Digital Transformation – what is the buzz?

Over the past couple of years, with more focus on efficient ways of working, lots of buzz being seen around Digital Transformation (DT).  Lots of job opportunities exist in this space, asking for relevant experience, and this short overview just would give one the confidence you have done enough or bits and pieces, that fits under the enterprise DT umbrella.

    Lots of innovations and technological advances that have been happening around our environment over the past decade or so, each with tremendous potential, are all being integrated under one umbrella of Digital Transformation, a must have in any Vision statement of companies worldwide, an end-to-end goal to realize and a tool to smartly compete and go ahead in engaging and delighting customers.

  According to HBR and Salesforce, DT is a new mantra of using DIGITAL technology to increase customer experience, better and improve existing business processes or invent new ones, create more efficient, automated processes to bring about a new WoW (Way of Working) and a total operational change within the company. Although it may be one person who may be tasked with this DT journey inside any corporate, it is the joint and cohesive effort of all stakeholders to create a new way of doing things more apt for the even changing market requirements and business conditions, which in turn results in awesome customer experiences.

 There are three main ingredients behind any Digital Transformation:

(i)             (Digital) technology that is data centric, and is about “modernizing the legacy”

(ii)           Business Processes – ‘automating the repeated tasks’ and ‘simplifying the flow’.

(iii)         Customer experience – delivered real time, to create better business value

    Much to the popular perception, the IT department does not solely own this transformation. Their ability to drive changes depends on the business unit’s willingness to adapt newer technology to deliver better value to their customers. Although this enterprise transformation is pivoted around IT per say (IT team headed by a CIO with a CDO and a PMO office), the positive changes would be seen only with the business units it would cater and hence they need to champion this effort end-to-end to realize tremendous gains with the full sponsorship of the top leadership team. This eventually leads to a data driven decision making across the organization and more fruitful culture evolving that stitches this belief and trust together.   I am always of the belief that culture is a derivative effect of how things get done within the company and this acts as a glue fabric that makes effective team work with an end purpose in mind. After all this transformation, or as the transformation is bearing fruit, you would also realize a subtle change to a drastic change by within the company on the ways of working.  

     What are the new digital technologies that make DT happen? To name a few buzzwords doing the rounds presently,  we have Internet of Things (IOT), analytics and business intelligence, Machine learning and Artificial intelligence (ML and AI), Automation (RPA), Cloud (be it private, public or hybrid), Augmented and Virtual reality AR/VR(a much needed enhancement to how manufacturing, education and healthcare does things now), Blockchain, Big Data warehouses and data lakes, Edge computing, etc One must be able to use most of these technologies, join them through a flow chart flow and see how the entire company can benefit from using them to deliver better business value.

   Changing legacy systems within any organizations is never easy. If it is not broken, why fix or change? There can be a lot of criticalities and complexities involved in changing any infrastructure and systems, which has to be understood and approved, after which there has to be a roadmap that introduces changes in phases till the entire benefits gets reaped.   It is not about adding a new incremental change, but about a total revamp of existing to something newer and scalable that delivers better results and offer flexibility.

   With remote work slated to be the norm going forward due to this pandemic, transporting oneself for group meetings, account for logging-in and clocking work hours, sharing designs as a method of development, educational experiences of students, etc would all be something we would look forward to through VR/AR.  With Bring your Own Devices (BYOD) and smart phones and tablets getting into the computing space and not only restricted to communication, cyber security would be a concentration area for corporates to work so that no disruption occurs in their operations.   Manufacturing floors are monitored remotely from elsewhere, thanks to many sensors attached there and video cameras fitted across, which has led to lesser downtimes and higher manufactured volumes within corporates.

   All these digital technologies are centred around the new ways of generating and receiving data from many sources, in large volumes, at a great speed and verifying the truthfulness of these data to derive good intelligence from them.    Big Data and Analytics, and Business Intelligence, have been the fulcrum of many banking and healthcare companies now for the past few years in realizing how data can be interpreted to offer better services to their customers and patients. It is no more the classic databases but rather the newer data lakes and warehouses which contain not only the structured data but also the unstructured data like text, images, video from which actions are being taken real-time (like chat boxes for customer support, and tele medicine for administering remote surgeries and health consulting, or object detection in autonomous vehicles).   If you have the entire organization taking decisions based on true data, I guess a significant transformation has been brought in place.

  Processes, ‘the needed evil’ in many companies, deliver a consistent way of doing things and they get updated regularly to make them more efficient. You must be able to connect various activities happening in various teams together to make something of value, and this is possible only with established processes within the organizations. Radically re-engineering existing processes, and automating repeatable tasks (RPA – Robotic Process Automation) are happening, benefiting both Time to Market (TTM) and better efficiencies.   Given the COVID pandemic lessons, it is imperative for companies to think about remote work as a permanent option (not all work of course, can be done remotely – lab support and manufacturing for example needs to be at the work place) and start changing human resources policies and processes accordingly.

 No business would get sucked into any change, the primary premise of any transformation and hence it is imperative to quantify the before and after with a significant business value that looks rational and real.  This business value can be quantifiable with increasing productivity or efficiency, increased revenue numbers, good customer scores, and better TTM, to name a few and any or all of these would certainly invoke interest to any sane business leader. As long as you have satisfied customers (first) and delighted customers (next), one can get an edge over any competition and this can just translate to better $ numbers. Customer experience starts from time you got them hooked, to engaging them throughout your combined journey to meeting all commitments with high quality consistently.       

   Stitching the technologies, data driven approach, efficient processes and better customer experience effectively is a test for the resilience for many companies and doing this together as a whole team would be the mission that makes this transformation happen.  Choosing the right technology for every problem and integrating them all as a whole needs a good technical team to be the backbone for this transformation.  Most companies fail because they do not have right talent to make the transformation happen, or they do not invest much in their own people. The only way to can get the entire organization to buy into this transformation is to show proof through smaller gains in phases and including all of them to be part of this journey.

  In conclusion, anybody who is into such IT transformation is accountable for the technology transformation of all the systems of the organization to support growth of the business and increase operational efficiencies. A senior role like the CIO is to champion and drive organizational and technological changes by building and maintaining strong relationships with all the appropriate business teams, thus partnering with them to serve their customers better in a more agile manner. 

   With proper collaboration with the entire organization, they should be able to identify solutions, prioritize roadmaps and deliver to commitments, with all the stakeholders in the loop.   It means modernizing the IT infrastructure to support good user experience, automate repeatable processes, and at the same time keeping security and scalability as a critical feature that cannot be compromised. Through AI powered Bots, aim to get maximum contactless sales and service for the organization, and create unbelievable user experience by maximizing real-time decisions (for example through awesome APIs and microservices, any organization can drive their e-commerce business along with a stable logistics backend).  

    Drive a culture within the organization that makes data drive all the decisions.    One should be on top of innovations by conducting business digitally and experimenting with the changing digital trends and audience preferences.

 The author comes with 25+ yrs of experience and is an active consultant and a trainer, an information seeker, and a yoga enthusiast.