Fikile Sibiya of e4

The disruption of digital transformation has become the new normal. If you groaned a little (or a lot) at that sentence, you’re not alone. Buzzwords and phrases like these, all too common in the business and tech world today, seem to say so much and often deliver so little. But what’s more concerning than empty semantics, is the fact that tech buzzwords can lead your business down a dangerous path, warns Fikile Sibiya, CIO at leading South African fintech specialist, e4.

“The tech world moves so fast that there’s a new buzzword or trend every few months or even weeks. Though some of the trends are important to note, blindly following them could harm your business. Yes, new technology can be amazing, but only if it’s employed and deployed correctly, with the right foundations in place. Otherwise, you often can’t extract value from these trends – or, worse, it could be a costly mistake,” notes Sibiya.

She uses data analytics as a prime example. “It’s one of the biggest ongoing trends, and it can do amazing things, but its efficacy is entirely dependent on the fundamentals of good-quality data. The artificial intelligence used for data analytics learns from and works on the data you provide it with. If you don’t understand your data, where it is, what it is, and its quality and integrity, you won’t reap the benefits of analytics. In fact, if you provide incorrect data, you will get incorrect answers and assume the technology doesn’t work. Without a solid foundation, you’re building castles in the sky.”

That doesn’t mean some trends aren’t worth pursuing. “Artificial intelligence offers a lot of value, but only if your organisation is ready for it. In South Africa, most organisations aren’t there yet. It’s a great goal to work towards, but it’s worth pausing and assessing what you need to put in place to get there, to ensure you have the fundamentals in place, and that the use cases for such advanced tech would make sense in your organisation. Make sure it’s worth pursuing,” says Sibiya.

She suggests creating a 12- or 18-month plan when adopting new technology, to ensure you build a solid foundation. “Go back to basics and make sure you’ve built the right foundational practices so you can reap the benefits of these advanced trends. In the long term, solid and reliable IT systems – even if they’re basic – will be much more important than staying ahead of the trend curve. And a solid foundation is essential in adapting to future technological advancements too.”

There are three key areas you need to focus on, advises Sibiya. First off, cybersecurity should take precedence. “Again, there’s no point in overlaying AI on cybersecurity, another current trend, if you don’t have basic antivirus and malware protection in place. To protect your organisation, good cybersecurity is a must. And this includes good security practices such as authentication and data privacy protection. Some of these new trends can be quite invasive, so start thinking about what it would mean for you and your client’s data, security, and privacy – what will be exposed in the process? Security shouldn’t be a separate entity in your business, but form part of the foundation of everything you do.” Secondly, ensure the integrity of your data, she says. “Because today’s trending technologies are mostly data-led, data quality is crucial. Appoint a data steward who can do quality assurance; make someone responsible for it as you would with any other important aspect of your business. As with security, it shouldn’t be something you take care of once and then forget about. It should be a continuous practice and discipline, part of your organisational culture.”

Lastly, make sure you have the necessary skills required for any new technologies. “This is especially challenging in South Africa, where skilled individuals are often enticed by overseas opportunities. It is possible however to ensure your workforce is empowered to make the most of any trends you adopt,” says Sibiya.

“Though trends are exciting, take your time to deploy them. If they’re worth it, they’ll still be around when you’re ready. Make sure you can walk before you run,” she adds.

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