Ebo Richardson is an award-winning change catalyst and business leader, who has delivered digital, people, and process transformations for various organisations – large and small. His skill and passion is helping organizations of all kinds to maximize their technology, digital, people and brand-related investments, and he has a verifiable track-record of co-creating sustainable stakeholder value, enabling growth, and delivering cost and operational efficiency.
In his 24 years cross-industry experience in both developed and emerging markets, he has delivered large-scale transformations, managed critical business operation hubs, built functions from scratch, delivered high-performing teams, and developed top peer-group performers and new leaders. He has also managed capital and operational expenditure in excess of $30m, and led reasonably large teams of up to 109 employees and consultants.
He holds a Master of Business Administration – MBA, Business Administration and Management, General from the University of Liverpool, Pocket MBA, Business Administration and Management, General, Executive MBA (Business Administration) Course for CIOs and Technology Leaders from Boston University and B.Sc. (Hons), Applied Computing & Information Systems from the Manchester Metropolitan University with Second Class (Upper Division).
In this Exclusive Interview, Ebo Richardson who describes himself as a proud son of the sacred African soil, shares more insights on the importance of digital transformation in organisations, new trends shaping the industry, his passion for people development and many more… Excerpts….
Who is Ebo Richardson?
I am passionate about people development and the use of innovative technology solutions to solve socioeconomic problems. Consequently, I have developed myself into a consummate steward who seeks to “leave things better than I find them” and bring world-class leadership to the realms of digital, operations and organisational change.
What are some of the accomplishments you are most proud of
I am proud to have made telling contributions to the likes of Barclays / Absa, Vodafone, Millicom, Equity, Innovare, and many more, during my decade-long stay on the land of my ancestors. Secondly, one of the accolades I am proudest of is the fact that many CIOs and IT or Change Leaders in today’s Ghana have either been personally groomed by me or have benefited materially from my tutelage / coaching. Having a keen interest to see progress and betterment for Africa and its diverse people. I look forward to doing more as I am strongly motivated to continue to make a positive impact.
Why do you think some business leaders resist digital transformation?
This situation, in my view, is quite complicated. While there are very few leaders who feel the whole digital movement is somewhat overhyped and oversold, my experience has been that the vast majority recognise the need for change and they do try to position their organisations accordingly. The issue is often the appetite they have for real transformation, because in its extreme form it is an expensive, extensive (impacts the whole organisation), intensive, complex and risky endeavour.
it comes down to the tension between Exploitation and Exploration. Most mature businesses are on an established exploitative trajectory; the business and operating model that creates value is in full flight and this presents some surety and a safety. Business leaders are able to plan and make commitments (e.g. to shareholders) based on tried-and-tested practices. Digital transformation requires exploration; that is, significant investment of time, energy, and money to bring about new models and systems that are geared toward a looming-but-not-entirely-certain future.
Many leaders see taking their eyes off trusted approaches as risky beyond appetite. Some also point to transformations that have failed to achieve their set objectives. A good balance is needed, but knowing the tipping point is difficult; meanwhile waiting too long may also result in a fatal Kodak moment!
What metrics do you use to define the success in digital transformation?
Digital transformation seeks to recalibrate and reposition an organisation to be better suited to these digitally-led times as well as future developments.
Over the years, I have found the following particularly useful in this regard. These include: Flexibility of architecture (for facilitating change and scaling), Suitability of culture (ensuring workforce savvy and productivity), Extent of automation (elimination of manual processes + operational efficiency), Utilisation across channels (digital versus traditional), Revenue capture across channels and systems (digital versus traditional), Online presence and following and Youth market share and online community following
Given the above, such metrics as % of revenue attained from digital channels, % of processes automated. % customers onboarding via unassisted channels, degree of modularity, among others, would be just what the doctor ordered.
What are the top innovations happening today?
There are many powerful and dynamic capabilities being developed and deployed all over the world. The 4th Industrial Revolution has dovetailed into a “Digital Age” that is spawning some truly incredible stuff, particularly in the form of mobile and digital solutions. The innovations are far too many to list. The trajectory of artificial intelligence (AI) has been particularly impressive, giving some credence to the idea that the “Singularity” (the point in time at which machine intelligence will surpass human intelligence) will indeed materilised around the mid-2040s. ChatGPT, for example, is quickly gaining in both fame and utilization.
Within the African context, the deployment of mobile-based solutions that are better suited to our peculiar practices have been positive and strong. Payment platforms such as Mpesa, Momo, PWE and a myriad more are tackling real challenges. Super-apps and mobile-based marketplaces are gradually becoming the order of the day. Similarly, streaming platforms as such Wiflix and TV Anywhere present Netflix-like platforms that however carry more locally-relevant content – a big plus in my book.
Beyond these, the broader experimentation with and use of Blockchain, AI and Open APIs is promising and exciting. Above all, what I find positive and encouraging is the fact that Africa has caught the bug. We are seeing great innovations (including a number of Unicorns such as Flutterwave) emerging out of SA, Nigeria, Egypt, and Kenya. Problems are being solved in ways we may not even have heard about yet.
Could you briefly explain ‘agility culture’ and tell us how your team drives the agility culture in digital transformation for your organization?
It seems the pace of change will continue to increase as we move into the future. The rate at which things are changing, driven largely by rapid scientific and technological advancement, calls for organisations to adopt a more dynamic and change-ready culture and operating model. If the ability and readiness to change isn’t embedded in a company’s ethos, it is likely to fail. This cultural dynamism is what, in my view, is referred to as “agility”. It essentially means having or harnessing the ability to change or pivot quickly and effectively in response to environmental shifts.
There are 2 primary ways in which we influence and drive agility. The first is via the adopted Technology Architecture. A dynamic, modular, and technology-agnostic approach leads to a more flexible setup. This enables quick, efficient, and less-costly response to any required changes. The second approach is via our Change Delivery Framework, which allows different methods to be used (traditional, agile etc) depending on the nature, complexity and riskiness of particular projects.
Of course, to be fully effective, Agile must be owned and driven from the very top of organisations.
Could you share with us disruptive technologies driving banking experience in the industry?
For the service sector, technologies in themselves are not necessarily disruptive. This is because they tend to be made widely available. It is where and how they are applied that can make all the difference. When technology is deployed in a manner that effectively solves real problems and addresses critical needs in relevant and better ways, then they can disrupt established traditional services.
For the moment, much of the disruption to banking comes from entities external to banks that now offer a range of financial services. Telcos have taken mobile money to a different level and are set to pivot into tech companies. Fintechs offer interesting slices of banking-type services, and could combine to take compete effectively with banks. Big techs are applying their vast resources and incomparable reach in powerful ways.
Obviously, banks have become aware of these trends and have embarked on defensive efforts. Many are revisiting their internal organisations, architecture and business models to improve their value proposition and service quality and availability. Some are looking to introduce new and innovative products, while a few are determined to disrupt themselves before they are disrupted. The adoption of customer-oriented language as part of this development is a step in the right direction. The use of Cloud, AI, Blockchain, Mobile and novel technologies to improve such areas as customer segmentation, targeted services, fraud and security management, and service availability is starting to take hold. Perhaps the most experience-impacting development is the lifestyle app, which embeds typical banking services (e.g. payments) into more meaningful, daily relevant applications. This could be game-changing and massively disruptive for banks.
What is your leadership style?
My natural leadership style is a mix of servanthood, coaching and democratic. I tend to prefer an inspirational approach that requires connecting with my colleagues on a personal level to understand what drives and motivates them, then painting an appealing picture of the future that accommodates their roles and gains. I have found that within normal tolerances, this approach enables me to drive delivery in a cohesive, coherent and diligent way.
How can businesses keep up with rapid digital transformations?
As previously noted, the pace of change is set to continue to increase. This means we are approaching a time where organisations will probably enter into long phases of perennial change or transformation. So, instead of running something like a 2-year transformation program and expecting to have arrived, companies will have to adopt an operating model that facilitates ongoing change! Business leaders will have to become masters of change management.
Businesses will need to reinvent themselves into future-ready entities, which will be characterized by the following: a capability (intelligence and insights) to continually understand changing consumer needs and define what great experience looks like, a flexible, dynamic, technology-agnostic architecture, a learning and change- culture, Strong, dynamic leadership with top-notch change management know-how, Dynamic ways of working that projects key endeavours and a performance management approach that utilizes relevant metrics.
Such a setup will position businesses well to quickly and effective change with the times.
Would you be able to tell me a little bit about your organisation’s involvement in the Metaverse?
While there is some research into the Metaverse and how it may play a role our value proposition and service delivery, there isn’t any substantive outcomes to reference at this point. The primary focus of the organisations I’m currently involved with tends to solving immediate customer / user problems and addressing pain-points, and there are quite a number to close-off at the moment.
What is your view on digital economy competitiveness in Africa?
Overall we are not quite there, unfortunately. We are scratching the surface of what is possible, even though we’ve seen some very strong innovations and forays into Digital as previously stated. I think we are constrained by limited education among vast sections of our population, our cultural disposition, weak infrastructure (including power), and inadequate investment.
Elsewhere in the world, the aforementioned constraints are largely dealt with, thus paving the way for a much higher level of development and innovation. The good thing for Africa is the sheer awesome potential that we have. We have unparalleled diversity, strength, extensive mineral wealth, the largest arable land, all the intellect we need, and the most youthful population (it is estimated that 60% of our population are under 25). All we need is the right kind of leadership and properly-channelled investment to mitigate our current constraints. Even now, we see encouraging green shoots that can be scaled in clever ways to powerful ends.
In spite of our well-documented challenges, a number of our markets are seeing a noteworthy emergence of sizeable Digital Economies. South Africa has the wealth, Nigeria has the market, Egypt is a powerful cross-cultural melting-pot, and Kenya has the daring! Other markets like Ghana, Ivory Coast, and Rwanda are in hot pursuit.
If you had three wishes, what would they be?
My very first wish would be for world peace! Our capacity for truly incredible things is something to behold, but sometimes we exercise more of the negatives than the positives. I would like to see a peaceful and balanced world where our existential challenges have been addressed and where my children can grow up well and become well-balanced positive contributors to society.
My second wish would be for better leadership formula for Africa. We need a model that works better for our peculiarities and will help us fulfil the awesome potential that we have.
My third and final wish would be for Ghana to win the next World Cup!
Well, you said wishes!