Isaac Akanni is a digital transformation and SaaS specialist with years of experience guiding blue-chip and medium-sized businesses to leverage new and existing technologies for maintaining relevance and competitiveness in their industry.

In his current role at Infobip, Isaac helps businesses all around the world drive digital transformation by simplifying the global complexity of communication and personalised customer engagements through a scalable, easy-to-use, full-stack communication platform.

Isaac Akanni

Explain your job to a five-year-old

I study how technology affects businesses and make sure they use it in a way that helps them to grow and become really successful.

What’s one piece of advice you wish you had earlier in your career?

When it really matters and the stakes are high, exploring different tech solutions to see what works will only give you a sense of activity but no real progress. You’ll be very busy deploying, training, and testing but will get very little value and nothing will change.

I learnt this the hard way and do not wish it on any business.

What’s the biggest misconception people have about your job?

Many people believe digital transformation is a new field, but it’s not. Business leaders have been transforming their operations for decades and will continue to do so with the amount of digital knowledge and resources available to them. The advantage we have in this era is our access to data and AI, and the next generation will have much more.

I’ve even heard experts say we’re leaving the phase of digital transformation and moving to the phase of digital surge. What a time to be alive!

Are there any immediate risks to African businesses and SMEs who don’t digitise or use technology?

Unfortunately, there are no immediate risks, and maybe that’s the risk in itself because it gives these businesses a false hope that all is well and that there is no need to digitise. 

Traditional businesses are usually more affected by this because most new-generation African businesses are digital natives who are at the peak of digital excellence. With traditional businesses, there is always a resistance to change from the strategies that brought them historic success forgetting that the strategies that were good for the past are never enough to produce those same results as the world evolves.

Imagine if the companies that went through the first wave of the digital transformation stopped evolving after they reached the peak of digital excellence for their time. They would surely have been obsolete by now.

The risk for not digitising is long-term. It creeps in like a chronic disease, and before you know it, younger, technology-driven and disruptive entrants have taken all the market share and are running you out of business.

No company wants to be the Blackberry of the future.

What hacks can companies or businesses use to increase customer engagement or revenue? Or is it all grit and elbow grease?

There’s no silver bullet or hack to increase customer engagement or revenue. What I know from experience is to focus on 3 things: strategy, data, and partnerships. 

Strategy helps you think of how to remain competitive and focus on being the best at doing the core thing that brought you into business in the first place. If you get this right, customer engagement will be organic.

Data helps you see trends, make insightful decisions, and create feedback loops that will optimise all your business processes. If you get this right, you’ll make fewer mistakes.

Partnerships help you unlock new digital solutions, markets, expertise, and resources faster. If you get this right, you won’t have to recreate the wheel at every phase of your growth.

Helping businesses understand this is the point of the work I do.

Do you think we need more people in tech? Or is this an over-flogged notion like the 1990s push to get people into medicine, law, or engineering?

I think we need more people doing what they are really passionate about. Most people in tech today came from non-tech backgrounds so we can postulate with a high degree of accuracy that the push to get people into certain fields in the 1990s didn’t produce many results. If everyone is actively invested in what they are passionate about, there’ll be more innovation, growth, and advancement for all ecosystems. 

Regardless of the career path you choose, there will be times it will look too hard to continue. You may even doubt your choices and start plotting an escape thinking you made the wrong move, but ultimately, what will keep you pumped and motivated is your passion.  

There’s space for everyone at the top, if you’re willing to do the work regardless of the career path you choose.

What’s something you’re good at but dislike doing? And something you’re bad at but love doing?

By my own standards, I’m a good cook but I’d rather eat than cook. I think cooking involves too many long, meticulous processes for a meal that will be finished in 5–10 minutes. I’m also yet to see someone that loves cooking and eating so it seems like you can’t like both, and never the twain shall meet.

I’m not bad at anything (let the weak say I am strong 😃), but my drawing skills could use some help. I really admire digital artists so I bought a digital illustration app, Procreate, watched a TED talk by Graham Shaw on how everyone can draw, and I’ve been doodling since then. Only a few people have seen my doodles, and maybe one day I’ll sell them as NFTs. One day!

What book or movie are you hyped up about, and why?

I won’t call it a hype, but I strongly recommend the book The Innovators’ Dilemma by Clayton Christenson because it’s one of the most remarkable books I’ve ever read on innovation and disruption.

I wrote about it on my LinkedIn page earlier in the year describing how you can come up with great business ideas and gain market share by exploring gaps left by older businesses in the same industry. Really fantastic read.

Timi Odueso Senior Editor, Newsletters

Get the best African tech newsletters in your inbox