The year of transformation

Zeid Nasser (Photo: JNews)
One year ago, “digital transformation” got the sudden, massive jolt that it was waiting for to become a widespread reality!

We can all agree that the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated tech-driven transformation among even the most reluctant of governments, companies, and individuals. We’re working from home, students are learning online, bills are being electronically paid, restaurants have closed their doors and are focused on delivery, we’re attending “virtual conferences” and other lifestyle changes which have resulted in much more daily screen time.اضافة اعلان

When the pandemic hit Jordan in March 2020, the Jordanian government quickly realized the limitations of only depending on its own staff and resources. This sparked what will probably be considered the biggest private-public technology partnership operation in our country’s history.

The young professionals of tech companies like Mawdoo3, Abwaab, ArabiaWeather, Optimiza, and several others were thrust into national-level responsibilities driven by duty and urgent need! These companies were not paid to do these services, and sacrificed their revenue-generating activities and valuable staff time to carry out their patriotic duties. They created online service platforms for everything! Education, culture, services, travel, and more. Jordanians even started creating jokes and memes that any new problem can be solved by creating a “menasa” (platform in Arabic).

Some sectors in Jordan were ready for this, especially the banking and financial technology (fintech) sector which shifted more operations online and had to manage a massive growth in demand. They coped well.

Amidst all of this social and economic mayhem, a whole new set of consumption habits and expectations of service levels has emerged which have made it vital for companies to change the direction of their business strategies and even shift to other product and service offerings. This is known as “pivoting”.

While consultants and conference speakers frequently mention this term, there isn’t a lot of conversation about the costs and pains of pivoting, but companies across the world have now experienced it. There’s a lot of “unlearning” of old ways and training on new skills going on, which is another pain for which there is resistance that not many are talking about.

Private schools in Jordan have had to invest money and time in creating the software and hardware infrastructure needed by teachers and students to continue the educational process and thereby allow the schools to continue operating as businesses that can collect tuitions and pay salaries.

Thousands of restaurants and cafes faced the reality of no customers coming to their premises. They have joined online ordering platforms, giving up to 30 percent of their revenue to these platforms, which hurts their business model. Accordingly, they have started to build their own websites and mobile apps with the associated costs of those activities. It’s a case of “evolve or go extinct”.

Companies in certain sectors were already teetering on the edge before the pandemic because of the dual pressures of gradual digital transformation and economic slowdown, including the travel and media industries in Jordan. For such companies, the pandemic was the big earthquake that threatened to swallow their businesses if they didn’t urgently pivot. Many of them succeeded, and some of them disappeared.

Companies that have survived the pandemic have demonstrated the resilience that shows their suitability for the new economy of the 21st world we live in. They should be prepared for more shocks in the future and must depend on a similar adaptability and flexibility which served them well in this upheaval.

It is interesting to listen to local sessions on Clubhouse — another pandemic-driven app craze — about how Jordanian businesses have struggled and worked to adapt; and witnessing their stories which are comparable to what’s happening in more developed economies.

Successful examples in Jordan’s various economic sectors deserve a deeper look at their stories of forced digital transformation and the results so far.

I have been writing about technology since the 90s, and what we are seeing now in Jordan is a culmination of the many steps taken over the decades to invest in proper telecommunications infrastructure and to focus on information technology education and entrepreneurship. Real efforts do not go to waste, and we can be pleased with what we’ve achieved despite our limited resources, while also addressing the gaps to keep moving forward. I am pleased to take you with me on a journey, through this column in Jordan News, to shed light on and explore the achievements and lessons learned.

Let us all together salute the Jordanian private and public sector organizations which are grappling with this digital transformation, and let us accept the mistakes and not-so-perfect services that are part of evolving and living in these interesting times of “the great shift”.