Digital Transformation is Essential for Sustainability and Growth
A fundamental reset of timelines, expectations and approach
By Rob Drover, Vice President of Business Solutions, Marcum Technology
As the United States business market emerges from one of the most challenging times in modern history, we have witnessed a revolution in business models, working environments, client buying patterns, and our overall approach to information technology. In December 2019 the concept of digital transformation was a buzzword for many organizations; today it has become a strategic imperative!
On March 17, 2020, Marcum’s approximately 2500 associates transitioned from a largely physical, in-person work environment to a completely virtual environment overnight. We were not alone. Some organizations with years of strategic technology investments, prospered in this new environment while others struggled mightily. Businesses that depended heavily on in-person traffic, traditional sales calls, or “on premise” systems were left scrambling to deal with pandemic-enforced changes when their employees and customers moved entirely online and remote. Excluding the obvious issues with the travel and hospitality industries, even industries with an existing digital presence suffered greatly. The differences were largely driven by the lack of a change culture and technical preparedness for the future. This was most notably revealed through the varied business approaches to business continuity.
Business continuity may be defined as “the capability of an organization to continue the delivery of products or services at pre-defined acceptable levels following a disruptive incident.”1 The events of the last 18 months represent a classic and undeniable example of a disruptive incident. In the past, an organization’s business continuity plan may have involved duplicate, “fail-over” data centers or simply having a generator on stand-by in the back parking lot. We have now seen clearly that these old methods are massively outdated and short-sighted. With the pandemic came a profound shift in buying behavior, and the need for reviewing all aspects of technology and accelerating a digital transformation became immediate.
The concept of digital transformation involves developing both strategic and tactical plans to engage with customers, vendors and employees in fundamentally different ways than in the past. The ubiquitous use of Zoom meetings became a poster child. Consider an organization that invested heavily in thin-client technology (stripped down desktops) with video set-ups in every conference room. Move to a Zoom-only, remote office world, and now you need laptops, or external cameras.
If your e-commerce presence represented 25% of your historical business and suddenly it moves to 100%, is your on-premise infrastructure suitable to handle the volume, or is it difficult to scale? How about customer service; does your customer service function have the capability to work remotely? Much of the old call center technology was on-premise, linked to handsets in the office. Can your call center employees work from home and take calls on their mobile phones? The lessons learned is that you cannot wait until the world — or more specifically your industry — has a “disruptive incident.” By then it may be too late.
Organizations are faced with the demands of scaling-up to meet the challenges that come with these disruptions. This includes investments in both technology and human capital. Across the board we are seeing every industry shifting into a digital transformation. Among our clients we have seen an increased interest and demand for cloud-based systems, automation technology, data analytics, and new and innovative ways to interact with customers, vendors and employees. Let’s look at a few examples.
Cloud First Strategy
A cloud is an externally hosted environment, accessible via the web, that houses applications either owned by the client or provisioned as a Software as a Service (“SaaS”) from a vendor. Using cloud-based or cloud-enabled applications allows a “deploy anywhere / access anywhere” capability that is typically highly scalable. As your business grows, you can very quickly scale resources to meet the demand. The cloud provider handles all aspects of the hardware infrastructure and you have the option of controlling the software side.
One of the most strategic systems to move into the cloud is your financial system. Today’s cloud-based financial systems are highly-evolved versions of the early integrated enterprise resource planning (“ERP”) systems of the past. Between the built-in data management and “smart” connectors to other external third party cloud systems, the need to maintain your financial system on premises is a thing of the past.
Regardless of which system you move into the cloud, in the long-run cloud-based environments may cost more, but the flexibility, ease of deployment and scalability far outweigh the short-run cost savings of hosting your own solutions.
While automation technologies have existed for years, Robotic Process Automation (“RPA”) has emerged in the last five years and has grown exponentially. Through the use of software robots or “bots” we can automate repetitive, transaction-based processes and thereby free-up your scarce labor to focus on more strategic and analytical tasks. Switching your staff from 90% transaction processing and 10% analysis to even a 50/50 split can have huge productivity gains. A bot can perform these transactional tasks 24/7/365 about 10X faster than you and I can interact with a computer.
Early forms of RPA attempted to replicate the interaction between a bot and a computer system by simulating typing using the keyboard and mouse. This form of automation was user interface (“UI”)- driven automation. While very useful in many situations, it was relatively slow and it took time to develop the automation scripts in the first place.
More recently, with the integration of artificial intelligence and machine learning, these bots have developed some new “super powers” that have advanced the automation capabilities and dramatically increased the speed. While many of us have used chatbots in the past to access customer service functions, many of these chat sessions were limited to fairly simple question-and-answer responses. Advanced interaction (such as placing an order) required complex programming behind the scenes. Now with the combination of natural language chatbots coupled with RPA provisioned in the cloud, these technologies can significantly accelerate automation projects. These advancements have a direct applicability to the digital transformation effort. Consider this case study:
A manufacturer has complex quoting system for its customers that is currently managed by the presales department. It is a complex set of programs that requires a number of customer specifications to be input over a series of interactions. The customer calls the presale consultant and begins the quoting process. Between each interaction, the staff must run queries, look up information and prepare follow-up questions for the customer. Due to the amount of time that the staff must work the quote, they tell the customer they will call them back, or place them on hold. This cycle may repeat several times until the final quote is prepared.
Consider the digital transformation potential:
A customer contacts the manufacturer and begins a conversation with the presale analyst. Based on the inbound phone number, the system automatically retrieves the customer’s existing profile information. The presale consultant opens a chatbot window, and as the customer provides specifications, the presale analyst enters the information into a series of interactions with the chatbot. While the call progresses, the chatbot triggers a series of robotic automations behind the scenes to perform the calculations and data look-ups that are required, dramatically increasing the response speed. While the bot is working, the analyst is having a meaningful and engaging conversation with the customer. Once the bot completes its work the analyst is able to review the completed quote with the customer. If the client agrees, the chatbot is instructed to issue the quote via e-mail and make the appropriate notations in the company’s CRM system.
When we think about data analytics we often think of expensive data warehouse projects crunching large amounts of data. This ignores the most critical data issue facing every organization from small to enterprise, and that is the ubiquitous use of spreadsheets to manage the data within our businesses. Let’s face it, the world runs on a spreadsheet. Employees spend countless hours each day extracting data from one system, entering it into a spreadsheet, transforming the data, and then entering it into the next system.
Not only is this data transformation process time consuming, it is also highly inefficient as employees waste critical time performing non-value-added functions. While some of you may consider yourselves spreadsheet gurus, the majority of employees have very limited data skills, thereby compounding the inefficiencies. It is essential that you empower skilled workers to lead the data transformation and move the rest of the organization away from its bad data habits.
The application of data analytics is a crucial component of an organization’s digital transformation. In many organizations it does not quite get the attention it merits. Every client interaction, every piece of data exchanged with your client, your internal business data, and your system data all need to be optimally managed. Each organizations has a treasure trove of data within its virtual walls. The organization that can identify, purify, objectify, and visualize its data will pave the way to the future.
Cloud-enabled environments, intelligent automation, chatbots, and data analytics. Does this sound like a far-off, futuristic utopia that costs in the high six figures and takes 12 months to implement? In fact, the very technologies that we are talking about are cost-effective, have a remarkable ROI and are being deployed for our clients at an astonishing pace. Your competitors are actively transforming their organizations. What are you waiting for?
For more information about Digital Transformation and the exciting opportunities available, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.