Study finds connectivity was top priority for the information worker during the pandemic

Almost two-thirds of South African enterprises expect staff to make a full return to the workplace.

South African enterprises took a step backward in digital transformation over the first year of the pandemic, as disruptions, lockdowns and staff unable to maintain operations remotely slowed down roll-out of new systems at head offices.

This was despite expectations that remote working would accelerate digital transformation, due to the demands it placed on companies to be able to operate digitally, according to the findings of the Digital Corporation in South Africa 2021 research study, conducted by World Wide Worx with the support of Syspro, Dell Technologies, Intel and Cycan.

The research provides insight into the role played by the fourth industrial revolution in the South African corporation. While cloud computing is second only to business intelligence in terms of budgeting for specific technologies, the technologies usually associated with 4IR occupy the foot of the priority table.

“Emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data, and robotics are yet to become top budgeting priorities. However, what is a positive trend is that we are seeing IT spend being allocated to almost every aspect of the business and operations, laying a solid foundation for future transformation,” says Deirdre Fryer, head of solutions engineering for Syspro in Europe, Middle East and Africa.

“Spending is surprisingly uniform across numerous operational categories, from computers and cybersecurity to accounting and ecommerce,” adds Arthur Goldstuck, CEO of World Wide Worx and principal analyst on the project. “However, in terms of budgeting priorities for specific technologies, one category stands out above the rest, namely connectivity. That tells you almost everything you need to know about the information worker during the pandemic.”

Two-thirds of respondents said they had gone backwards in digital transformation, an indication that the pandemic slowed efforts to digitalise organisations. While many of these had slowed only a little, 20 percent said the fall had been significant, which hampered efforts to create an efficient remote workforce, with 24 percent saying they had only a few staff members working remotely throughout the year.

The proportion of companies that increased their levels of digital transformation over the first year of the pandemic, 15 percent, is close to the proportion of those who had all staff working remotely – 18 percent – over this period.

Almost two-thirds of South African enterprises expect all staff to make a full return to the workplace, with fewer than one in five expecting to accommodate half or less. This means that while the world of work will be utterly changed, there is no unanimity about work-from-home being the new norm.

This is good news for the commercial property industry as well as infrastructure providers, who will be tasked with equipping organisations for a more flexible future.

The further surprising statistic was the proportion of companies that expect staff to be on call whenever needed: one-third of respondents. A relatively small 12 percent of respondents expected 24/7 availability, but another 22 percent want staff available on an ad hoc basis at any time the company requires them outside office hours.

Despite the slowed pace of digital transformation, only eight percent of respondents decreased their spending on IT, and almost half increased this spending. This can largely be seen as a response to remote working, and equipping staff to work from home, rather than for transforming processes.

“Remote working needs a digital sauce,” says Bryan Hattingh, CEO of leadership trainers Cycan. “It is not only that the digital medium is essential for working flexibly, but also that it allows greater innovation in leadership. That needs, among other things, investment in innovative processes.”