Interview with Doug Woolley (Managing Director Dell Technologies South Africa) by  Wesley Diphoko РFast Company Editor-In-Chief about Digital Transformation

What has Dell Technologies South Africa’s journey been over the past few years?

We’ve been on a strong journey over the past few years, including the merger of the Dell and EMC brands to form Dell Technologies. I’m happy to report that we have been a central partner in helping many local organisations adopt digital technologies, helping them be faster and smarter. We also signed up as a major sponsor of the Springbok rugby team, and we’ve been working with the South African Rugby Union to modernise their systems. I’m also very proud that we have made significant steps in supporting development in South Africa. We launched the Khulisa Academy, which trains underprivileged graduates in high-performance computing. We have also established several of our solar computer labs that bring connectivity and more to underserved communities.

There is a lot of concern over the economy. What is your view on this?

There’s every reason to be concerned. You just have to look at global performance charts to see that the world has not been in this kind of slump for a long time. So we should take it seriously but I don’t believe we should be despondent, for two reasons. First, this is a global problem which means we can share solutions that will help everyone. Second, it’s not as if the world was perfectly fine before. There were problems that needed attention, and now we have a clearer picture of many of those problems. So we can start solving them in creative ways.

Recent events have been called an accelerator of digital transformation. Can you quickly explain what digital transformation is?

It’s been a while, but some of your readers might still remember when internet banking didn’t exist. Then you still had to go to a branch or ATM to do anything – forget quickly sorting your money on your PC in the evening. Then digital arrived through online banking, and you could go online to manage your account. That has since ballooned into banking apps, and now we have a bank branch living on our phone. That transition is an example of digital transformation. You add digital capabilities to something, making it more connected and accessible, and powerful changes start happening.

Why has it suddenly become so much more important, and is this an opportunity?

Social distancing meant that we can’t all be in the same room anymore. The way we can work around that is to work remotely, and that relies entirely on digital systems. Whether you are on a video conference or sharing a file online or chatting to colleagues on Whatsapp, that is all digital. So it’s pretty obvious why digital is suddenly so much more important, because we’d be in a lot of trouble if we didn’t have these capabilities to overcome social distancing’s limits. It’s an opportunity because these technologies are not new. We’ve had video conferencing and online collaboration and chat channels for years. But many of us still used them at arm’s length and didn’t exploit them properly. Now we are, and we’re getting a real taste of what digital can do. Now we can think about automation, artificial intelligence and some truly futuristic stuff. And those things will help us make the world a better place.

When some people hear words such as artificial intelligence, they get scared. Should they be?

Not at all. What we’re actually seeing is that these technologies make us more capable and efficient. We can now automate mundane tasks. Let’s say you’re an accountant and you spend a lot of time capturing invoices. A basic AI can scan and capture that information automatically, freeing up your valuable time to do much more productive things. Other newer technologies such as internet of things sensors are deepening our understanding of the world and accelerating how we respond to it. As the world becomes more advanced and complicated, we need these systems to keep our momentum, reduce waste and become more sustainable. People shouldn’t be scared. They should be excited!

What role does Dell Technologies play in digital transformation?

The merger between Dell and EMC brought two essential parts of digital transformation together. We could claim to offer an end-to-end solution, particularly in terms of user devices, infrastructure and the software that connect them. Let me explain what that means. So, let’s say you are accessing your email. You are doing that on a device, which connects via a network to a collection of servers that host the email services. You then securely download your mail and send new messages. All of that requires devices and infrastructure that connect together reliably. This is what Dell Technologies and our partners provide. We design those combinations of servers, networks and devices that modern software services run on. We include things such as security, data management and file backups, often working closely with other top providers who specialise in different services. If I had to summarise it in one sentence, Dell Technologies creates the backbone and touchpoints on which digital technology thrives.

What is the way forward between South Africa and technology?

We can realise a lot of South Africa’s potential through technology. But that doesn’t just mean installing new technology everywhere. This is often misunderstood about the 4th Industrial Revolution concept – people think we’re just talking about technology. We’re not. The most important thing for this change is that people are empowered through technology. So we must focus on putting more technology and technology skills in the hands of people. That means training and access, as we’ve been doing through the Khulisa Academy and our solar labs. It also means cheap connectivity, reliable devices and affordable services that SMEs and micro-enterprises can start using to create advantages for themselves. It means using technology to make services faster and more efficient. We can build an excellent future for South Africa if we use technology to our advantage.

 

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