Digital is now non-negotiable, says A&M managing director Saeeda Jaffar

17 April 2020 3 min. read

With the fragility of physical infrastructure now laid painfully bare, the global coronavirus pandemic will accelerate the path to digital says Alvarez & Marsal Middle East managing director Saeeda Jaffar.

In response the global coronavirus pandemic, governments across the globe have closed down public spaces and confined a near majority of the world’s population to their homes, many who are now working from their converted living rooms. With demand for goods and services still strong in a number of areas, and reaching unprecedented peaks in others, those businesses which invested in their digital transformations early will undoubtedly now reap the dividends.

Think retailers with established online channels and an attractive customer experience, business service providers which can make a smooth transition to remote-working, or delivery and logistics entities with highly-developed digital networking. Already, digitally-mature businesses had the jump on their competitors, but with that gap set to significantly widen, Alvarez & Marsal Middle East managing director Saeeda Jaffar says digital is now ‘non-negotiable’.

“The current pandemic has proved to us just how vulnerable physical infrastructure is,” writes Jaffar, who heads A&M’s local Performance Improvement and Financial Institutions Advisory Services practice and spent time with Bain and McKinsey prior to joining the firm in 2016. “In today’s world, to have a truly practical digital offering is a non-negotiable. Institutions are having to encourage their customers to interact through their digital facilities as far as possible.”

Saeeda Jaffar - Managing Director - Alvarez & Marsal

It seems that message has now clearly hit home. A recent survey of Middle East CFOs found that while widespread cost-cutting measures were being instituted across the region, investments in digital transformation and CX were the most likely to remain untouched. “Companies that have been undertaking digital transformation programmes or promoting new technologies are going to be in a position to see much more rapid adoption of their digital offerings,” adds Jaffar.

Elsewhere, the consulting veteran notes the necessity of a supply-chain rethink, with the tilt toward concentrated supply-chains with a focus on efficiency over the past generation also exposed by the global pandemic, especially with respect to China being the world’s major supply market – a landscape which sent shockwaves through the commerce world from the very first days of COVID-19. There’s little point having advanced digital infrastructure if you have no product.

“Future supply chains are going to need to build some slack into the system,” contends Jaffar. “Supply chains have got to a stage where they are highly optimised: lean and hyper-efficient. But as recent disruptions show, there may need to be a bit more buffer with a little more flexibility around inventory built into the overall system. Companies will need to activate more sophisticated analytics and scenario modelling to assess their supply chain efficiency and where potential supply issues lie.”

With Jaffar leading the Middle East division of what is one of the world’s foremost restructuring and turnaround consultancies, she can likely herself expect a busy year ahead. Already, Alvarez & Marsal have been appointed as administrators of scandal-hit UAE healthcare provider NMC Health, with Jaffar stating that in overseeing its operations the consultancy remains focused on ensuring continuous quality patient care as the Emirates battles the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.