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Business leaders explored the future of work at a Business Day Dialogue in partnership with IBM on June 12 2019. Picture: SUPPLIED
Business leaders explored the future of work at a Business Day Dialogue in partnership with IBM on June 12 2019. Picture: SUPPLIED

Earlier this month, business leaders explored the future of work at a Business Day Dialogue in partnership with IBM. The breakfast kicked off the 2019 Think Summit – IBM SA’s flagship conference.

IBM SA country general manager Hamilton Ratshefola called on John Granger, senior vice-president of cloud application innovation at IBM Global Business Services, to speak about IBM’s transformation journey.

Watch the video | Cloud trends and changes

Granger said: “We’re a 108-year-old company, but there’s a lot more to IBM than simply hardware. Our history has been one of reinvention.”

He and four panellists shared insights on how businesses can reinvent themselves in the digital age – and beyond.

Here are 10 steps to mastering the digital future.

1. Keep reinventing yourself as technology shifts

“We have adapted again and again to technology shifts,” Granger said. IBM is a hardware, software and services company – and a cloud and cognitive solutions company.

“We’ve put a lot of focus on agile and on cultural change – and in reskilling and bringing new talent into our organisation,” he said.

2. Make sure your values remain the same

“But as you adapt to all those shifts to ensure that you continue to be relevant, the one important lesson that applies to any company in any industry is your reputation and integrity,” Granger said.

“One of the reasons why IBM has been so successful over the past 108 years is the deep and enduring commitment to our values and integrity. While our offerings and what we take to the market can change, our fundamental integrity and our values must stay the same.”

IBM’s three core values are:

  • dedication to every client’s success;
  • innovation that matters, for the company and for the world; and
  • trust and personal responsibility in every relationship.

3. Use technology to help people

During the panel discussion, Dr Liziwe Masoga, executive for people and brand at Old Mutual Insure, said companies had to invest equally in technology and in training people to work with those technologies. “Technology changes are there to enable us as an organisation but you still need people to be a differentiator.”

Matthew Candy, general manager and global leader of IBM iX at Global Business Services, agreed: “At the end of the day, technology is only there to serve one purpose: to help human beings do something different and improve their lives.”

4. Help your employees thrive

Candy said businesses today needed people with a combination of creative, technology and strategy skills to succeed. “And you’ve got to create an environment where people can thrive and where they believe they can do their best work.”

Defne Tozan, general manager at IBM Global Technology Services, Middle East and Africa, said IBM valued continuous learning: “For us, it is really important that we reskill and upskill our teams so that they can serve our clients for the future. We are using technology and tools to help our employees reskill.”

5. Understand what your customer needs

Panellist Michael Cowen, CEO of What’s the Future, said companies had to focus on the customer experience. “What we found in the market is this move from product to market first and there’s a lack of focus on what a customer really needs. Understanding that customer problem gives you a framework in terms of what type of technology [you need], how to bring that technology in, and context to the challenges you face on a day-to-day basis,” said Cowen.

“The reasons why customers buy things don’t change; their problems are fundamentally the same. What’s changed is how we solve the problem. Technology reduces waste and friction in the customer experience we can create.” 

6. Build design and agile into the core of your business

Candy said innovation units could not operate in silos. “You have to find a way to drive that change in the core and make that change scale and stick. At IBM, we have driven design and agile [the software development methodology] into the core of the company and I fundamentally believe this is how you change the culture and ways of working in the organisation,” he said.

“We are focused on training our IBMers in design thinking and ensuring they certify themselves. We won’t stop until everyone in the company think like designers.”

7. Build more autonomous teams

Candy said agile goes beyond renaming meetings to “stand-ups” or training people on scrum – organisations need to think about their operating and governance models.

“You must allow teams to be more autonomous,” Candy said. “If you’re truly going to drive an agenda of multidisciplinary teams that are empowered to make decisions and deliver an outcome, and you try to do that with the same leadership, what happens? The muscle memory of the organisation pulls it back to how it was, because the management who aren’t involved in those teams, who don’t really understand, will be expecting progress reports and updates.”

8. Allow people to fail

Candy said fear of failure was a “critical blocker” of innovation. “If we say you as the teams are self-empowered to drive outcomes and we want you to test, learn, iterate and try stuff, but then I’m going to shoot you the first time you spend money and fail, people aren’t going to do it. You have to find ways to create this culture of vulnerability where people feel they can try to experiment.”

9. Change should start at the top

Tozan said companies should align their business strategy with the technology in which they are investing, making digital transformation part of a company-wide agenda. “If this is not driven from the top, if it’s not continuously part of the agenda of top management, it never gets aligned,” she said.

Masoga said leadership was about courage. “We have a new way of working, but what are the implications then for the leaders we employ and what we expect from them? It’s a whole system change we need to look at, or else this doesn’t work.”

10. Use employee insights to drive change

To engage employees, IBM uses an internal storytelling platform where workers can share stories of how they are living the company’s values and practices in their day-to-day work.

A senior executive present in the audience shared how his company used employee insights to co-create and redefine its values and culture. The company uses its own social-media-type platform to engage employees. “In the process, we are driving a culture where everyone’s involved in building this company by using a technology platform that is enabling that.”

The breakfast ended with a word of thanks by Mark Hancox, IBM SA’s director of IBM Global Technology Services, who urged guests to go and see the first quantum computer in Africa at the summit.

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This article was paid for by IBM.