There is an awareness creeping in amongst citizens that “business” as we knew it prior to Covid19 was not only environmentally, but economically and ultimately even morally, unsustainable. As populations globally face their personal demons under lockdown and question their behavioural and purchasing choices many are realising that not only will things be different, but that they want it to be different post-Covid.

This is a critical pivot point for business, and business leaders face a golden opportunity to use this crisis as a disruption signalling a seismic shift in how things are done. This was the message from digital specialists participating in the Absa Business Day Supplier Development Dialogue Series hosted on 21 April 2020, in partnership with Fetola, Cold Press Media, and Arena Holdings who were unanimous in their belief that there is an opportunity to pivot and rapidly retool our businesses, using digital tools to our advantage, for a competitive and resilient future.

“Companies are experiencing supply chain disruptions of huge magnitude globally, and some are only beginning to understand whether current structures work even in this crisis. At the same, procurement professionals are recognising and appreciating how interconnected and dependent we are on suppliers lower down the Tiers” said Ben Ngobi, panellist and Global Procurement Sustainability Lead for Accenture, “We are living in unprecedented times and what’s happened over last few weeks has transformed our normal.” he added.

The dialogue, titled ‘Embracing the digital domain’ grappled with ways to limit COVID-19’s impact on the supply chain’ and drew insights from a panel of leading experts including Johan Louw – CEO, Aguru Business Solutions; Alison Jacobson – Co-founder, The Field Institute; Litha Kutta- Director ESD, Tiger Brands and was anchored by Catherine Wijnberg- CEO, Fetola. It in particular the panel examined the nature of disruption, what future digital tools and delivery models are needed in the supply chain to enhance efficiencies and bridge the digital divide, and how to innovate with purpose for a competitive future.

“It’s clear there is a step change afoot that could level the playing field as the world shifts to digital marketplace,” said Catherine Wijnberg, Moderator of the panel discussion and CEO of Fetola “and we have an important role as business leaders to ensure that we develop new models in a responsible and socially conscious way”. As Litha Kutta, Director of ESD at Tiger Brands reminded us this is a shared opportunity and the key to South Africa’s next stage of growth is Government, who must now fast track availability of low cost, high speed data access as an economic priority.

These ten guidelines were offered by panellists to businesses taking the plunge into the digital domain:

  1. Remember money follows risk- right now customers have more risks that before, they have new problems, you need to rethink how you position solutions and value to them. Do not forget customer engagement, get the right message delivered in right way that works for your customer
  2. Shift your thinking- Think systemically and in an integrated manner, jump from LEAN to Agile, from linear to systemic, and take comfort with dealing with experimentation taking into consideration the ecosystem and optimise the whole.
  3. Map your value chain end-to-end. Focus beyond contracted suppliers, understand dependences, where they source, what their value chain is, and who is essential to the flow of products and services.
  4. Use the power of data integration to connect value streams, both in understanding the value chain and its connectedness, as well as in focussing on customer centricity and information flow to execute processes.
  5. Move from analogue to digital- to enable digitisation, digital offerings, digital market access and access to opportunities despite geographical fragmentation. Do not just focus just on external digital inclusion, look at measures to be taken within your organisation, workforce and management team to enable access to information to execute efficiently.
  6. Think about models on how give customers access to data at your cost- to unlock value and to ease inclusion in marginalised communities, for small or remote suppliers and future consumers – remember – if you want to enable your market/ suppliers, you need to make sure your market/ suppliers can get to you.
  7. Ensure your digital footprint is targeted, aligns with your vision, and enables your delivery model.
  8. Consider new technological architectures -Investigate ICT as an enabler and architectures like Blockchain as a way to integrate and increase efficiency, establish trust, bring trackability/ traceability, break silos and enable greater integration.
  9. Collaborate, connect and compliment: bring businesses into platforms for communal problem solving and shared value creation, investigate supply chain interconnections, find gaps, think partnerships not customer/ supplier relationships, partner with complimentary product and service providers to compete globally, engage and learn from other industries/ sectors that could offer tried and tested solutions, move from linear supply chain models to that of a network, leveraging the collective value offering of the group.
  10. Learn from the informal economy- that is truly African, has a low barrier to entry and is alive with agility, digital ingenuity and frugal innovation.

“It may be unsettling to hurtle head first into the new future, but let’s remember to stay the course, not lose our business vision, and to do it in a way that we take our stakeholder, suppliers and communities with us. There are tangible solutions in this sea of challenge and a willingness to act quickly that will bring us out stronger in the long run. Collaboration is key though and together we can embrace digital transformation for a better, more resilient future for us all” concluded Wijnberg.

Due to lockdown provisions, the highly anticipated Absa Business Day Supplier Development Awards now take place on 9 September 2020 in Johannesburg. Stay in-the-know by following the Absa Business Day Supplier Development Awards’ social media channels (Facebook: Absa BD Supplier Development Awards Twitter: @BDSupplierDev)