Driving SA’s automated post-corona world

Pandemic fallout enhances Amani Business’ digitisation and automation opportunities.

When Amani Business launched just over two years ago, its primary focus was on large enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. But within months, the company noted a significant shift in enterprise business needs: the more organisations invested in enterprise systems, the more resources they needed to run and support them.

THABO NDLELA, Amani Business THABO NDLELA, Amani Business
At the same time, a large number of processes still remained outside of their core systems and required manual intervention to capture, manipulate, process, reconcile, analyse and report data. For Amani Business’ clients in the financial services sector in particular, this meant an increased total cost of ownership and unacceptable cost to income ratio benchmark.

As a former group CIO for Top 40 JSE listed companies, including two of South Africa’s big four banks, Amani Business CEO Thabo Ndlela identified the business opportunities: enterprises had to digitise more, automate manual processes and focus on smaller targeted solutions to quickly and effectively address specific business problems.

Ahead of the market curve at the time, Amani Business ‘clutched down’ on selling large enterprise systems, and ‘fired up’ its process automation business. With strategic partnerships and acquisitions, such as an Automation Anywhere gold partnership, the company adapted its business to help large enterprises to digitise, organise, optimise and analyse data. As one of only a handful of black-owned companies specialising in AI, Amani Business sees significant business opportunities in South Africa for the foreseeable future.

Ndlela’s extensive financial services and business expertise gives the company a competitive edge and head-start. “Digital transformation isn’t just about the technology, it’s really about understanding the business problem and providing a digital solution,” he says.

“Our services essentially encompass connecting business to digital opportunities and automating business process for better results. It’s about data. Data is the new oil of the digital economy,” he says.

The company now partners with large enterprises to enhance their digital transformation journey, by offering customised digital solutions. “Our customers are focusing on how to digitally transform their business, create new products and services, and enhance customer interaction through new digital channels,” he says. With large local enterprises still grappling with manual business processes and large numbers of transactions every day, Amani Business expects robotic process automation (RPA) and AI to dominate technology investments for the next 10 years or so.

Fast-tracked transformation

“People have been talking about digital transformation for some time, but now they’re actively looking to digital transformation to turn around their businesses, manage costs and ensure business continuity.” The Covid-19 pandemic catalysed South African enterprises’ move to digitise and automate, he says.

“Now with Covid-19, everyone has been forced to digitise. They need to automate to keep the business running even when the staff aren’t there, and they are under pressure to reduce costs. We’re now seeing a growing need for digitisation and automation – in fact, many people are coming back to us now, looking to advance their projects,” he says.

Ndlela notes that the economic pressures brought on by the pandemic are threatening the future of many businesses: “Many can no longer sustain their cost base, so they want to automate and improve efficiencies in order to survive.”

Improving efficiencies is often associated with reducing full-time employees, which is not a popular narrative in South Africa at the moment, Ndlela concedes. However, he believes the impact of RPA on jobs will not be as drastic as many fear; in fact, it will create new opportunities. “RPA reduces costs because, ultimately, it increases speed, accuracy and availability of business processes. In reality, you can only automate around 30% of what people do. You still need human engagement and human participation in business processes, so RPA augments human workforces, it doesn’t necessarily replace jobs.”

Among Amani Business’ successes are enabling a local bank to fully automate their reconciliation of payment transactions, performing fraud analytics and automating finance and procurement operations processes. These processes, which could take up hours to execute manually, now take only a few minutes through RPA, with improved accuracy and compliance, and at lower cost.

As South African businesses take up their digital transformation journey, Ndlela expects the local market to fuel Amani Business’ growth for some years to come. “We’re focusing mainly on robotic process automation and artificial intelligence for the financial services, insurance, manufacturing and healthcare sectors in South Africa. The local market is large enough to sustain significant growth,” he says.
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