Reinventing and digitising a company’s processes and workforce can be a daunting task for even the most seasoned business owner or executive. But for over 30 years, the Obeikan Investment Group has emerged as a major industrial group that provides increasingly sophisticated and specialised solutions for its customers while maintaining a cutting-edge workforce. Today the Saudi Arabian company’s offerings in industries such as packing and education is supported by a staff that has been completely transformed by a digital environment that fosters discipline, accountability, and growth.
In this interview, Obeikan Investment Group CEO and second generation family business member Abdallah Obeikan tells the story of the company’s journey through digitisation.
When did you realise the need to digitalise your company?
Our company is an industrial group. We feel a number of price pressure points that always have to be managed, from suppliers, customers, and increasing operating costs. As such, we need to earn our margin from increased productivity because we cannot simply boost the prices of our products, nor can we always control the cost of things like labour, energy, or regional business conditions.
Because of the pressures from the market, there needs to be discipline in the organisation to search for and embrace emerging technologies for its business solutions. Digital is such a solution.
What were the first steps you took in that direction? How did the other owners of the business react to your ambitions?
Digitisation is a journey; there is no one solution or one definite direction that you must take in order to digitise. This is because there are different levels and methods of digitisation, from managing records to monitoring energy levels, as well as integrating your workforce. And it is certainly not something that can be done overnight because every stage of the journey requires unique tools, capabilities, and skills.
In regards to getting everyone on board, it begins with communication. The problem is that some businesspeople see digitisation as a fancy tool and not a competitive advantage. As such, there needs to be a strategic objective and a clear line of communication to enforce the change. Explain how the company will become productive as a result of digitisation so that employees can be effective within the new paradigm and create a culture of discipline.
Communication can take place through meetings, training, induction, and a variety of different tools. If you agree on a strategic objective that drives us, it’s simply a matter of making the push.
What was the greatest challenge when you started implementing those changes?
I think that when we began rolling out the digitisation process, people were surprised at the size of the opportunity to improve the organisation. But the problem came down to discipline. Discipline means doing things routinely and in a precise and consistent manner. As you know, our region is known for its flexible creators but we sometimes lack discipline. To address this, we began implementing technology at every step of the way by managing the tasks digitally – scheduling reminders, calculating and laying out various responsibilities, creating objectives and accountability. The great thing about digitising workflows is that it causes everyone to be disciplined because you don’t really have a choice. If you don’t do your job, someone will know. If you forget a task, a reminder is triggered and someone is there to alert you. This ultimately creates an environment of accountability and discipline, which is ultimately helpful in implementing the strategies.
How did your workforce respond when you started your digital vision?
Digitalisation is a culture and mindset; it is a way of thinking that gives you perspective on how you see your customer and your operation. If you succeed internally you can extend your value to others.
The thing about people is that they are quick to understand but slow to adapt. But this just means that the management and leadership must be consistent in the messaging until the workforce gets the message that the organization is committed to the cause. In our case we systematically explained what is in it for them when we roll out the digitisation efforts. For them, its simple – they become smarter, they can contribute greater, and become more engaged in the game. This is what makes them happy and this can also create more value for them in regards to their respective careers. When rolling out new initiatives, it is very important for business owners to understand that there must be clarity in regards to what’s in it for the workforce and also what’s in it for the company. You need to create balance between the advantage for the employees and benefits for the company for a successful transition.
Of course, when we change the capability we have and our productivity levels change, we reduce some of the jobs and some people become redundant. But as we implement the journey of cultural transformation that moves the organisation away from the traditional methods to a digital environment, we ultimately see that the workforce as a whole benefits.