Women in Tech
"We Power Tech” panel conversation Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Organizations across the Middle East are embracing cloud-based digital transformation as they seek to cater to rising demand for digitized services. The promise of streamlined operations and cost efficiencies are valuable for regional companies in today’s economic environment, but for some companies, embracing digital transformation may feel daunting. However, with some adjustments, regional IT leaders can easily and swiftly extend the gains of the digital revolution across their organizations.

Below is a list of advice from the women leading digital transformation across organizations in the Middle East on how to implement effective transformation plans, based on a recent Amazon Web Services “We Power Tech” panel conversation.

1. IT must function as a business partner

With technology increasingly embedded into organizations’ functional DNA, IT departments must sync with business goals at every step of the cycle to unlock true value. Embracing the flexibility of the cloud improved market-responsiveness at the logistics company Aramex, enabling the company to be more agile and proactive with the business. According to Mais Rihani, CTO at Aramex: “We no longer take the waterfall approach, where IT waits for the business to come up with definite requirements that we can provision hardware for. Instead, we do our sizing, prepare a landscape and start work on the project. Building on AWS, we’re today capable of providing minimum viable products for even the slightest ideas the business may have, to launch and test them, and adjust accordingly. Alignment helped to boost the business.”

2. Transformation begins with embracing change

As with any business initiative, digital transformation is only effective when people embrace it. By its very definition, digital transformation requires changes in strategy, structure and operations, but a strong culture can help organizations withstand these pressures and emerge thriving. “When we started the move to AWS, we had to educate our teams about cloud technology and its applications,” said Huda Ahmed Mohsen, Chief of Information Technology at the Bahrain Ministry of Information and Authority. “It’s no longer enough simply to have management buy-in, but it’s important to get the whole team on board. Communications and training programmes are part of the solution – as is demonstrating the actual benefits the new technologies have produced. Some staff like technology and want to change, others want things to stay as they are. Leaders need to coach these colleagues through change.”

3. Find your data and make use of it

Everyone’s heard about the importance of data, but not everyone knows how to use it. “We knew we needed a data strategy but weren’t really sure what data to collect and why, and how it would help,” said Louise Blake, VP Data at Seera Group. To find answers, the company held daily stand-ups with people from every department to understand the data required and what it could achieve. “Data now is a corporate function for us, in the same way as HR and IT, and is the driving force for transformation. In less than four months, we built a sophisticated data analytics platform on AWS that connects over 20 data sources, using services such as Amazon Redshift. The platform has helped us optimize marketing costs and reduce the cost-to-revenue ratio to less than 10 percent this year,” she added.

4. IT managers should speak the language of the C-suite

By now, regional and international companies have had years of experience in on boarding new technologies. Not all have delivered on their promise, and executives increasingly seek to justify their investments in terms of returns. “We are brilliant at explaining the technology and its benefits in terms of product, but management also cares about the financial value,” said Sameera Mohammed Al Atawi, Information and Communications Technology Director at the American University in Bahrain. As tech departments become revenue centres, IT leaders must learn to explain the business impact of new technologies. “We have to strengthen ourselves in preparing a financial cost-benefit analysis, and not only make our case studies related to IT,” she added.

5. Diverse teams bring better outcomes

When team profiles resemble their customer base, everybody wins. “Creating the right mix of gender, age groups—especially in terms of technology use profiles—and different cultural and social backgrounds gives you a very broad wealth of knowledge. It speeds up productivity and increases the rate at which new developments are adopted,” Rihani explained, adding that 30% of Aramex management is female. In the Middle East, it’s also important to have a mix of different nationalities among the team, Blake added. Seera counts 13 nationalities among its 17-strong data team. “Everyone comes from a different experience, exposure to different tools and also different approaches to the way you are doing things,” she said. Simply put, diversity offers a wider variety of use scenarios, and better predicts acceptance and acceptance rates, while boosting the overall value to the organization.