This article first appeared in the Autumn 2017 issue of The Record.
Technology is transforming businesses in every sector. Cloud and connected devices are now ubiquitous, and companies are starting to use their information to intelligently gain real time insight into customers.
It is therefore no surprise that, according to Dimension Data’s recent Digital Workplace report, 25% of organisations are investing in new digital tools such as workspace analytics, augmented reality and micro-training.
“Thanks to advances in cloud, big data, connected things, advanced analytics, mixed reality and artificial intelligence (AI), people have access to incredible information – both real time and predictive,” says Toni Townes-Whitley, corporate vice president, Microsoft Worldwide Public Sector and Industry.
This has multiple advantages, allowing organisations to improve their internal processes as well as better target new and existing customers. But this brave new digital world also comes with challenges: Most notably, it is creating a need for firms to completely rewrite their business models and cultures.
“The opportunity to think and operate like a digital company is disrupting markets, shaping growth, and providing the catalyst for new business models, products, services, and experiences,” Townes-Whitley says.
According to Alex Bennett, go-to-market director for Workplace Productivity at Dimension Data, many firms are starting by implementing cloud tools such as Microsoft’s 365. “It’s one of the first platforms to be integrated as part of their wider ‘digital workplace’ strategy,” he says. “For a more connected workforce with embedded security, it’s allowing employees to use intuitive tools on any device and from any location to collaborate.”
Cognitive solutions such as AI and machine learning are also being embedded in many areas of work. “This is from a customer experience perspective as well as for operational efficiency and productivity improvement,” Bennett adds.
It’s these technologies that have huge potential, according to Townes-Whitley. This is because in the future, much of an organisation’s transactional and routine work will be handled by intelligent machines.
It might appear complex, but this impending age of machines has the capacity to unlock new categories of industry built around areas of human intelligence not easily replicated by machines.
“Technology is the engine, but if done well, it sits in the background and augments the wonderful traits that make us human,” Townes-Whitley explains. “It’s our humanity plus technology that moves us forward to more inclusive workplaces powered by this digital transformation.”
Krista Brown, senior vice president of enterprise mobility at Dimension Data, believes that these technologies will pave the way for a more intelligent, digital future sooner than we think. In fact, she says, a great number of companies anticipate technology including AI, augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and micro learning will become a part of their business within the next two years.
“They are setting the groundwork now to enable this,” she explains. This is seeing organisations upgrading to Windows 10; implementing identity-driven and mobile security through enterprise mobility services (EMS); and leveraging Skype for Business to ensure teams can collaborate whether inside or outside of the office.
This is only the start. New technology will enable functionality companies had only dreamed of in the past. According to Brown: “Those driving the innovation changes are already starting to see how AI bots can help improve customer service. Meanwhile, AR can change the information available to people as they do their jobs.”
The analytics behind this is just as important, she says, because it allows firms to show the actual improvements provided by new technology. “We’re no longer interested in perceived value: we want information that shows we’ve improved time to market; operational efficiencies have improved; and we’re retaining staff through flexible working programmes and intelligent employee lifecycle management.”
But with an increased use of data comes the need for better recognition of data security. Cyberattacks are proving to be a bigger threat than ever before – it was only recently that the global WannaCry ransomware hit multiple sectors including the UK’s National Health Service.
“There is so much data being generated today, it’s resulting in an urgent need for policies around data protection,” says Townes-Whitley. As part of their digital transformation, organisations must therefore implement policies and tools that protect their information from malicious adversaries determined to disrupt IT systems and steal data.
The increasing risk of a data breach made 2017 a year that focused on collaboration and security, says Bennett. Yet at the same time, he adds, “companies must ensure that increased security does not prohibit employees from collaborating to bring products and services to market.”
Those that tackle the challenges effectively will reap the rewards. But which industries will most feel these changes over the coming years? All sectors will undergo massive transformation, according to Townes-Whitley. “Digital transformation is already well underway throughout the global economy and in every aspect of society. The jobs our parents did – like line workers or truck drivers – may just go away.”
One industry already undergoing radical changes is the financial sector. Brown explains: “Data can be analysed across multiple sources such as market data, social sentiment, client interactions, and economic indicators to drive rich personalised insights to an investment client.”
Taking this one step further, Townes-Whitley cites the example of how Microsoft is exploring how AI can augment and scale human expertise to deliver next generation investment advisory services. This is seeing virtual cognitive agents able to converse and make intelligent decisions being increasingly used in the sector.
She explains: “Imagine that a seismic market event is taking place. The investment client is on a transatlantic flight, and her human investment advisor is not reachable. A financial institution can implement an advisor bot that advises in real-time and executes adjustments to her portfolio to reduce exposure and maximise upside during the market event.”
In addition, says Bennett, machine learning and AI are being harnessed in the legal sector, to help select the right cases for profitable outcomes as well as reduce costs with automated processes and research.
Another industry using technology to innovate is manufacturing, according to Brown: “Manufacturing is going through a vast change with machine learning and AI analysing all aspects of the supply chain and the manufacturing process to improve time to market, cost of production and reduce the number of faulty goods. “
At the same time, new platforms teamed with digital tools are advancing healthcare and education. For example, says Brown, healthcare technology is changing the way doctors research illnesses, as well as deliver services to patients – either in person or via telemedicine.
In retail, meanwhile, it is now possible to engage the shopper throughout the entire purchasing journey. “Imagine intelligent bots that can determine the right time and place to engage with the shopper at home based on behavioural information coupled with machine learning,” says Townes-Whitley.
This sees a chatbot interface engaging the shopper in a conversation showing relevant and personalised recommendations to encourage a purchase. “When the shopper visits the store, sensor technologies that couple with his or her mobile device help identify him and enable the store associates to engage in a personalised manner,” Townes-Whitley explains.
It is clear technology has the potential to revolutionise every government and business across the globe. In an increasingly competitive landscape, experts say it is important that organisations act now to digitise their business and avoid being left behind.
To remain relevant and competitive, organisations must embrace these changes and use technology to transform themselves into a digital business, Townes-Whitley advises. She points out that Microsoft is in a good position to help, because it has already been through this transition to become a data driven, technologically innovative business.
“This is not just a theory or a prediction; we are currently navigating our own digital transformation. Before we could help our customers adopt this new model, we had to learn it ourselves,” Townes-Whitley says.
The company’s digital transformation has proved so powerful that Microsoft has put it at the centre of its mission to empower every person and organisation on the planet to achieve more. “We are focused on nothing less than changing the world,” Townes-Whitley concludes.
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