‘Digital transformation’ is a term that has been bandied about a lot over the past decade. Now it seems it is back in vogue, with Microsoft pushing their digital transformation capabilities hard, under the stewardship of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. Over 2016 and 2017, Nadella gave several keynote speeches stressing the importance of businesses embracing digital transformation, including at Hannover Messe 2016.
As Nadella says, “Every company is a software company. You have to start thinking and operating like a digital company. It’s no longer just about procuring one solution and deploying one. It’s not about one simple software solution. It’s really you yourself thinking of your own future as a digital company.” In other words, it’s about harnessing the power of technology, and in particular growing trends such as big data, artificial intelligence, and mobile and social technologies, to transform not just one, but all aspects of your business.
According to Nadella, companies who are succeeding in digital transformation are doing four things: engaging customers, empowering employees, optimising operations and transforming products and services.
These are Microsoft’s four pillars of digital transformation.
1. Engage your customers
Typically, one of the first areas that organisations look at when engaging in digital transformation is customer experience. Digital transformation can be used to enhance and personalise the customer’s experience; to establish direct communication channels with customers and share information with them in real time; and to collect customer insights.
One example of a company using digital transformation to engage customers is Telstra, who partnered with Microsoft to transform their in-store retail customer experience. By using interactive displays and “tap and take” cards placed next to the device models, customers were able to build personalised digital brochures, which they could then take with them and use to review the information online, effectively blending the physical and digital retail experiences.
2. Empower your employees
Employees can be empowered through digital transformation by breaking down communication barriers and promoting knowledge sharing across company departments, and even across global corporations.
As Nadella says, with digital technologies you no longer have to rely on serendipity to find someone who happens to have a solution to your problem, or who happens to have a product you might need: “All that knowledge and insight exists inside your infrastructure – in your email, your documents, your line of business applications – it’s just waiting to be found using organisational analytics to discover information across an organisation, and provide insight to what is going on.”
Digital technologies can therefore foster innovation and allow employees to work more flexibly and collaboratively.
One company that has embraced digital collaborative tools is Macquarie Group, who use virtual hallways, videoconferencing and Yammer to help their global teams connect.
“We talk a lot about a ‘bump factor’,” says division director of workplace technology Peter Harvey. “We engineer and architect our workspaces so people inadvertently bump into each other. We create central cafes, common stairways, and kitchens on every second floor. Then, we complement that with the virtual bump… We are doing things like creating virtual hallways between locations and vibrant Yammer communities that create the same connections digitally.”
3. Optimise your operations
“The third pillar of digital transformation, optimising your business operations, means that it’s not enough to know what’s happening now in your business – you have to anticipate what will happen, then be prepared to capitalise on that insight,” says Nadella.
This means taking advantage of technologies like machine learning and the internet of things (IoT) to collect large amounts of data and provide real-time feedback, in order to streamline operations, improve decision-making, and generate predictive insights.
Digital travel business Webjet have built a first-of-its-kind industry blockchain solution, as a way to resolve issues created by data mismatches that can occur in the thousands of transactions, which pass through multiple operators, that are processed by Webjet every day. This new technology encrypts data to enable security and transparency, and allows businesses to almost instantaneously make and verify transactions, thereby effectively eliminating transaction errors.
4. Transform your products
By embracing an agile digital mindset, companies are able to use real-time market trends, customer insights and other analytics to design new products and redesign existing ones.
Remarkably, this type of digital transformation can even be used to save lives. Microsoft helped Kansas City Children’s Mercy Hospital develop a cloud-based app called CHAMP (Cardiac High Acuity Monitoring Program) to support babies born with single ventricle heart disease, a rare disease with a high mortality rate, and one that requires constant monitoring on the part of caregivers. With this app, doctors and nurses were able to check the baby’s vital signs regularly from afar and catch any warning signs early. Since the CHAMP program was adopted in 2014, not a single baby has died. The program has since been taken up in several other hospitals in the US.
Fully integrated platforms are key
One of the reasons Microsoft is such a strong leader in the field of digital transformation is due to their ability to offer fully integrated, easily adoptable end-to-end solutions.
Digital transformation is not simply about taking one process and making it better; rather, it’s about adopting a whole new way of working, one that’s more responsive and agile. Digital transformation needs company-wide buy-in in order to work – and because most employees are already familiar with the Windows operating system and Office suite, this makes implementation much easier.
In 2016, global weather company AccuWeather transformed their technology platform to gain real-time intelligence into weather and business patterns. Based on Microsoft Azure and Microsoft Dynamics 365, AccuWeather’s Chief Technology Officer Chris Patti said this about their platform: “There were other products we looked at that were very rigid and not very customisable. In contrast, Dynamics 365 enables us to modify workflows in real time. And because it’s so plug-and-play, it works really well with all the other Microsoft tools like Office 365. We have a central, hub-and-spoke system, and we didn’t have to learn 25 different products.”
It seems that digital transformation is here to stay – and Microsoft is determined to stay at the forefront of the digital transformation movement.