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BusinessDay: Digital transformation is more than just ‘going digital’

A resilient and scalable enterprise will add common sense and experience.

By Johan Steyn, 1 November 2023

In an era of artificial intelligence (AI) platforms that are rapidly advancing in their capabilities, it’s not enough for businesses to merely adopt digital tools. True digital transformation demands a holistic shift in strategy, culture and operations, powered by the advanced capabilities of AI and other digital technologies.

The term “digital transformation” is frequently thrown about. Yet there remains considerable ambiguity over its actual meaning. It’s imperative for businesses to recognise that merely going digital does not equate to transformation.

At its core, digital transformation refers to the strategic integration of digital technologies into all areas of a business, leading to fundamental changes in how businesses operate and how they deliver value to their customers. It’s not just about replacing analogue processes with digital ones, but about using technology to enable innovative business models, improve customer experience, and drive more efficient operations.

Just because a business adopts digital tools doesn’t mean it is primed to compete effectively in the modern era. Over the past few decades, the evolution of customer expectations has been swift and dramatic, largely influenced by technological advancements and the proliferations of the digital age. There was a time when businesses could thrive by merely offering a quality product or service, but today’s consumers demand much more.

The rise of e-commerce, social media and mobile technology means that customers are now accustomed to instant gratification, 24/7 accessibility and personalised experiences. They expect seamless multichannel interactions, where they can start a transaction on one platform and complete it on another. The surge in available information has made consumers more informed and discerning, less loyal to brands and more loyal to their experiences and values.

The globalisation of markets has given consumers an unprecedented array of choices. As a result, businesses can no longer rely solely on product differentiation; they must also consider the entire customer journey. The modern customer seeks not just a product, but a relationship with brands — a relationship built on trust, shared values and consistent, positive experiences.

Technological advancements, especially in the fields of data analytics, automation and AI, have changed how businesses approach operational efficiency. These technologies enable business leaders to extract actionable insights from vast amounts of data, automate routine tasks and enhance decision-making processes. Operational efficiency isn’t just about cost-saving — it’s also about agility, adaptability and positioning the business for sustainable growth in a fluctuating environment.

“Resilience” refers to an enterprise’s ability to anticipate, respond to, recover from, and adapt to both sudden disruptions and long-term changes. This could be in the face of economic downturns, technological disruptions, or unexpected global events. Such resilience is cultivated through a combination of proactive risk management, flexible business models, a strong organisational culture, and the capacity for rapid decision-making.

“Scalability” often leans heavily on technological solutions: cloud infrastructure, for example, allows businesses to scale their IT resources up or down based on demand. Yet, at its core, scalability is as much about strategy and foresight as it is about capability. For a business to truly scale, it must have the foundational processes, systems, and strategies in place that can support and sustain growth.

There is much more to change than to “just go digital”. A resilient and scalable enterprise will add common sense and experience before technological initiatives.


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