What every T&T business should know about technology

Above: Business analysis. Photo by avemario/Depositphotos.

This interview with Mark Lyndersay was conducted by Newsday’s Kalifa Clyne and published as “Digital 101” in the September 2018 issue of Contact Magazine, a publication of the TT Chamber of Commerce. It is reproduced with the permission of the publishers, MEP.

We are in the era of information and businesses are being told to embrace and incorporate digital tools, but does digitalisation benefit every business model?

I can’t think of many business processes that aren’t going to be touched eventually by digital tools or processes. If a business isn’t thinking about how digital technologies impact their existing business model, they may rest assured that someone else is busy doing that thinking and will apply its benefits and advantages ruthlessly.

What are examples of the benefits which can be realized? Does digitization of a business equate to increased sales or mind share?

The singular, critical benefit that any business will reap is a lubrication of their relationship with the customer. Every digital transformation process should begin with a sober consideration of what the customer expects from the business now and what they are most likely to expect in the immediate future.

Engaging in these costly, often extremely disruptive processes without a clear end goal is pointless at the very best and quite likely to be fatal to a business if they don’t, by happy chance, reap a reward. Plan, then plan again.

Every business should start by considering what should make the migration from analog to digital, the business of digitising. That’s best done with existing procedures and then worked backward through the history of the business.

I have a good friend who worked for years at an energy company using his art skills to turn rolls of crumbling chart information into live graphs that dynamically delivered the true value of the earned knowledge of the company.

Digitalisation is the process of turning digital information into a business advantage. That’s when a company can begin to get a living pulse of how it really works and where the pain and profit points are. It’s business intelligence, delivered live from the point of collection.

Digital transformation has had an evolving meaning over the last two decades, but in 2018, it’s the analysis of the data gathered by business processes to evolve the business, sometimes on a daily basis, to more efficiently meet customer needs. In the digital age, a business should be a learning institution, capable of adaptation and evolution as a response to what its customers tell it, or in some cases, don’t tell it through their absence.

Is there a digital starter pack or a basic set of tools that every business needs in order to begin a digital rollout?  How do businesses choose the right equipment, hardware, and software for my particular business?

Businesses shouldn’t choose software and tools. They should respond to business intelligence and adapt processes to suit markets that are now hallmarked by mercurial change.

To do that, a business has to set aside the notion that the IT department is some kind of vestigial service division and put it front and centre in the analysis and decisionmaking process.

Photo by julief514/Depositphotos.

Because of the way most IT departments are currently configured, that may not be a particularly easy thing to do right away, but it should start with the appointment of a Chief Information Officer at the executive level. That job has equivalency with a Chief Financial Officer in any business that intends to be a player in a digital future.

Local universities producing MBAs need to get onboard with the idea of producing leaders who are not just business literate, but fluent in the architecture of a digitally enabled business.

It’s not necessary that business leaders should know how to code, but they need to understand how digital development in their business sector is evolving and why.

It’s a bit like owning a sophisticated, fast European sports car. You aren’t likely to know how to repair one, but you should know enough about how it works and what makes it unique and special to be able to carry on a conversation with your mechanic. Which also means that you should know enough about it to know when it isn’t working properly.

  • Who are the experts to guide the digital transformation or are businesses expected to figure this out on their own?

  • What skills and talents do businesses need to have in order to ensure their digital rollout is successful?

Is digitalisation going to mean a big financial investment from businesses?

Being a digital business means investing in ways that may be unfamiliar. A digital business buys specialised, focused talent and deploys it differently. In a traditional business, you bought plant and employed labour.

A digital business might employ fewer people but contract more talent to meet surges in business cycles. It can be a very different way of managing resources, depending on the business model.

Bits are not the same as atoms. They need to be managed differently and deployed according to their strengths.

Can the digitization process happen without causing upheavals or being disruptive to a business?

Digital equals disruption. A business operating in a sector where digital is rapidly evolving is either planning to disrupt its rivals in the marketplace or preparing itself to weather a disruption.

In that environment, the leadership is not managing the business as it exists today, they should be preparing for the way it will be ready to compete in the marketplace that is coming.

Globally, businesses have been moving their marketing and advertising spend to the digital space. How do businesses figure out which platforms benefit them the most?

Should businesses in the region have reached a certain level of digitalisation by now? What needs to be done to reach that level?

The Caribbean, with only a few isolated exceptions, is far behind the changes that are being experienced in the metropoles. What’s helped is the muffling effect of distance and, perhaps, the warm buffer of the Caribbean sea.

But change is here and its adoption is not only accelerating, it’s likely to be a demanded as a condition of doing business in a global marketplace.

Sarbanes-Oxley was only the start. Have local businesses operating on the web effectively planned a response to GPRD?

What’s unfortunate is that every business operating in Trinidad and Tobago had the example of what’s been happening in the first world for years in advance and far too many took a measured, leisurely attitude toward these upheavals.

The big changes over the next five years will be in information distribution, which has hammered media houses over the last two years, and financial technologies, which are just starting to kick in the doors of banks and other financial institutions.

Can you identify some of the traps businesses fall for when considering digitalisation and how to avoid them?

Biggest trap? Thinking that you’re done. Digital transformation is continuous. In traditional business, you laid down the plant, you hired the employees and it basically ran itself.

Now the stream of business intelligence is continuous. You can, concievably, know everything about your customers and their interactions with your company.

  • What do you do with that information?

  • What changes are warranted and what adjustments in business processes will strengthen your advantage?

When you can know everything, it’s tempting to just lie down and do nothing. Your competition will not be doing that.

What considerations should businesses give to cybersecurity when implementing digitalization?

Cybersecurity should occupy the same prominence in business planning that security does in the physical plant.

  • Who has access to your most sensitive business areas?

  • How are you protecting the business from attacks both internally and externally?

  • Who has access to the business information?

That this is even a consideration, given the very public demonstrations of the price that businesses pay for carelessness with bits is a continuing surprise.

Kalifa Clyne is Digital Coordinator for the daily newspaper Newsday. Mark Lyndersay is the editor of TechNewsTT and author of the long-running column on personal technology, BitDepth.