“If digitalisation pre-COVID was chugging along at 25Km/h, during and post-COVID, this has surely sped up to 75Km/h,” says Pierre Mallia, CEO and founder of iMovo, a professional services firm that provides innovative business intelligence and customer relationship management solutions.
And, at a time when doing so could mean do or die for many businesses, his insight is particularly timely. Speaking to MaltaCEOs.mt, Pierre begins that contrary to previous economic cycles, where Malta may have enjoyed a degree of insularity as an island economy, thus slowing down negative impacts, “this time around, we felt the impact like everybody else”.
“Not all companies in Malta were affected negatively – indeed some actually saw their business accelerate. Others still realised that given the forced lockdowns and the need to redeploy employees to their homes, there was an urgent need to automate and digitalise,” says Pierre.
“Some companies are still actually trying to get to grips with a situation where they underinvested in technology for several years and needed to change overnight. This has put business leaders under incredible pressure – at a time when their companies’ revenue may have been dramatically decimated.”
Currently, and in light of Malta’s successful vaccination roll-out, some have dared to brand the country’s scenario as a ‘post-COVID’ one, as case numbers remain consistently low and the eagerness to reopen for business across all economic sectors is palpable.
However, Pierre says that ‘post-COVID’ is not a term he would easily bandy about. “Although there has been great progress in the vaccination programme, COVID, whether in its current form or in numerous variants, is going to be with us for years to come,” he states.
“One should also keep in mind that for Maltese businesses to recover, so must their customers and partners overseas. The unevenness of the vaccine rollout across the world means that there will still be some instability at times, which makes the need to digitalise even more important,” says the CEO.
“Additionally, whereas in pre-COVID times recruitment was already a nightmare for companies, now, with the departure of a large contingent of expats, the labour shortage will be an obstacle to recovery. Digitalisation, especially of business processes that are relatively of a low value add, repetitive nature, would be natural targets for technology based solutions.”
Pierre adds that in parallel, the public sector also needs to up its game as it ultimately serves all companies in Malta in different ways – “not only by digitalisation, but also through simplification. Therefore, by reducing the operational expenditure of companies and freeing up valuable human resources to do higher value-add tasks, digitalisation has a huge role to play in the expected recovery.”
At a time when many companies felt pressured to cut costs, sometimes through extreme measures which included letting people go, could the expense of digitalisation be considered a well-timed investment?
“I fully recognise that many businesses are struggling and there are parallels with Darwin’s theory of evolution, only those that adapt will survive. However, from my own company’s experience, as a service provider in the field of digitalisation, there are three generic categories of companies out there: The survivors, the visionaries and the paralysed.”
He describes the survivors as those that have gone into cost cutting and whose business has been in virtual hibernation for the past 15 months, making ends meet between meagre sales and government subsidies, waiting out the storm to possibly re-emerge. “The latter process will take time and perhaps might not even happen.”
“The visionaries are those leaders that have seen their traditional businesses get badly hit, maybe even lost 50 per cent or more of their revenue but have reserves and a clear vision that they need to emerge from the COVID crisis stronger and in a new configuration – because their competitors too will come out of the crisis fitter,” says the CEO.
“They may also think that this is precisely the right time to invest and rethink their business and they will use their reserves and vision to drive their internal digitalisation programmes to be ready to not only recover lost revenues, but scale to greater heights.”
As for the paralysed, Pierre considers these as companies that have taken a knock and have tried to firefight and do cosmetic changes to their way of doing business – “treating the cuts and wounds without really thinking about how to capitalise on the crisis,” he says. “We’ve seen a few of these too – unfortunately their level of sophistication in use of technology was so low, they can’t even leverage their data to really understand how and what would help them get out of the hole they are in.”
Summing this up, Pierre believes that “digitalisation should be on every board’s agenda. Today there are technologies that have put this sort of thing well within the means of any business – what I call the democratisation of data and technology.”
“I would first of all say hurry up, you’re late. You need to find quick wins which give your employees and your business some quick ROI and can form the basis of a series of incremental improvements or rapid sprints of digitalising your business.”
The CEO also advises to find the right sort of organisation with experience that can help with this process. “Get someone to sit with you and your management team and see where your manual process hotspots are, and perhaps where you can apply technologies such as Customer Relationship Management, Data Analytics and Robotic Process Automation rapidly and to good effect. Define an annual programme of work and do the job in small bites, but move fast.”
Last but of critical importance, Pierre says “the CEO needs to own this initiative. This is not an ‘IT Project’, it’s about changing your business model at one end of the scale or at least materially changing core business processes of your organisation. Delegating the championing of this downward is likely to reduce both the sense of urgency and likelihood of success.”
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