Amar Pandit, Pedro Peretra, SI Mohammad Saeed, J.J. De La Torre and Mazen Fayad during the panel Enabling Digital Transformation on Wednesday. Image Credit: Atiq-ur-Rehman/Gulf News

Dubai: Digital transformation is such a positive move that companies shouldn’t bother with feasibility studies, delegates to the SP Jain School of Business’s Digital Transformation Conclave heard on Wednesday.

Panel chairman Dr Dhrupad Mathur, SP Jain’s associate professor of IT management, said, “We are standing at a crossroads, and the future will belong to those people who can address these issues well.”

But some firms cannot make needed changes, and a panel of experts from Microsoft, SAP, Oracle, IBM and Deloitte revealed why.

Juan Jose De La Torre, IBM’s digital transformation leader for the UAE, said he found three major failings: a lack of understanding about what transformation really meant to a firm, unrealistic expectations, and a belief that there was an end to the process of transformation.

Pedro Pereira, SAP’s UAE senior innovation and digital transformation lead, said he identified three qualities of successful transformers, and that lacking any one of them could doom a transformation bid to failure.

The qualities he listed were humility, an acknowledgement from senior staff that they needed to learn; hunger, a real desire to transform to a digital model; and smarts — people smarts, he specified, the ability to engage people throughout the organisation.

Amar Pandit, a UAE consultant with Deloitte, said everything hinged on top-level support, which brought agreement from his fellow panellists.

“If the focus of the change moves from the boardroom to the IT department we see the isolation of the transformation. And that is the starting point for not matching the business objectives. Any transformation that is being led purely by IT, that doesn’t work. You need leadership.”

Si Mohammad Saeed, Oracle’s regional head of marketing & digital, highlighted the success of Apparel group.

“They haven’t had a formalised digital function or position,” he said. “Everything started at the strategy level — the head of strategy really crafted the whole digital transformation for the organisation, and not only from a business process perspective: what does it mean from a business problem perspective, from a business process perspective, from a business decision perspective... They had a holistic view of the whole journey — even though they started with the core, they had a holistic picture as to where they wanted to go.”

Besides the need for strong leadership, the expert panel also agreed that companies should not focus on digitisation for its own sake, but have a clear idea of what they wanted to achieve.

Oracle’s Saeed highlighted a recent IDC survey of Gulf Cooperative Council (GCC) firms that showed around 20 per cent of companies were ‘digital resisters’, who were not conducting any digital transformation, while 5 per cent were digital disrupters, and 5 per cent were ‘digital players’ — incremental transformers.

Mazen Fayed, Microsoft’s digital transformation lead in the UAE, said he saw digital transformation costs moving increasingly from capital expenditure to operating expenditure, and in future he expected a greater emphasis on value.

Pereira said SAP saw digital transformation as a way for making organisations run better and improving people’s lives.

“Digital transformation has provided the first part. The second part, improving people’s lives, is what’s coming,” he said.