With enterprises moving rapidly to a remote working model, the tools that workers use to meet business goals are changing, too. While there has been constant evolution and development of existing tools, the past eight months have accelerated the development of many apps and platforms, particularly those used for communications and remote collaboration.
“As technology continues to evolve and new innovations surface, organizations must continue to look for opportunities to drive growth through a focus on digital,” said Shade Vaughn, Capgemini chief marketing officer, North America.
Whether it is a sophisticated solution that uses quantum computing or a tool being introduced for a traditionally non-technical function, digital transformation will continue to be an important lever for navigating disruption. Still, these transformations will not happen by default. “Companies that want to stay at the forefront will proactively take the steps to change, keeping pace with the technology available to stay ahead of the competition,” Vaughn said.
Technology as a Strategic Initiative
So where do you start? The development of new technologies for the digital workplace should be viewed as a strategic holistic initiative to improve business operations. And to be truly considered holistic, it must include the network.
To be effective, network automation strategies across the digital workplace must be part of initial discussions, said Morgan Stern, vice president of automation strategy at Atlanta-based Itential, a provider of network automation software. The strategy must encompass the entire planning, execution and analysis of deployments instead of plans focusing solely on implementation and activation of use cases.
To focus on just a small aspect of network automation during digital transformation planning and execution is a disservice to the network, the IT teams expected to support it, the company running on the network and the customers impacted by those decisions. In fact, most network automation implementations are limited by:
- Lack of reach:The inability to interact with multiple parts of the network, along with all the ITSM, CRM or operations systems, severely limits how far automations can extend.
- Data management: Information is stored all over the network, making it impossible to easily manage with a single source of truth.
- Usability: Most automation platforms require engineers to learn how to code, limiting the ability to create powerful automations without having to learn a completely new skillset.
“There is no better time to re-evaluate the approach to digital transformation than now and organizations need to look to start with the backbone of their technology — the network,” Stern said.
By overlooking network automation and relying on CLI (command line interface) while automating elsewhere, organizations are setting themselves up for more issues down the road, he added. Automation in a complex system does not have to be a daunting task for organizations anymore. APIs allow teams to implement an efficient and abstracted interface easily and allow for seamless scalability as an organization grows and continues to automate.
Prepare for Market Disruption
The biggest challenge in this context is the fact that available technology and customer expectations are evolving rapidly, said Geoff Webb, vice president of strategy at Houston-based PROS, an AI-based commerce platform. Businesses will always compete to deliver the best customer experience and sharpen their advantages. Major disruptions to the market, like COVID-19, will also force businesses to constantly innovate. Businesses need to be comfortable with a continuous, relentless process of digital transformation in which advances in technology open new opportunities to disrupt and reshape markets.
Predicting which technologies will disrupt business is difficult, however. For example, who would have thought that touch screen technology would utterly redefine the mobile phone industry? The impact of advances in AI, limitless processing power in the cloud and the capacity for 5G wireless connectivity are going to reshape many industries over the next five years as smart devices permeate homes and offices.
These three technologies together will enable businesses to collect, in real time, oceanic quantities of data that enable those who have undergone digital transformation to react and respond quickly to emerging trends, opportunities and market shifts. This is especially true with embedded sensors that can deliver usage information that itself becomes a source of insight into new product needs and opportunities.
“However, technology can never be an end in itself,” Webb said. “Businesses must view any digital transformation through the lens of their customer’s world. Adopting technology that doesn’t deliver a better experience for your customers or that doesn’t allow you to define what ‘better’ is will likely be futile, counter-productive and lead to huge opportunity costs.”
When businesses evaluate where to apply technologies they should look at the point where they will have the most direct, positive impact – and that is where they meet their customers. While applying digital approaches to back-office functions can deliver incremental improvements, truly transformative change starts with customer engagement.
“Use technology to deepen both your understanding of your customers’ needs and behaviors and to enrich your interactions with them before you start thinking about changing how your warehouse operates,” he said.
Address Consumer Problems
Niles Koenigsberg, digital marketing specialist at Denver-based FiG Advertising + Marketing said that as the world has been forced to adapt to the pandemic, more and more consumers have retreated into their homes to self-isolate. While this behavior helped flatten the curve of infections worldwide over the past several months, it also changed the way consumers are interacting with businesses.
People are not shopping in person at physical stores like they used to before the pandemic. Most consumer shopping activities have moved online and virtually every industry has witnessed significant surges in e-commerce traffic and associated technologies. Even as lockdown measures and stay-at-home orders have been gradually lifted and changed throughout the world, it is still clear that consumer confidence in in-person shopping is nowhere near pre-pandemic levels.
“Since e-commerce has suddenly become increasingly relevant for companies everywhere, it should come as no surprise that businesses are investing more in the infrastructure and data tracking software of their e-commerce platforms,” Koenigsberg said. “With those data and analytics platforms, companies are able to acquire more quality data on their online shoppers. That data will help companies optimize the user experience to encourage more conversions and the data can also help businesses construct better target consumer profiles for their marketing purposes.”
The Digital Journey Never Ends
It may be that after leadership has set out goals that can be collectively described as a digital transformation, and that when those goals have been achieved, the process of change is complete. However, there is no end to the development and implementation of new technologies, said Pieter VanIperen, managing partner at PWV Consultants.
Digital transformation is sometimes confused with modernization. Digital transformation is the use of digital means to improve the efficiency of systems and processes. It largely references the switch from analog to digital, paper to electronic. Once a business has gone through digital transformation, which can be part of the modernization process, then modernization is what keeps those digital systems and processes updated, stable and functional. While digital transformation ends, modernization should occur at regular intervals for every business.
Having said that, many companies will always have digital transformation because until we are literally plugged in as humans we are still analog. Most ideas and processes start as pen and paper or at least the digital equivalent – email threads and spreadsheets. Many processes will eventually outgrow out of the box tools and will need to be updated.