Two thirds of SA businesses say the pandemic pushed digital transformation backwards

Since March last year, many businesses have chosen to let employees work remotely and while this might lead to the assumption that digital transformation is on a steady track forward, that doesn’t appear to be the case locally.

This is according to research published by World Wide Worx under the title “The Digital Corporation in South Africa 2021”. The research is based on telephonic interviews with 400 high-level decision makers at South African enterprises. The decision makers represent corporations with employee numbers of 51 – 200, as well as corporations with more than 200 employees. The manufacturing sector accounted for one third of the sample.

The research was made possible with support from Syspro, Dell Technologies, Intel and Cycan.

From this research, World Wide Worx found that as many as a two-thirds of respondents noted that digital transformation had gone backwards.

“While many of these had slowed only a little, one in five, or 20%, said the fall had been significant. This, in turn, hampered their efforts to create an efficient remote workforce, with almost the same proportion – 24% – saying they had only a few staff members working remotely throughout the year,” World Wide Worx explains.

What is even more interesting to note is that when looking at the proportion of companies which had increased digital transformation efforts – 15 percent – there was a similar number of firms who had staff working remotely – 18 percent.

While it comes as no surprise that companies which were digitally transformed could embrace a digital workplace, it’s nice to see that evidence of that.

Something we found rather noteworthy from the research is how large and small firms compare when it comes to digital transformation.

When asked to describe the level of digital transformation in a company, 26 percent of respondents in small firm (up to 200 employees) said they were fully digitally transformed compared to only 18 percent in larger companies.

“Companies with 51 to 200 staff were significantly more likely to be fully digitally transformed and that probably has a lot to do with the fact that with a smaller workforce they were more nimble and ready to transform,” managing director at World Wide Worx, Arthur Goldstuck explained.

With that having been said, digital transformation hesitancy is still present at all levels of industry whether the firm is large or small.

Online all the time

Moving further into the research we find how companies are spending when it comes to ICT-related expenses and there is something surprising here. While ICT expenditure hasn’t changed much in terms of how much is spent, what it’s being spent on has.

As many as 97 percent of respondents said that connectivity was a key area of ICT expenditure and that makes sense seeing as employees need to be online in order to work. Following close behind in terms of expenditure is computers (89 percent) and cybersecurity (89 percent) showcasing how important good hardware, security and connectivity is to business continuity when operating remotely.

This does lead to an interesting question, however, if a company is paying for you to be online, how long should you be online for?

According to 12 percent of respondents – 24/7.

While that is on the extreme side of things, 44 percent of respondents expect employees to be at their desk for the full duration of the work day.

Yes, that is what a company pays employees to do, but remote work brings with it complexities that one doesn’t have in an office. Just as an example, while writing this story I had to check the gate after somebody hooted, I received a call en-route and only returned to my desk 30 minutes after I left it. While there are employers that seem to understand this, they are in the minority.

Employee wellness is incredibly important, especially as regards remote workers and more companies should recognise that if they don’t take care of their employees, the business will feel those effects.

It’s clear that local businesses still have a way to go when it comes to digital transformation and the ongoing pandemic hasn’t helped at all.

If you want to read more about “The Digital Corporation in South Africa 2021” research, head here.

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