IT business leader emphasises fundamental role of talent in digitisation efforts

ASTANA — Digitisation is occurring at an increasing pace across the world to improve labour productivity. These gains may result not only from rendering old processes more efficient, but also from inventing new business processes and even entirely new businesses.

Eric Verniaut. Photo credit: Flickr.com

Digital transformation allows creating new ways of working and reimagining our established business models, a priority for Eric Verniaut, SAP Executive Vice President of Industries and Chief Business Officer for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

A graduate of INSEEC Business School and Anglia Polytechnic University, Verniaut has more than 20 years’ experience in international executive leadership in the information technology (IT) industry. In an exclusive interview with The Astana Times, he spoke about digitisation efforts undertaken worldwide and, closer to home, at the Astana International Financial Centre (AIFC).

AIFC, tasked by President Nursultan Nazarbayev with leading in new financial technology development and expertise, is one of the many platforms in Kazakhstan undergoing digital transformation. Within five years, the Digital Kazakhstan state programme aims to digitise parts of the economy, government and human capital development and implement a Digital Silk Road and innovative ecosystem.

“Today, there are a good array of available options in the market for entrepreneurs to increase competitiveness and, more importantly, to accelerate growth,” said Verniaut. “One of the distinctive features of digitisation is that it can enable fast growth and improvement of profit margins in most industries.”

For instance, businesses may connect their different operations in real time via mobile technology and with partners and end-customers in new ways.

“Paper, disconnected processes, lack of information, slow decisions, lack of visibility of the business may be eradicated. Isn’t it beautiful?” he added.

Verniaut singles out the banking and insurance sectors as the key development areas for Kazakhstan’s first step in introducing digital technology, as they are central for the country’s economic future.

“We should also not forget the importance of education, health and government, because these are important for the medium and long term,” said Verniaut. “I am familiar with Kazakhstan’s major e-government efforts, which will hopefully be expanded across other government activities.”

He advocates promoting digitisation in all major, often interrelated economic areas, including oil and gas, agriculture, consumer-goods manufacturing and transportation.

“Of course, it will not happen instantly. It will take time, resources, incentives, clear plans and competent staff. Nevertheless, in my conversations I have observed a keen willingness to succeed in digitisation as a country – that is the most important thing,” he said.

People would be sorely mistaken in thinking digitisation is only about technology. Rather, human resources (HR) is key.

For businesses seeking to wholeheartedly embrace digitisation, HR’s responsibilities should include recruiting and nurturing technical talent, changing the company culture, generating incentives and bringing business and technology departments closer together for innovation.

Such a vast transformation should be guided by the CEO, led by management in all departments and executed by HR.

“Imagine a hospital. Sure, you have a technical team that can perform sound data analysis. Management can produce reports suggesting ways to improve operations. But how do you actually transform the hospital’s operations for the better? Nurses and physicians will require training and closer collaboration between doctors and the data analytics team will be needed, too. It is HR that should lead these activities,” said Verniaut.

He identified several potential obstacles for Kazakhstan’s digitisation ambitions, beginning with building upon and improving the existing skills and talents of not just individuals, but entire companies and the government.

“Competent personnel in digital technology and knowledgeable management which understands how to use digital technology in business and government are needed everywhere, not just in Kazakhstan,” he added.

Here, education becomes important. One way to bring teams and companies’ competency to greater heights is to adopt leading digital solutions such as those produced by SAP. The European multinational software corporation, based in Germany, provides enterprise software for business operations and customer relations management.

“I know that one of the directions of Digital Kazakhstan is connected to the development of human capital, which surely includes increasing digital literacy and an overall transformation in education. In my view, this would be the right thing to do,” he said.

“It is imperative that your government continues to work and fulfil its ambitious goals within the framework of the Kazakhstan 2050 strategy. Digital transformation is a big step on the way to becoming a top 30 global economy,” he added. “I hope that on your path you will feel supported by your international partners, along with the immense support from SAP.”

Since 2011, Verniaut has served as SAP General Manager, Executive Vice President and Senior Vice President. He challenges every Kazakh company to seriously consider how it may effectively advance and benefit from digitalisation.

“The question ‘Do we need digitisation?’ is no longer relevant. Rather, ‘How can it be properly implemented to effect positive economic and social change?’ is the question,” said Verniaut. “At SAP, we have been helping our customers to lead at the forefront of technology for over 40 years and will be most glad to help where needed.”