand, it improves resilience.

Five business areas that can be automated

Mee outlines five business areas where automation can really make a difference.

  1. Contact centres Whether a customer seeks help online, in-store or with an agent, the entire customer service journey can be automated – from initial interaction to reaching a satisfying outcome
  2. Finance and accounting Automation enables firms to manage tasks such as invoice processing, ensuring accuracy and preventing mistakes
  3. Human resources Automations can be used across the HR team to manage things like payroll, assessing job candidates, and on-boarding
  4. IT IT teams are often swamped in daily activity like on-boarding or off-boarding employees. Deploying virtual machines, provisioning, configuring, and maintaining infrastructure. These tasks are ideal for automation
  5. Legal There are many important administrative tasks undertaken by legal teams that can be automated. Often, legal professionals are creating their own robots to help them manage this work. In legal and compliance processes, that means attorneys and paralegals can respond more quickly to increasing demands from clients and internal stakeholders. Robots don’t store data, and the data they use is encrypted in transit and at rest, which improves risk profiling and compliance.

“To embark on an automation journey, organisations need to create a Centre of Excellence in which technical expertise is fostered,” explains Mee. “This group of experts can begin automating processes quickly to show return on investment and gain buy-in. This effort leads to greater interest from within the organisation, which often kick-starts a strategic focus on embedding automation.”


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