It is astounding see the speed at which big companies are closing shop. It is no news that Nakumatt, the biggest retailer in the region is on its deathbed. Uchumi supermarket has been on life-support for the most part of last decade, and seems to have finally given up the fight. Kenya Airways is unable to soar as it should due to a dark cloud of debt, perennial losses and ineptitude.
Sadly, these companies started to limp after years of successful performance and ambitious expansion. They must have reviewed their bottom line and bank balances, and were convinced that they had the financial muscle to grow. Unfortunately, there are many more companies following this template — quick growth and then head south.
The questions is, why are hitherto successful businesses now crumbling at a time when technology has provided some of the best tools for business? Has it got something to do with quality of leadership? Has disruptive technology swept these organisations off their rails?
I surmise that these organisations are captained by leaders who are so comfortable in their bubble that they do nothing or too little to prepare for the future. They don’t invest in innovative strategies. They passively wait for technology, instead of preparing for it. They are so mesmerised by the successes of today that they forget to telescope into the future.
To them, the needs of the future are so distant. These leaders are comfortable implementing business models that are proven; that are well understood and yielding results which serve today’s needs. Unfortunately in the age of disruptive technology this comfort is short-lived.
Technology kills some businesses and creates new ones. It directs consumer behaviour. It can bring in new competition and new rules of the game. In other words, technology disrupts.
Here are some case studies to learn from. Mobile money services changed the face of banking in Kenya. Uber technology is turning the taxi business on its head. Computer training colleges that thrived on teaching basic software packages are now writing their obituaries, unless they worked their way to address niches that consumers are willing to pay for.
Traditional TV and print media has had to embrace social media as a new and nimble tools for connecting and sharing information. Retailing — even for small scale outfits — is pitching tent on the internet-based platforms. Every sector is changing so quickly and leaders who failure to see or dream the impending sea-change is short-changing his organisation.
Leaders and managers must spend time new thinking, build new skills and break ranks with old mind-sets that do not align with changing social, economic and political dynamics.
It calls for leaders to spend significant resources and energy in collecting data that would give them a hint about dynamics such as coming competition, shifting consumer behaviour and changes in regulations. Of course they must keep the current business operations humming.
Current operations underwrite efforts to prepare for the future, but they are not blind organisations seeing and investing in the right technology, tools and training.
They should keep experimenting and adapting new technologies and making necessary changes in incremental doses. Importantly, they must equip their staff with the right skills without expecting immediate returns on investment. They must spend resources in upgrading their electronic systems to improve operations and seal loopholes that could be exploited by the digital bad boys and expose the organisation.
Innovative organisations need to inculcate a culture of learning. Learning new skills and learning to shake off practices and processes that hold back organisations from embracing and enjoying the boom of new technologies. Importantly, organisations and institutions need to have forward-looking leaders; leaders who invest in the future today because they believe in it.
The writer is an informatics specialist. [email protected] @samwambugu2