Digital transformation and HR departments in Africa: A major challenge for accelerating growth

Africa is experiencing an unprecedented increase in the uses of digital technology. The changes to come in the economy and in companies are becoming increasingly visible.

The impact of digital transformation on how companies and their HR departments operate can no longer be ignored, though how this transformation is perceived varies according to the country and the context. The North and West Africa HR survey conducted by Sopra HR in 2016(1) showed that 54% of those surveyed feel that digital transformation has already taken place or is taking place in their company, with a turning point in the next 2 years. This percentage may seem relatively low compared to Europe where similar surveys have shown much higher percentages, but this is a major challenge and digital technology is a lever for accelerating growth that African countries are eager to invest in.

Today, mobile technology, with over 350 million smartphones in circulation, is the most commonly used, contributing to widespread implementation of new uses and new types of operation.

Digital transformation also affects what employees expect from HR departments in terms of personalized services, responsiveness and immediate access to information. Their requirements are changing rapidly and they are asking to be treated more like customers than employees. HR departments are often still overwhelmed with low-value administrative tasks and find it difficult to handle employees’ demands.

One of the main concerns that the HR Survey revealed was the “development of employee engagement” (58% of those surveyed).  Can digital transformation provide a solution? New, pioneering “engagement software” has been created, such as Office Vibe® and Better Company®, which provide tools that are already widely used in the US and the UK and that are becoming benchmarks worldwide for measuring employee engagement in real time and beginning to be used in Africa.

Digital transformation: threat or opportunity?

According to the HR survey, over 80% of people surveyed(1) see digital transformation in companies as an opportunity for companies and employees. This high percentage lends us to believe that digital transformation is now accepted by companies. Over 80% of those surveyed (1) are comfortable with digital practices, which is not surprising considering the high number of generation Y employees (also known as digital natives) in the workplace.

Increased awareness, but strategies lacking in maturity

Are African companies prepared to handle digital transformation?

According to the same survey1), one third of those surveyed have a positive view of their company’s digital transformation strategy and how it is shared with the HR department.

Another third feel there is no strategy, while 2 out of 10 think that internal communication on the subject is poor.

It is evident that the level of maturity with respect to digital transformation varies from country to country. Though Morocco and Algeria appear to be more advanced in terms of digital technology within companies, the number of fully digitized companies in the rest of Africa is relatively low.

In this context, we can wonder why so few companies have a clear digital transformation strategy, despite a heightened awareness of the issue.

Remember that 90% of companies in Africa are small and medium-sized and most do not have more than 100 employees.(2). The HR priorities for most of these companies are focused upon “attracting and retaining talent” and “improving productivity of employees by better management of skills”. They are still not clear as what benefits digital transformation can bring.

What are the trends for accelerating HR’s digital transformation?

We have observed that there has been an explosion in the use of social media in Africa. In 2017, in Africa over 170 million people use social media (all types of media), including 150 million of these using mobile phones(3) with 32% growth since January 2016(3).

In addition to the increase in those using social media, we are also observing the creation of new uses by a hyper-connected generation implementing ATAWAD (Any Time, Any Where, Any Device).

Companies in Africa are increasingly aware of the potential of this trend and today use social media such as LinkedIn® and Facebook® and not only to find new talent, but also to promote the “employer brand”. Many of these companies are using new customer digital marketing methods for human resources to meet the challenges of attracting, developing and retaining employees.

Also, as mentioned above, employee engagement is a key challenge and the use of tools based on ‘social technology’ may a be solution. Such tools are designed to promote sharing and help to improve employee visibility, recognition and engagement.

HR marketing, hyper-connectedness + ATAWAD and employee engagement are trends that will certainly accelerate HR digital transformation in Africa. They will also increase HR departments’ expectations with respect to HR solutions providers, who will need to become partners of this digital transformation and anticipate new generations of HR solutions

(1)3rde HR Survey of North and West Africa 2016 – Algeria, Sénégal, Côte d’Ivoire, Tunisia and Morocco based on responses from 200 HR managers, chief general managers and IT directors

(2)African Economic Outlook 2017

(3)Hootsuite We are Social 2017 Global Digital report