Jonny Williamson rounds up the insights from an exclusive digital transformation event hosted by Microsoft at Altitude London.
Those most likely to succeed in the modern, connected business environment are those eager to learn how to engage customers, empower employees and successfully leverage new digital technologies.
With that ethos framing the day’s discussions, Microsoft brought together a gathering of almost 200 thought leaders and executives on 8 February to gain an exclusive insight into the next generation of intelligent business applications designed to enable organisations to grow, evolve and transform.
Attendees were also offered the opportunity to be among the first to see the unveiling of Microsoft Dynamics 365, a system which combines CRM and ERP capabilities into a tailored portfolio of applications that work across sales; customer service; field service; operations; finance; marketing, and project service automation.
Accelerating digital business transformation
The event began with a presentation which explored the role technology plays in business transformation through an astute, data-rich appraisal by Michelle Beeson – an analyst at global research and advisory firm, Forrester.
Beeson described how consumers have become hyper-connected and empowered, driving them to embody new expectations from both a consumer and business perspective. Consumers’ experience of seamless connectivity and service in their personal lives is now demanded from businesses and their employees, with a heavy, take-no-prisoners emphasis on businesses to deliver.
The research analyst continued by noting how technology – particularly driven by the now seemingly ubiquitous smart phone – had created an environment where digital connections extend far beyond contexts (home, work, social), changing the way we all interact with people, businesses and places.
This digital influence is spreading beyond solely online to now impact consumers’ offline decisions and interactions, with more than half of all total retail sales expected to be ‘web-impacted’ by 2021, according to Forrester research.
As such, Beeson emphasised the tremendous importance of an organisation’s digital assets in creating engaged and sustained customer relationships. There is clear evidence that those offering superior customer experiences are outperforming laggards in terms of attaining and retaining customers, i.e. direct business growth. Therefore, a digital strategy has become a fundamental business imperative, rather than optional.
Another key takeaway Beeson wished to impart was the need to master both digital customer experience and digital operational excellence, rather than focusing solely on one or the other. Her advice was to consider ways your organisation could leverage new digital technologies to become customer-led rather than customer-aware, moving from being data-rich to insight-driven and, most importantly, breaking down silos to become truly connected and cross-functional.
With more than two-thirds (68%) of business executives saying that functional boundaries inhibit their digital maturity (Forrester), Somit Goyal, worldwide head of customer success for Microsoft business solutions, highlighted the growing trend of organisations to become IT-led, rather than IT being viewed as an afterthought.
Digital transformation has four key pillars, explained Goyal: customer engagement, employee empowerment, operation optimisation and product transformation. The key to successfully realising all four was adopting a holistic, business class, optimised solution – something Microsoft believes it has created with Dynamics 365.
Powered by Microsoft Cloud, Dynamics 365 blurs the digital divide between ERP and CRM applications, offering what Goyal described as a purpose built, productive, intelligent and easily adoptable solution. This blurring, he added, reflects the business shift and breaking down of silos towards customer experience and operational processes in an effort to serve customers more effectivity.
Too often ERP and CRM were supplied by competing vendors resulting in difficult integration and a significant amount of excess functionality. Dynamics 365 aims to address that challenge, said Goyal, thanks to purpose-built applications that help manage specific business functions seamlessly, with complete out-of-the-box functionality.
Intelligent business applications
The morning’s presentations were rounded off by Mark Everest, IS development manager at Renault Sport Formula One, who offered a real-world case study of an organisation that had adopted Dynamics 365.
According to Everest, the benefits of Dynamics 365 include: increased operational agility and visibility; a simplified infrastructure; global secure access, and much improved cost tracking. The company’s adoption of Dynamics 365 has also seen it embrace Power BI, Microsoft’s suite of business intelligence tools to analyse data and share insights. With 35 billion data points per car, per race, making sense of the significant amount of data being gathered can make the difference between first and second place.
The ease in which custom data-dashboards can be created with Power BI was cited as being key to achieving organisational efficiencies, visualising data and enabling deep drill-downs far better than previous methods. Any time spent setting up the dashboards and level of access can be easily and quickly recouped, added Everest, thanks to the power of access and data being given back to the workforce.
Everest concluded with two pieces of advice. Firstly, look to recruit data specialists now, rather than later; particularly those who have some knowledge of your sector and its associated challenges. Secondly, ensure data quality isn’t solely the responsibility of the IT department. Create a culture where everyone grasps the importance of data and is able to track it from creation, gathering, visualisation and, ultimately, actionable insight.
Following Everest, attendees broke up into sector groups: Manufacturing; Retail; Financial Services, and Public Sector. Nick Peters, editorial director of The Manufacturer, chaired the manufacturing breakout session, with an exploration of UK industry and its digital transformation.
Take a look at the keynote presentation videos from the event.
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Learn more about Dynamics 365 for Manufacturing here.
Peters offered a snapshot of the nation’s manufacturing via The Manufacturer’s recently published Annual Manufacturing Report 2017, two sections of which specifically explore ‘Connected Factories’ and ‘Information & Communications Technology’.
The report offers a landscape in which there exists an ever greater need for competitive differentiation, much of which is being realised through data, connectivity, service provision and real-time insight – all of which are predicated on a digital backbone.
According to the report, it seems that most manufacturers see the benefit in greater connectivity not just as a means of cutting costs, but as a way of generating additional revenues – either by entering new markets, or achieving higher production levels from existing capacity. Other improvements cited include boosts in productivity, quality, accuracy, cycle time and the working environment.
In terms of return on investment, more than two-thirds (68%) of respondents expected to see increased revenues to flow from their connectivity or digital technology investments within 12 months. More negatively, just a quarter of respondents felt that they possessed sufficient knowledge with which to evaluate their own business case for modern technologies and processes, with a worrying 75% reporting an inadequate understanding.
Such a finding demonstrates a clear opportunity for vendors to engage with new and existing clients in ways that will dispel some of these fears and areas of ignorance. Discussion panel member, Philip Rubins, principle solution specialist for discrete manufacturing at Microsoft, said that many of the latent fears around technology were outdated, noting that digital technology is highly advanced, accessible, secure and intuitive.
More specifically, Rubins highlighted two key concerns he’d witnessed around digital transformation: complexity and time to value. Microsoft’s move towards a more solution-based approach effectively addresses both concerns.