My Final Master’s Thesis – How it served as a practical guide to driving out real-world Digital Transformation

How will your learning empower real-world digital transformation?

In this post, David Aberson, the alumnus of Global MBA in Digital Business, outlines how his FMT (Final Master’s Thesis) served as a framework and a practical roadmap for driving out digital transformation in his role as CDO in a Digital Payments business.

MBA Blog: Telling my story in Global MBA in Digital Business

Zigurat MBA and its practical application

When I selected the Global MBA in Digital Business, what attracted me to this MBA (after exhaustive research into other MBA options), was not only the course content/structure but the practical applicability of the course content coupled with the industry expertise that the lecturers brought to the table. A key driver for me was being able to gain practical knowledge and a toolkit to be able to execute a Digital Transformation (DX) Strategy.

Using my Final Master's Thesis as a framework

As I progressed through the MBA and started working on my FMT, the concepts, frameworks, approaches and methodologies were 100% applicable to our business and the DX journey we had initiated, through bringing together a number of players in the payments space. Our DX journey needed a structured DX roadmap in line with our strategic direction, and an execution plan locked down.

Using the FMT as a practical guideline, I was able to define a Framework for driving out our Digital Transformation (DX) Strategy, which I have summarized for this blog.

Breaking down our approach to define, refine, execute

– Step #1 – Defining and refining the Group Purpose & Vision

– Step #2 – Answering the key questions of WHY, WHAT, WHO, HOW & WHEN.

– Step #3 – Drawing up our DX Plan and Roadmap.

– Step #4 – DX Execution according to priorities and iterative cycles.

Applying a lens to our DX Journey

Our DX strategy started with answering essential questions of WHY, WHO, WHAT, HOW & WHEN.

This is the simple lens I found useful in establishing the Strategy and defining our Digital Transformation Roadmap.

WHY, WHO, WHAT, HOW & WHEN of digital transformation
Diagram 1: Adapted from:

Asking fundamental questions to steer scope, approach, cost, and timelines

Key questions selected whose answers fed into our DX Roadmap and Action plan –

1. Why do we need to transform?
2. Who do we need to help us to transform?
3. What do we need to transform?
4. How can we transform?
5. When do we transform?


Our Digital Transformation North Star

Defining our DX strategy started with the leadership team setting the Strategic Purpose and Vision which would act as the North Star for our digital transformation process.

Our overarching WHY, which was fueling the need for Digital Transformation, was articulated in our Group Purpose, Vision and Strategy:
– We believe that by supporting businesses, enabling informal traders and small businesses to succeed, that they will be the engine room that drives job creation in South Africa and Africa.
– We also believe these businesses will be able to drive access to financial inclusion through the products and services we supply.

Vision & Strategy – CX is critical

In defining our Group Purpose and Vision and fleshing out our Digital Transformation Strategy and Roadmap, Customer Experience (CX) was identified as a critical component.

Customer Vision & Strategy

The evolution of CX and the pivotal role it plays in society today and in our payments landscape – drove the need to revisit our operating model to be able to execute our Vision & Strategy through harnessing the technologies and skills that will enable us to deliver a seamless digital payment experience to our customers and target markets.

Identifying key external factors driving our WHY

Payment Landscape disruption and convergence
Technology acceleration
Consumer evolution
South African Governments drive for increasing financial inclusion (and reducing reliance on cash).


DX is about people – never lose sight of this

Digital transformation requires talent. Assembling the right team of people is the critical ingredient to enable transformation.

This challenged the thinking in terms of how we structure the organization to manage the change effectively, how to retain, attract and develop key talent and key skills, how to create a single shared culture, streamline processes within and across the companies while building the structure and foundation to allow us to scale and absorb any further new companies easily into this organizational design.

Our view is that if we do not get this right, then regardless of the technology and tools we implement, DX will fail. As such, the focus was on the WHO before tackling the WHAT. Our company is fortunate that we had many of the right people already. We just needed to agree on a structure that puts them in the right seats. The exercise also highlighted some new critical skills and people we needed to bring into our organization.


With the people and structure defined, the attention turned to the WHAT.

Identifying WHAT enabled us to have an objective review of our status quo, our digital maturity levels, what our DX objectives are, what processes of the value chain we believe should be the focus of our DX efforts, and what technologies/solutions are needed to realize the value and lead to the higher margin for the Group.

Questions asked as input into our Strategy and Roadmap

– What are the Key Strategic Objectives of our Digital Transformation
– What are Key-Value Chain processes and technologies for our DX
– What are the Key Technologies needed to support our Value Chain DX
-What stage are we on the Digital Maturity spectrum as a Group, which allowed us to map our Status Quo to DX (Current state to Future state)


I really liked the following quote when thinking about the HOW: “You can’t use an old map to explore a new world” by Albert Einstein

Before tackling the steps that would define our DX Roadmap, it was important to select best practices for establishing our DX Roadmap and identify the key building blocks for achieving our DX.

Steps taken to define our DX Roadmap

– Agreement on the Phased approach to Group Transformation
– Identifying the Key Business Focus Areas.
– Establishing a Digital Transformation Portfolio with two themes:
Theme #1 – Technical assets: Portfolios established for each Business Focus Area.
Theme #2 – Human assets: Portfolio established to drive the Organisational restructure & Change Management
– Identifying the Programmes supporting each Portfolio
– Identifying the Key Projects that will be needed to support each Programme
– Applying a lens on these projects of Customer facing versus Back-end
– Establishing a Group Architecture Forum
– Establishing Digital Risk Framework to manage and mitigate risks
– Identifying the skills and roles needed to deliver the Roadmap
– Identifying the costs associated with each Programme (human and technical capital) and estimated profits/saving
– Defining the key success metrics (critically important)


The Payments industry is in the eye of the digital transformation storm that is taking place, as such it was never a question of “if” we should be rapidly embracing Digital Transformation, but rather the “when” applied to how fast we execute.

We had already kicked off our DX journey and thus had a “warm start”, so the conclusion from my FMT was the need to focus on the optimal velocity of execution.

In conclusion

A quote that resonated with me during my FMT and application of the learnings to our business was “It’s no longer the big beating the small, but the fast beating the slow.” (Eric Pearson)

This could not be more on point given the accelerators that are in play in the Payments industry (and we have all seen C19 being another key DX accelerator across all industries).

In defining our DX strategy and Roadmap in my FMT, I had covered a large part of the legwork needed to get the essentials in place, starting with the organizational structure, the people, identifying the processes, technologies, and methodologies. Now, it is down to execution against the plan and approach agreed.
A common theme that came through while drafting my FMT, is that DX is a Customer-first strategy. With that in mind, the philosophy we backed in these times of disruption, convergence, technology acceleration, consumer evolution and a drive for inclusion in the Payments industry is one of – Size doesn’t matter – CX and AGILITY does.

Get started with your DX roadmap and be ready for real-world digital transformation!  


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