How partners can deliver on the potential of digital transformation
- 06 November, 2017 12:30
Mark Hilton (Datacom); Rob Kingma (ICT Networks) and James Forbes-May (Barracuda)
As digital transformation strategies dominate the boardroom agenda, Australian business leaders know they must become digital.
Triggered by emerging technologies such as cloud and the Internet of Things (IoT), pilot phases are coming to an end as organisations explore mainstream adoption.
Yet despite appetite increasing, a clear definition of digital transformation is still lacking, creating confusion across the channel.
“The overall definition in a business context is more difficult to define as the term of digital transformation can mean different objectives and success factors for each business,” Synnex Australia general manager of ecommerce and cloud services Michael Tea said.
“For the Synnex Cloud team we define digital transformation as using digital technology to gain better data insights to allow us to create new innovative solutions and business values for our channel partners.
“Each one of our business units and external partners would have their own definition of digital transformation.”
As organisations scale up business ambitions across Australia — through adopting a ‘digital-first’ approach — the search for best practice is underway.
But while digital may appear a futuristic concept, the notion of getting closer to the customer is not new, with history serving up answers and solutions for organisations.
“Most people would agree that we commenced the transformation of businesses through digital technologies with the introduction of mainframe computers in the 1970s,” ICT Networks CEO Rob Kingma said.
“Since then each of the major technology waves such the PC, the internet, web 2.0, smartphones, wireless data and cloud, has presented opportunities for businesses.
“The opportunities have centred on getting closer to their customer’s buying decisions, through collecting and collating more data on buyers and automating processes in the manufacturing and delivery of products and services to those buyers.
“In other words, each wave of technology has allowed businesses to better identify and service micro markets at lower costs.”
According to Kingma, digital transformation introduces the next wave of technologies — such as cloud, IoT, machine learning and artificial intelligence — to assist businesses to better identify and service the needs of customers.
“While there may be a standard menu of technologies utilised to deliver the vision, it is a broad and somewhat ill-defined catch all,” Kingma added. “Partners need to define where and how they will add value to customers.”
Echoing Kingma’s observations, Tea advised partners to take the lead during customer engagements, driving digital transformation discussions to remain relevant.
“Articulating the benefits will require the right digital consultancy services and solutions that can align with the transformation objectives of the customer to make the value proposition more compelling,” Tea explained.
“By articulating best practices that have worked well for other customers, this will allow partners to articulate the benefits in a way that other clients can relate to.
“This could be proof of concepts, champion accounts and successful journeys to show customers that the partner has the experience to produce the outcome that they seek.”
In assessing the market through a technological lens however, as organisations transition to digital business, a lack of directly owned infrastructure and services outside of IT’s control will need to be addressed by cyber security.
According to Gartner research, by 2020, 60 per cent of digital businesses will suffer major service failures due to the inability of IT security teams to manage digital risk.
“We see the need for anti-malware security providers to continually up their game and evolve their threat detection technologies,” Avast Software sales manager of Australia Daniel Parks added.
“This will help identify and stop threats while also making it easy for the channel to deliver the security services needed and even easier for their business customers to put these services in place.”
In the context of digital, security remains a critical part of equation, alongside the growing need to protect company data and assets.
“All this extra digital data needs to be backed up, recoverable and accessible to ensure business continuity and maintain a positive customer perception,” Barracuda vice president of Asia Pacific James Forbes-May said.
“Digital transformation can definitely help organisations but if the data is not protected and secured it can in fact be incredibly damaging to revenues and reputations.”
While the idea of shifting toward digital business was speculative for most CEOs a few years ago, it has become a reality for many in 2017, with leaders challenged to make progress amid an increasingly competitive market landscape.
“Customers are deploying digital transformation strategies because the customer experience demands it,” ASI Solutions managing director Nathan Lowe said. “Where it works best is when the executive team are an advocate for digital transformation and implement change within the context of an end-vision.
“Those that are most successful are willing to take risks and learn from their mistakes.”
For Lowe, digital transformation can be dissected into three key customer offerings, improving end- user experience, boosting back-end capabilities and creating positive cultural environments.
“Customers undertake digital transformation to enhance the experience of their customer,” Lowe explained. “This results in greater retention of customers, boosting the brand reputation and thus driving an increase in sales for the business through extending market reach.
“On the back-end it can streamline business operations resulting in greater profitability, improving efficiency in making informed decisions as well as the capability to quickly go-to-market with new services and product offerings.
“And finally, digital transformation provides a cultural benefit where it can inspire creativity and innovation within a business to continually transform and improve.”
Echoing Lowe’s observations, Evolve IT managing director Nick Moran believes digital transformation has customer experience at the core, allowing organisations to compete more effectively for market share.
“There’s a major data and social aspect to digital transformation and it’s simply about using data to improve the customer experience,” Moran said. “Most businesses nowadays believe they compete mostly on customer experience.
“It’s no longer about employing a single or particular technology, it is about ongoing process improvement.”
While all businesses across Australia must continually re-invent themselves to stay relevant, Moran advised that it can’t simply be change for the sake of change.
“Technology does not always make an organisation more efficient,” he cautioned. “If you digitise a rubbish process, it will still be a rubbish process.
“Organisations have and will always look to create ways to make it easy for customers to do business. Failure to do this introduces the risk of not staying relevant in their respective industries.”
Today, Moran believes technology spoils customers into demanding improved products and experiences, with end-users leveraging increased purchasing power to expect on- demand services.
“With more buyer self-servicing from the web, there’s no surprise that these self-service options are preferred by business leaders too,” he acknowledged.
The result is a new buyer in town, with non-IT business executives becoming empowered to make IT purchasing decisions — spanning sales, marketing, finance, HR and operations.
“Look back 10 years ago, the CFO was the person to persuade because businesses focused primarily on cost management to create a competitive edge,” Moran recalled. “Five years later we shifted focus to CIOs as we saw value in cross collaboration and integration.
“Considering the importance of technology today, we are finding in the mid-market that most technology buying now comes from outside of IT.”
From a partner standpoint, the channel has a crucial role to play in delivering on the potential of digital transformation for customers, as end-users seek ongoing guidance and advice.
“By immersing ourselves in the organisation of our customer we begin to understand their processes as well as learn their industry challenges and can help with the innovation piece that many businesses struggle with,” Moran added.
Despite market enthusiasm increasing however, most businesses remain underprepared for the wave of digital transformation impacting the industry.
As a result, the onus is now on the channel to inform and advise on the next steps.
“We are starting to see more and more partners embracing cloud services to deliver effective and efficient outcomes for their clients,” Synnex Australia product director Deniz Kilicci added.
“Partners must under the needs of the customer, while leveraging a distribution partner such as Synnex to fill the resource gaps in their business.”
Partners today must engage through business and commercial discussions with customers, with organisations actively seeking consultancy capabilities.
“We talk to our customers to understand what this means to them and to be part of the journey to help them get to where their business needs to be,” JB Hi-Fi Solutions general manager of Telstra business and enterprise Tony Nikolovski said.
“By doing this early with our customers we have clarity around what we need to deliver. But we need to make sure we partner with relevant vendors to be able to support our customers on their journey.”
As a result, vendor selection becomes paramount for partners embarking on digital transformation strategies, with the channel weighing up technology prowess against strong enablement and support.
“We look at the vendor’s offerings in terms of products, value, channel alignment, programs and support capabilities,” Kilicci added. “We also look at vendor’s strategy and direction to ensure there is alignment with our own.
“During the last 12 months, we have on-boarded various cloud vendors and created a very strong cloud portfolio. The priority in the coming year is to consolidate and create marketable cloud solutions.
“We will also be looking at recruiting ISVs [independent software vendors] with strategic alignment that can complement the proposed solutions in our pipeline.”