While only 37% of South African companies had a digital transformation strategy at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, 94.5% of local companies now recognise the value of digital transformation as a critical aspect of business, says networking specialist Cisco South Africa country manager Garsen Naidu.
Defined as the use of digital technology to streamline business processes, companies, especially those in the retail, healthcare and automotive industries, regard digital transformation as of great importance, according to the study 'Remote Working in South Africa 2020' conducted among 400 enterprises by research firm World Wide Worx on behalf of Cisco South Africa.
As companies readied their workforce to be able to work from home, those who were further along their digital transformation journey were significantly better prepared for the Covid-19 crisis and the shift to working from home.
However, while remote working has worked well, South Africa still has a long way to go in terms of its overall digital readiness in so far as the level of technological availability and adoption are concerned, says Naidu.
"In pre-pandemic circumstances, most businesses were likely to continue lagging with regard to their digital transformation agenda, as 41.5% of them either did not have an existing strategy in place or had one which was still only in preparation stages.
"The Covid-19 crisis required that businesses fast-track an area of their digital transformation; specifically their remote working strategy. Before the start of lockdown, in March in South Africa, only 23.5% of companies actually had a detailed strategy for remote working," he notes.
Nearly half (49%) of companies noted a heavy shift in their data security strategy to accommodate remote working, the largest shift being in the engineering and construction, information technology and automotive sectors, at 64%, 62% and 62% respectively.
Before the pandemic, remote working was largely an exclusive work option available to select employees. According to insights from the Cisco report a new perspective on the modern workplace shows an average of 4.7 times more people are working from home compared to before the pandemic, says Naidu.
"The level of digital transformation and digital readiness will be huge determining factors for remote working setups for South African employees beyond the Covid-19 crisis. More than 38% of businesses have indicated they would allow their employees to work from home after the pandemic is over.
"This willingness and readiness to incorporate a more permanent remote working setup into the work culture may be closely linked to the fact that nearly the same number of businesses (37%) currently have a fully rolled out digital transformation strategy and are therefore in a position to allow further remote working."
Remote working has proven to be a success overall. It would not be possible without the various tools of work powered by cloud computing. These tools range between video conferencing, workspace, task management, instant messaging and other forms of communications, collaboration and productivity tools, highlights Naidu.
"Almost three-quarters (72%) of businesses have credited cloud software as being very helpful with respect to productivity during lockdown. Employees have been able to easily remain productive and in synergy while working remotely."
Similarly, nine out of ten businesses use more than one video conferencing solution. The same goes for other tools used for remote working in a single category, which are being used simultaneously. Forty-three per cent of businesses use at least two different workspace tools, while 51% of businesses use three document-management tools and 3% use more than five task-management tools.
"The adoption of multiple tools of the same kind within the same organisation shows that people recognise that no two platforms are the same and varying features and factors lead to different preferences. This can present complexities however, as the flow of work and engagement can tend to be unsystematic. An ideal remote working setup must create the best possible unified and seamless working experience for all employees," states Naidu.
The pandemic reinforced the importance of digital agility for when the unexpected happens. Agility is the ability to adapt and respond rapidly to events and changing conditions. So, whatever happens, the show can go on, thanks to digital enablement, he says.
“Having a good digitisation strategy, prepared in advance of a crisis, has never proven more essential than during this era. Covid-19 has also shed light specifically on the complexities of remote working. Now companies realise the importance of having their workforce able to work efficiently from anywhere,” he concludes.