Digitally Transform... Or Else

If your organization is not embracing digital transformation, it won't be around much longer. There's simply nothing more important for organizational survival than digital transformation.

Those statements will not be subject to a lot of debate. The conclusions are shared by numerous vendors, consultants, analysts, and business leaders. That's the easy part. The devil is in the details.

The good news is that every IT professional is already familiar with the basic process because it's nothing new. Yes, the name of the song changes, but the dance doesn't. The routines were similar when organizations acquired mainframes, then minis, then PCs, and, yes, mobile devices. And a similar dance drove the adoption of MRP, ERP, HRIS, and CRM.

Winning in business often means jumping ahead on the technology curve, while survival is a matter of keeping up. Adopting technology isn't particularly new.

Digital transformation is the application of digital technologies to fundamentally impact all aspects of business. The newish part is the word "digital." Organizations don't get points any more for analog or physical technologies. The wheel had a great run, but it's time to virtualize it.

Digital transformation is less about digital and much more about transformation. Buying new technologies to do things more efficiently doesn't cut it any more. Digital transformation represents more about approach and philosophy than anything you can buy -- though that may not be evident in the sales pitch.

Unfortunately, there's no clear path to digital transformation. Unless, of course, you are in the ride-hailing business because most examples of digital transformation involve Uber. There are, however, a few consistent themes. Here are three:

First, shed the constraints of the physical world. Moving bits is much easier than moving real objects. Dematerialization is a critical component of digital transformation. It's why many businesses prefer electronic payments over cash. Not everything can be dematerialized, but even items like tractors now have as many virtual upgrades as physical accessories.

The second theme is automation and self-service. Thanks to the virtualization of everything, AI, IoT, and a completely connected world, we are seeing unprecedented opportunities for automation and self-service.

Virtualization unlocks self-service and automated capabilities. The airlines could not move to self-service reservations until they first eliminated the physical, proprietary ticket. Automation and self-service reduces the need for staff. Amazon.com doesn't pay cashiers. My local toll road doesn't have any toll booths. It's still a bit of a curiosity, but the implications are staggering: cars without drivers, trains without engineers, cartoons without animators, restaurants without chefs.

A third digital transformation theme is distributed architectures. The functions and services of the mainframe and PBX remain as valid today as they were before, but monolithic architectures are out. The software solutions from a previous revolution have become anchors of complexity. Updates frequently break more features than they fix or add.

The solution du jour is smaller pieces of interconnected software. Every modern digital transformation strategy involves things like APIs, microservices, and containers. There's no reason for the frosting function to be concerned with cake baking.

Digital Transformation Via Communications

Communications and collaboration can contribute to an organization's transformational journey by embracing the same three themes. For example, part of virtualizing everything is the conference room. Most teams no longer exist within a single physical location, so the room down the hall is only part of the solution.

Communications and collaboration must embrace the needs of the individual as well as small teams. There's a significant communications and collaboration opportunity to transform laptops, mobile devices, and smaller, informal rooms into functional tools for collaboration.

The world enjoys numerous methods of communication, so enterprise communications systems must evolve as well. This starts with the contact center, and it's why omnichannel communications are so important. But that's just the start. Customer engagement increasingly spans into a business's core products and services. For example, NCR has video-enabled its ATMs.

Communications involves more than customers and internal colleagues; it extends to partners and suppliers, too. Consumer messaging apps have worked their way into the enterprise because UC instant messaging solutions are often limited to internal users. Communications and collaboration solutions must facilitate external team members, especially regarding collaboration.

Modern communications can also play a role in automation. Chat bots are an emerging technology that can automate communications. Another opportunity for automation is systems that can react to events or triggers. For example, Mitel's Mass Notification system can send text alerts and even initiate audio conferences based on specific events. Arrow SI built a powerful integration between Avaya Breeze and its Arrow Connect IoT platform that can respond to a broad range of events.

On a final note, digital technologies continue to rapidly evolve. Areas such as VR/AR, 3D printing, drones, and robotics will continue to radically change business. No solution can ensure long-term benefits and competitiveness, so ongoing review of technology and partnerships is necessary and solutions should be engineered for flexibility.

Dave Michels is a contributing editor and analyst at TalkingPointz.

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