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Any digital transformation plans that are half-baked will need to be ditched. UAE businesses have been sufficiently warned by the pandemic. Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

The path towards a digital economy is inevitable given the increasing penetration of tech into every facet of our lives - and our willingness to embrace it for increased convenience and efficiency. However, the immense disruption caused by COVID-19 has accelerated our digital journey.

As we navigate this uncertain new landscape, one thing is certain – only businesses that embrace digital transformation will survive.

An effective digital strategy helps to improve customer experience, save on operating costs, and eventually even drive future revenue through advanced data capture and analytics techniques. As a rule, the two main drivers of a successful transformation are an organisational-level digital strategy and effective change management.

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Go group-wide

At many large companies, the efforts towards going digital have been hobbled by the lack of a tactical mindset, with initiatives driven by individual departments within the organisation, rather than under the umbrella of the organisation as a whole. As a result, inefficiencies emerge.

A digital strategy at the organisational level gives direction to everyone, with well-defined objectives and KPIs established to measure effectiveness. This ensures coordinated efforts and progress, and the motivation towards transformation doesn’t taper off after a few costly experiments. It is also important to have flexible short-term goals, which can adapt to the rapid advancements in tech and the digital space.

Business of change

Effective change management is key to implementing the strategy. Digital initiatives almost always disrupt traditional processes, and as a result change often faces resistance. Hence, it is vital there is buy-in and commitment from the management.

In 2019 the Al Naboodah Group invested in an e-auction platform for the procurement departments. This brings many benefits, including a more transparent bidding process enabling businesses to make significant savings. And there’s the ability to conduct the process entirely online under social distancing measures.

There may be resistance both internally and externally to a new process. However, through a carefully planned change management process involving awareness sessions, you can communicate the benefits of making any process digital, such as improved quality and reduced time and/or costs.

Taking on the right sort

Digital initiatives are classified under two areas: customer-facing and internal company processes.

It is important to draft a customer journey map for all the customer-facing processes, from enquiry to payment and post-purchase engagement. Similarly, digital initiatives must be mapped for internal company processes to be effectively aligned to the entire purchase cycle.

It matters to consumers

Going beyond traditional customer service to delivering a superior experience will ensure greater loyalty and effective word-of-mouth marketing. It is important for a company to establish a strong digital footprint to effectively engage the customer across the various touchpoints.

For instance, automotive dealers are exploring a digital showroom concept, through which customers can visualise a vehicle of their choice using virtual and augmented reality, interact with sales personnel online, request a test drive, or book a vehicle with online payment options. This not only makes the digital customer experience similar to a showroom visit, but can also help dealerships save significant real estate and inventory costs.

These savings can in turn be invested in a smaller outlet that has greater visibility or footfall, such as in a shopping mall, for example.

Internal makeovers

This requires taking an end-to-end view of your business and operating models with a customer-centric approach to ensure that the purchase process is disrupted as little as possible.

Enhanced connectivity, automation of manual tasks and improved decision-making must be the primary goals for any organisation when exploring available tools. It could range from a simple ERP system to automate processes and ensure capture of crucial business data, to making a whole business entirely digital.

In the next stage of transformation, organisations would leverage on data captured to optimise expenditure and adapt to new business models by converting customer data into new revenue streams. For example, they could identify and upsell new products and services, or tie up with value chain partners like insurance companies to explore lucrative partnerships.

There is no doubt the COVID-19 crisis accelerated the shift to digital. But the best companies are going further - using advanced software and automation tools to capture crucial data and create better products... with their own insights.

- Swaidan Al Naboodah is Managing Director at Al Naboodah Group.