For the past 20 years, readers and viewers of business and technology publications have repeatedly been told how business is increasingly looking to technology to drive the modern business transformation agenda, and not simply implement it. The good news is that for the first time, the technology actually has the tools to deliver on this promise.
Emerging technologies like in-memory databases, mobile devices, cloud computing and social media are all creating new possibilities so far removed from our current reality that they’re being dubbed “disruptive technologies”.
Welcome to the real-time world, where working from gut feel and general trends just doesn’t cut the mustard any more. Business intelligence is becoming less about looking backward and more about predicting and optimising the future. Businesses need more precise, real-time objective data for decisions.
What we’re seeing right now in Africa is that the hype of big data is now actually being translated into tangible business benefits. There’s a greater of level of appreciation for insights and data and a realisation that the volume, size and complexity of today’s data just can’t be handled by traditional means. In addition, easier technology tools are now available to give people access to predictive technology without having to overinvest in time-consuming training.
The phenomenal successes of internet companies such as Google, Facebook and LinkedIn have helped make this approach more real for many in their private lives. A lot of their success is simply based on effectively leveraging their data: spotting patterns, making predictions and adapting their business to take advantage in real-time. Effectively they’ve set the trend for mainstream businesses and the next way of adopters are seeing the benefits.
While the prospect of becoming a real-time enterprise can seem daunting to some organisations, those companies that have embraced such real-time transformation are outperforming their peers in many areas.
The current reality is that many African organisations are still struggling to deliver real-time information to their business users. According to a 2013 survey by the Hackett Group, while more than half of companies (57 percent) could provide their cash positions in real-time, far fewer had other types of information at the ready. Only 43 percent could provide customer information in real time, just 28 percent could deliver supplier data in the moment, and less than a quarter (24 percent) could provide an instant snapshot of financial performance.
Those companies that embrace such real-time transformation outperform their peers in many areas. A 2013 global survey of 400 large companies by Bain & Company found that firms using advanced analytics were twice as likely to be in the top quartile of financial performance within their industries; three times as likely to execute decisions as intended; twice as likely to use data very frequently when making decisions and five times as likely to make decisions much faster than market peers.
That Hackett Group study found that 70 percent of leading firms—those with mature, tightly-integrated operations—had access to financial, customer and supplier information in near real time, or within one day. Likewise, Accenture found that nearly half of top performing companies deliver key information to business users in real-time.
And those organisations that have embarked on the kind of large-scale integration of people, processes, data and technology required for real-time transformation realise key operational benefits, according to Accenture: 46 percent capitalise on their customer insights, 63 percent are able to analyse costs and benefits in real-time, and 38 percent deliver critical information across devices. The results speak for themselves.
The important thing about this innovation journey is that it’s not just about real-time technology alone; it’s about real-time transformation. That requires more than new systems and it demands a cultural shift. And that usually doesn’t happen with a big bang. Real-time transformation is incremental—targeted prototypes and projects, metrics setting and gathering, work and rework—and it rapidly delivers increasing value over time.
It’s clear that organisations with the most advanced real-time capabilities will win in the data-driven future. And the time to begin the real-time transformation is now.
By Pfungwa Serima CEO of SAP Africa