This article first appeared in the
Winter 2017 issue of The Record.
The digital transformation of enterprises the world over is paving the way for an exciting future. We are at the edge of a major technology shift towards more intelligent computing – one fuelled by the rise of data, sensors, the cloud, artificial intelligence, machine learning and mixed reality.
According to Julia Atalla, a senior director in Microsoft’s Surface team, the disruptive force of these technologies is fuelling more agility and efficiency in everything we do. “It’s powering transformations that remove the seams and friction, and helping to create a culture that empowers businesses and their employees to achieve more,” she says.
It’s a powerful change. When applied in new ways, these technologies can shift behaviour, inspire ideas, accelerate progress and really transform businesses. “We look at the holistic picture of what is happening within your workplace – inside and outside of your office space – and how technology can enable your employees to create and collaborate in new ways,” Atalla explains. “It goes beyond productivity. When your employees are engaged and thriving, your business also thrives.”
Through true digital transformation, companies are able to totally reimagine their operations. “They can find more efficient ways to come together to solve complex problems, to create and brainstorm, analyse data and make decisions in real-time,” Atalla says.
But achieving the ‘true digital transformation’ that Atalla speaks about isn’t always straightforward. “One of the major inhibitors is the lack of understanding when looking to digitally transform,” explains Simon O’Carroll, a director at Microsoft partner and cloud software provider Mercato Solutions. “Many people confuse digital transformation. Digitising existing manual operations like-for-like isn’t digital transformation, that’s just digital transition. True digital transformation is about embracing disruptive digital technologies, the new things they allow us to do, and re-evaluating processes and systems as they are digitised, to take full advantage of these new offerings, enabling us to work smarter and more efficiently. Unfortunately, many companies implement a mass of standalone initiatives, untied to any overall strategy. This results in a failure to identify all dependencies, lack of a combined strategy and ultimately failure to deploy a successful transformation programme. This can be averted by understanding that just going digital is not enough; a clear strategy needs to be produced.”
This isn’t the only barrier to success: the growing skills gap is presenting a significant challenge. “It’s crazy, but 65% of kids entering school today will be doing jobs that currently don’t exist,” Atalla explains. “CEOs are committed to hiring and growing, but 52% of them are seeking new skills that cannot be replicated by machines. This makes skills like creativity – amplifying the ingenuity of every single employee – more critical than ever. Business leaders expect their employees to be creative – to solve problems differently, to collaborate more, to work across geographies. Businesses need employees to continually ask: what are new ways of thinking about this old problem? But employees don’t always feel like they are getting the right tools to help them do this. While 72% of workers believe their future success depends on their ability to be creative, only 31% say they are living up to their creative potential, and only 40% feel they have a company culture that encourages creativity.”
What’s more, the expectations of employees often don’t marry those of employers. Today’s workforce, and the workforce of tomorrow, expect to be able to work how and where they want. They are more nomadic and geographically dispersed than ever. “In the next two years, 42% of the global workforce will be mobile,” says Atalla. “Employees, especially younger generations, expect their employers to provide state-of-the-art technology for them at work and on the go. While business leaders believe they have invested in mobility and collaboration solutions, employees don’t always agree. Only 33% say the technology provided at work ‘fully meets their needs’. So, in many cases, the promise of technology is there, but the reality of what’s available in the workplace today is limiting.”
And vice-versa. Patrick Harper, chief technology officer at Microsoft partner PGi, says that the possibility of user inertia cannot be ignored. “Without implementation, training and adoption, the user cannot harness the power of the technology tools available,” he says. “While digital transformation brings a host of innovative technologies and opportunities to the forefront of the digital worker, there will, inevitably, be those who prefer legacy tools and technology solutions. It will be critical for IT teams to strategically incorporate training and adoption KPIs and other tactics into their digital implementations to ensure that users adopt the latest technology.”
The latest research also suggests that employee engagement is universally low. In fact, according to a recent Gallup poll, only one in eight employees globally is actively engaged. “Great leaders know that building a strong culture starts with a shared mission and purpose, deeply rooted in business outcomes, which allows employees to feel valued and be authentic, and gives them the space and tools that help fuel creation and collaboration,” Atalla says. “Business ¬decision-makers need to examine all aspects of their organisations and understand what their workers need in this new culture of work so that all employees feel engaged and connected.”
Thankfully, Microsoft and its partners are positioned to help organisations meet all of these challenges and more. “While technology is a driving force, at Microsoft we believe digital transformation starts with people. Companies have an opportunity to use devices and technology to inspire people – their most valuable asset – to be fully engaged employees that are more creative, more innovative, and more productive,” Atalla explains.
“Technology – both hardware and software – combined with the right working environments is what helps close the gap,” Atalla says. “We believe the best technologies leading today’s digital transformation marry software and hardware for a seamless experience, truly enabling this new culture of work. We help unlock creativity, build teamwork, integrate for simplicity and keep information secure.”
Harper agrees. “At PGi, we like to think of digital transformation as another tool in an organisation’s arsenal to drive business success,” he explains. “Just like your marketing or operational strategies, a business should see digital transformation as a strategy to be cultivated and implemented meticulously across their organisation. If done properly, digital transformation can help consolidate processes, streamline communications and drive productivity – all helping a company reach their business goals.”
Atalla believes that Microsoft has pushed the ecosystem forward by creating new ways for employees to interact with their devices – such as touch, inking and eye tracking. “We’ve done it by using hardware to push the boundaries of the software,” she explains. “Devices are core to our strategy of enabling digital transformation for our customers and helping to shape the future of how we work and create.”
Microsoft is also at the edge of the next major technology shift toward more intelligent computing, which is defined by the rise of data, artificial intelligence, machine learning and mixed reality. Devices play a pivotal role as the sensors and inputs that feed intelligence into the cloud, but they are also the tools that help unlock the creativity and intelligence of people and people are what Microsoft believes is at the centre of any digital transformation journey.
“Microsoft is here to help companies understand that the opportunity is not in the technology itself, but in how we amplify human ingenuity with intelligent technology,” says Atalla.
Those companies that are already embracing these technologies are reaping the rewards. Global confectionary conglomerate Mars is a shining example of what can be achieved. The company adopted Microsoft Surface Pro, Windows 10 Enterprise, Microsoft Office 365, and Microsoft Azure to increase employee effectiveness, enhance mobility, streamline collaboration, promote data security and reduce IT costs.
“Windows 10 and our new digital workplace help Mars direct IT investment dollars toward unlocking greater potential across our organisation,” explains Jonathan Chong, digital workplace and corporate systems director at Mars, in a Microsoft case study article. “Rather than tying up investment and time to just get through the next product release, we can focus on enhancing key aspects of our culture at a digital level, across divisions, borders, and time zones – so we can preserve what is special about Mars and help all our associates be more productive and agile.”
Meanwhile, global automotive manufacturer Ford is reinventing the way it does product design by blending 3D holograms with both clay models and physical production vehicles. “Windows Mixed Reality helps customers like Ford do things that until now have never been possible,” says Atalla. “Windows Mixed Reality experiences will help businesses and their employees complete crucial tasks faster, safer, more efficiently, and create new ways to connect to customers and partners.”
These two examples are just the tip of the iceberg of what is being achieved. “We’ve seen manufacturing customers use technology to move entire workflows from paper to digital. We’ve seen insurance providers move their entire workforce to a modern, mobile 2-in-1 workstation. We’ve seen airlines literally take the weight off their pilots by shifting heavy flight manuals and procedures to purely electronic flight bags. And we’ve seen schools empower educators and students to have curriculum, assignments and remote experts at their fingertips – really reimagining the way teachers teach and students learn,” Atalla concludes. “Beyond just making things more efficient, investing in digital transformation helps companies of all sizes in all industries focus on what matters – new ways of doing things that drive innovation, bring real-time data and insights, align accountability for teams to make progress together, all to provide new value for their customers.”