Micha van den Akker spent three months in Ghana for a research project on digital transformation in small and medium sized enterprises. The project sought to answer why some businesses use IT and others do not. What the stumbling blocks or concerns are, and how they can be overcome. In this article, Micha summarizes the findings of this qualitative study.
I have been in the beautiful country of Ghana for the past three months. Besides enjoying the culture, nature and food, I was working on my thesis for a Master of Business Informatics at Utrecht University, the Netherlands. The research focused on two questions: first, figuring out why many small and medium enterprises in West Africa hesitate to go digital; and second, to create a pathway for local IT companies to help them to do so. The broad scope of the research enabled me to travel to different rural and urban areas. This was relevant as regional differences are significant. I did interviews with 30 different companies, both IT-companies (supplying technologies) and small and medium enterprises (SME) – the users of digital technologies.
Micha van den Akker and Trinity Software Center manager Stephen Ofori at the digital transformation workshop with SME in Kumasi
During the research, I focused on companies which do not or barely use digital tools for their business processes. Concerns about the introduction of IT included the availability of infrastructure (internet and electricity), cyber security, other day-to-day priorities; financials (costs vs benefits) and digital skills of personnel.
The level of knowledge about IT proved clearly to be a bottleneck, as most of the managers interviewed during the research, have no digital education or experience. The will and desire to learn about the possibilities are certainly there, but circumstances do not (easily) allow them to catch up. They hear about the technologies, but do not know where to start or how to implement them. Furthermore, many do not see the benefits or have hard times weighing the benefits against the costs. They tend to have a rather short-term focus to achieve their next business goals, and see IT projects as a long-term investment and not a priority.
In order to make things easier for business people, a method was created. The goal of the method focused on guiding SMEs during their digital transformation, in a trustworthy and open environment. With the help of Trinity Software Center, a Kumasi based IT company, a very affordable one day workshop was developed, covering all concerns of the SME regarding IT. It explains the importance of going digital in the fast changing world; it introduces various digital possibilities like management systems, social media, and digital collaboration tools, many of them are actually free. It also deals with subjects such as change management, and includes an interactive session on making a digital strategy. During the workshop all questions about IT, digital and business were asked and discussions were encouraged.
The workshop proved to be very useful. The participants gained knowledge in IT and digital possibilities and promised to start using IT in their business processes. Also, the combination of the overview of the different options from a theoretical point of view together with the additional technical support by Trinity Software Center, were well perceived.
At the end of my three months’ research, I feel confident to write that SMEs in Ghana which do not yet use IT, are ready for the next (digital) step. The business competition is high and these technologies could be used for competitive advantage. Customers all over Ghana are feeling more comfortable doing business online and companies should use these channels to reach them and to market their products. Software solutions should be designed in such a way, that they can deal with connectivity and electricity problems. A synchronizing system, operating offline as well as online is recommended. User-friendly interfaces are very important.
The first and proven step to guide these transformations is education on the possibilities, benefits and applicability of IT in businesses. An objective analysis of the company and the joint creation of a digital strategy helps owners of SMEs to overcome their doubts. The workshop we designed proved that IT companies can assist SMEs in this process. Trinity Software Center will be holding more Digital Transformation Workshops in the Kumasi metropolitan region with that goal.
Last but not least, I recommend owners of SMEs, to actively look at the potentials of IT for their company and its stakeholders. There are IT and digital options for all different types of organizations and they can help to thrive and/or survive in the 21st century. The first step is a solid infrastructure, improved communication and insights focusing on the core business. After that, a process of continuous innovation can start and help a company grow. Taking a first step for (digital) change is always a challenge, but communication with IT professionals can help take away the doubts.
Micha van den Akker (Student, Master of Business Informatics, Utrecht University, Netherlands). Research in collaboration with Trinity Software Center.