If you search for the phrase “digital transformation” on Google, it churns up 209 million results in just about half a second. This highlights how it has become a dominant theme and a buzzword across industries. However, buzzwords also carry an inherent risk – of people latching on to them without fully grasping the details, just because everyone around them seems to be doing so.
It is no different for digital transformation. At its core, digital transformation is about adopting technology and harnessing its power to overcome business challenges and unlock growth opportunities. Businesses in every sector are either already undergoing this transformation, or are preparing for it. Done properly, it can have a big positive impact on a company’s fortunes. The vice versa is equally true.
That is why it is important for businesses to have a clear understanding of what they want to achieve via digital transformation. While the scope of technology is wide-ranging, the areas it affects fall into four broad categories.
The adoption of technology has been affecting specific business processes for a while now. However, the pace of technological advancement has picked up tremendously in recent years. That has seen it influence not just individual processes, but change entire business models.
Advancements in technologies such as automation, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, Internet of Things and data analytics are helping businesses achieve operational efficiencies by improving overall productivity and reducing costs through predictive maintenance. This in turns leads to faster time-to-market, leaner operations, and greater agility to respond to market changes.
Digital innovation and adoption are also changing the way we work and have big implications for businesses. Firstly, it allows them to offer flexible work arrangements to their staff, which is a big draw especially for the younger digital-savvy workers. With more employees on mobile devices, and as those devices become increasingly sophisticated, we are seeing the rise of a mobile workforce, because employees are empowered to work from anywhere, anytime and using any device.
Secondly, the use of collaboration tools can help to make meetings – an integral part of running a business – more efficient and productive. Technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) will continue to improve efficiencies on this front. We already talk to our phones, our cars, and our houses. We will soon start talking to our conference rooms, and after that, to artificial intelligence-powered virtual team members. According to our research, 95 per cent of white-collar workers are open to the idea of AI-enabled virtual assistants help them with basic meeting mechanics, while 57 per cent say AI would increase productivity. This will empower the workforce to achieve much more.
Personalising customer experience
In today’s hyper-connected digital environment, customers have become used to the idea of accessing services at their fingertips, quite literally, driven mainly by apps on their smartphones. As such, customers have much higher expectations from every company they deal with, even with traditional business. Technology can play a key role in helping them to provide a more personalised experience to their customers.
However, each sector, and within the sector individual businesses, will have their own unique requirements for personalising services. In the financial services sector, for example, banks are looking at technology to not only enable seamless financial transactions for their customers, but also reduce excessive paperwork traditionally associated with the sector. In the retail industry, brick and mortar retailers are leveraging technology to analyse in-store traffic patterns and customer activities in real time to gain insights into their preferences and empower their staff to offer personalised service, show the right products and improve overall engagement.
As digital adoption continues to grow, an increasing number of devices, ranging from smartphones and tablet computers to automated machines and security cameras, are being connected to each other as well as the Internet. Many of these devices connect to the Internet across multiple networks – home, office and public.
While there are immense benefits of this, it has also increased the risk of cyberattacks, not least because hackers now have far more options from where they can potentially attack a company’s network and steal valuable data. Any adoption of technology, no matter for what purpose, needs to place cybersecurity at its centre.
For any company to be successful with its digital transformation, it needs to fully understand the implications of technology, the impact it can deliver as well as the challenges with its adoption. Only then can it fully harness its power to solve business issues and unlock growth. A good starting point is to ask the basic question: What do I really want to achieve?
Vatsun Thirapatarapong is managing director of Cisco in Thailand and Indochina.