Amir Sohrabi: analytics and AI are at the heart of digital transformation

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SAS is using advanced analytics and artificial intelligence to address organisational and regional challenges.

“Digital transformation has become a top priority for every C-level executive: it was previously a nice-to-have, but the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated this initiative. We’ve observed that organisations that were already on the path of digital transformation and digitisation were able to adapt much faster, seize new opportunities, and be more relevant to their customers. This has become very evident in the banking or financial services sectors,” says Amir Sohrabi, SAS regional vice president and head of digital transformation for Europe, the Middle East, Africa (EMEA), and Asia.

According to Amir, advanced analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) are actually at the heart of digital transformation. SAS is uniquely positioned to work closely with their customers and partners through this digital transformation journey. “When these organisations look at their transformation roadmaps, they are essentially looking at digitising, automating and optimising specific processes, and that’s where we come in,” he says.

“In the financial services industry, our solutions have helped banks and other financial institutions gain better insights into their customers, deliver better services and be more attentive to them,” he adds. “As a result, these institutions were able to grow their market share despite the pandemic.”

From a service delivery perspective, SAS has also been involved in Covid-19 contact tracing efforts in certain countries, where their product was used to manage and identify areas that. For example, increased contact tracing and enabled authorities to be prepared to provide the appropriate services in those regions.

SAS is strengthening its use of technology and expertise to assist governments and businesses in the African region in amplifying their ESG initiatives and contributing to the realisation of their ambitions in terms of carbon tracking and reduction targets.

In the financial sector, organisations are focusing on the right types of investment decisions, employing various ESG models – with a particular emphasis on environmental sustainability. “Through our client engagements, we have developed frameworks and models that will provide some predictability on the potential environmental impact when financial decisions are made,” says Amir. “This framework boasts a number of advantageous applications at both the macro and microeconomic level when used by public sector, donor funders and private sector investors to review the potential environmental impacts of their initiatives.”

Amir also anticipates increased investment in green energy because it has a lower environmental impact. “All of these aspects, however, must be measured and managed, and this is how investments are made,” he says. “We provide our customers with a framework for collecting data, analysing data, and making decisions based on that intelligence.”

CIOs should be strategic partners
According to Amir, CIOs, together with their IT team, should be playing a very strategic role in the business. They need to be equal partners in driving business value in collaboration with different divisions within the business. “IT itself is undergoing massive transformation and we have identified the transition to cloud as one of the key pillars of digital transformation.”

In the future, he believes, IT teams will become less focused on managing the physical environment as the business transitions to the cloud, but rather be strategic drivers in decisions of business value. “For example, IT should work intensely with the CMO in identifying how to leverage the latest technologies that are currently out there – and in support of quicker to-market strategies, developing deeper understanding of customer sentiment and the true value of the products that the business is putting out into the market,” he explains. He adds that collaboration between the CIO, CFO and head of HR is just as important to understand the overall strategic impact of IT in the business and can directly impact or influence employee engagement and experience, talent acquisition and retention.

SAS is also gearing up for its global IPO in 2024 and cloud computing will play a huge part in the company’s go-to-market strategy. “Our transition to the cloud is really predicated by the demand in the market for cloud services and where digital transformation as a whole is going,” Amir explains. “We are laser-focused on modernising our customer’s platforms and moving them into the cloud, making them resilient enough to provide them with the desired business outcomes.”

A future-proofed talent pipeline
SAS has a rich academic history: they currently have more than 3,000 education customers/partners in 56 countries. SAS is working with 18 universities in South Africa to train the next generation of data science and AI talent. “This talent will drive the digital economy,” Amir says. “We have incredible content and insights that will aid in developing this talent on the STEM side of things,” he adds.

According to Amir, SAS’s South African operations have been the backbone of the company’s overall regional footprint and a source of exceptional talent. “Some of SAS’s best leaders globally, regionally and locally have come from our South African offices, who continue to contribute to the growth of our company,” he says. He has hopes that through the company’s academic initiatives, even more leaders will come from the country.

Amir believes that Industry 4.0 extends beyond hard skills (STEM skills) in terms of 4IR. “Soft talents are also highly valued, and we believe we can make a contribution in this regard. In addition to our global academic programme, which is very active and continuously growing in the region, our Youth to Leaders programme focuses on developing soft skills and equipping the youth to use their soft skills in a fast-moving environment. And we will continue to work closely with universities and other institutions to coach our teachers on how to develop the youth’s STEM and softer skills,” he says.

“We think the youth are the future, and if we focus on cultivating the proper kind of talent that contains both hard and soft abilities, it will have a significant impact on communities at large.”

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