Importance of Digital Transformation in Today’s Business Scenario with Emeka Iheme

‘So, my advice I have for entrepreneurs is, for approaching, you know the process of identifying gaps in the market right now for digital business transformation…I think I would approach it by asking the following questions: Have you mapped out your business model? Have you mapped out your business value chain? Have you mapped out the value chain that your industry exists in, every step? Have you mapped out the value chain of your supply chain to your customers or to your off-takers or to your investors? Have you also mapped out the value chain of regulation in your industry?’

He goes by the name, Emeka Iheme, a commercial advisor with extensive focus in tech and gas commercialization. A broad expert in his field. 

Q: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?

My name is Emeka Iheme. I’m a commercial advisor as previously stated. I’m really passionate about research because you know the cliche ‘Knowledge is power’. I have seen how sometimes being the first to have information gives you the opportunity to be a first mover and take advantage of commercial opportunities in whatever industry you are operating in. So, I like to know what’s going on in various industries.

I try to share things I find interesting that are happening in real life and have not hit the mainstream news cycle because a lot of times we find waves when water reaches the shore. If you know what I mean…I try to advise myself, my peers, people around me, people I work with on things that are coming or I find interesting. There are a lot of things that are happening in the tech world that will make a huge impact in the banking and energy industry.

Q: Why do you think digital transformation is important in today’s business scenario? What are some of the key drivers?

I will be very curious about the bridge between the physical business world and the digital business world. Prior to recent times, they have almost existed independent of each other Successful tech businesses have been a lot of B2C. You know, business to customer interactions. But, we have not seen a lot of B2B global impact in the energy industry. Digital transformation has been a top priority for a lot of organisations. Even before the breakout of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now with the pandemic, the urgency for digital transformation to go up the agenda for every organisation is higher than ever because our ways of working have been completely disrupted as is right now in this present lockdown and we are almost certain that measures are going to be put in place similar to TSA after 9/11, to contain a re-emergence of COVID-19.

The aftermath by God’s grace, when we flatten the curve and the spread is contained. There are going to be measured in place to prevent the spread because now businesses have been forced to operate and survive this lockdown. Today is April 10th, we do not know when the lockdowns are going to be lifted and business must still happen. Consumption must still happen, people have to eat, people need their medicine, stores need to sell their goods, loans need to be paid, transfers need to be done. Life needs to still function and goes on and this also applies to businesses. If you have a business, every entrepreneur is thinking about how they are going to survive in this time and digital transformation offers one of the greatest keys to that and it’s gone from being a choice and luxury to some business leaders who have gotten by, especially in the Nigerian context. There are a lot of companies who in their finance policies do not honour invoices that do not come in the physical paper, finance organisations that do not honour digital signatures. 

Now, you asked three key drivers that are pushing the agenda for digital transformation right now. Cost savings and revenue generation. I will group that as one because there are tools such as big data analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence that are uncovering unforeseen sources of revenue by analyzing, and I am speaking in the context of oil and gas here, analyzing historical data from production, from finance, from internal spending, all sorts of data sets. That’s a huge driver because a lot of companies, revenue models are threatened by this lockdown. So, now companies are looking for new ways to save money and to make money by optimizing their operations. Business continuity as a whole for every business is basically the key driver umbrella that everything else will fall under. Now, because of the lockdown, customer interaction and customer satisfaction to maintain sales, to maintain business relationships, is top priority and in an environment or in the world where physical movement is restricted; the only bridge that is going to close that gap is digital transformation. 

Q: How would you say IT solutions can strengthen business operations and improve productivity in the workplace? 

Information technology speaking generally and digital transformation can help businesses today including those in oil and gas. One is, data security because now there are limitations to movement and physical meet-ups. Meetings that would have entailed or resulted in contract signatures, now have to be done electronically and in order not to lose the sanctity of confidentiality for a lot of commercially sensitive agreements, there needs to be significant investment in data security infrastructure to ensure your business risks are minimised. That’s one. Cloud computing is also a key driver for business transformation to the digital space because physical records and historical data, financial data of companies now need to be stored online.

So, my advice I have for entrepreneurs is, for approaching, you know the process of identifying gaps in the market right now for digital business transformation…I think I would approach it by asking the following questions: Have you mapped out your business model? Have you mapped out your business value chain? Have you mapped out the value chain that your industry exists in, every step? Have you mapped out the value chain of your supply chain to your customers or to your off-takers or to your investors? Have you also mapped out the value chain of regulation in your industry? If you can ask those four questions, you might be able to review some opportunities.

Some of the value chains that need digital transformation to function during this COVID-19 lockdown and beyond from my observation are the food industry, the medical and healthcare industry, ground transportation and logistics, banking and finance, you know…CBN, transfers, payments, sales, utility bills, foreign exchange, loans, donations. All that still has to go on, telecommunications, web and mobile, private and public sanitation still has to go on, education must go on and not just education in terms of formal education for our undergraduates, education for certification and professional development is going to be solely needed now because of the changing world and the adjustments people are going to make in the professional world.

Governments, regulation must still go on and solely need digital business transformation. The energy industry as we have discussed, also needs a lot of digital business transformation to be agile in these challenging times. Aviation and customs play a very important role because there are a lot of essential materials that still need to be sourced from different parts of the world and in order to combat the pandemic. These things need to move around, so aviation needs to be digitally agile as well. Invoicing and payment, anybody that has a business that needs to get paid or has an account for materials that have moved still needs to find a way of invoicing, honouring digital signatures to honour payments and certifications for work done. The legal industry still needs to go on because agreements need to be signed, negotiations need to be had and of course, the consulting and professional advisory business also has to go digital now because people need solutions to thrive in these times. 

Q: What are the three non-negotiable values that you must live by every day?

One I definitely live by is, try your best. Like, literally when I wake up in the morning, I say “Ok please let’s try and be better than we were yesterday and even if it’s an inch, let’s move forward”. No matter what we do, no matter the challenge or the sacrifice we have to make today, no matter how small the increment is. Secondly, “Don’t try to understand everything because that is the difference between us and God”. Be comfortable with accepting things that are beyond your understanding and be curious to get that information to gain understanding without being frustrated about not understanding or trying to act like you do understand when you do not, then end up making mistakes. You can share your plans with God, but you cannot give God deadlines. Thirdly, life is transient.

Good times don’t last forever and bad times don’t last forever either. Once you know that, it centres you and keeps you from getting too carried away with present situations. The present is very often different from the future. It is your responsibility especially in bad moments, to do everything you can possibly do to not get yourself in the bad situation you find yourself in and in good times, do everything you can to sustain what got you there. Don’t forget the values that put you in a good position, that sort of thing. 

I would also like to add a fourth and this is one philosophy that has actually pushed my business forward and my career forward. I have come to the realization that the biggest problems are solved by the best teams. Sometimes, when we face tasks that we see as very daunting, sometimes all we need to do is study what the critical success factors are, to overcome that problem and identify which of those factors you need to basically outsource and team up with people that possess those factors and attack the problem together. That makes what would seem ordinarily impossible, achievable.

Q: What is the biggest L you have encountered in your career and how did you handle it?

That’s an interesting question, considering the interesting business landscape in Nigeria. You have to take your Ls with your chest and keep moving forward. Helping with my family business, our biggest cost driver was basically power and you know when diesel got deregulated, it went from a hundred and twenty to a hundred and eighty overnight. It, being a real estate business, that basically made it a lot harder for our tenants to pay their power bills which basically almost crippled the business.

So, I would say if there was one I could pick, it would probably be that one. We had to self-power for a number of months while our tenants were owing us arrears of diesel bills. Their sales were not even enough to sustain their own power bills. So, we ended up having to phase all the tenants out and re-finance the building and taken a new wave of tenants with new power rates that were reflective of the current diesel price considering that it was in Lekki phase 1 and you know, if your business is in Lekki phase 1, you are probably going to be spending a lot of money on diesel. 

 

Listen to the full episode here.  

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