Surf the digital wave, or get swamped

Jaideep Mehta | Updated on March 09, 2018

Are you game? The digital wave can open up new revenue streams rudall30/shutterstock.com

Enhancing customer relations and boosting supply chain and workforce efficiencies, it’s transforming business for good

A logistics company adopted a workforce tracking solution to monitor their delivery staff in real time. Working on simple Android devices, the solution drove a productivity gain of 33 per cent with deliveries per person per day rising from 6 to 8. Within 90 days.

Fretting about the number of people coming to their website and not buying anything, a bank CEO sanctioned funding for video chats to be made available on the platform. The results were transformational: even in its nascence, the new customer engagement channel has driven a manifold increase in conversion rates.

A digital wave wave is sweeping across the business world. It promises to transform the way business is done, rewarding those who ride it and, equally, punishing those who fight it.

Digital is much more than technology: it is a way of life. The consequence of a set of technologies that are driving fundamental and profound changes in the way people engage, communicate, socialise and conduct business. This is especially true for the younger generation who cannot visualise a world without mobile social networking, instant messaging or e-commerce.

A disruptive force

In the business world, the digital wave is disrupting the way organisations engage with customers. It is transforming the way a company engages with its partners and suppliers, develops new products, creates and protects intellectual property and manages workforce. It is changing the nature of transactions.

It is also creating opportunities and revenue streams for businesses. Take the small chikan work artisans of Lucknow; they now have a distribution platform with shopatplaces.com; it opens up a global marketplace they have not had access to before, ever. Or smartphone companies such as Apple and Micromax who are able to do business with the consuming public of Samasthipur through digital platforms, without having to invest in local distribution.

So, what constitutes digital? The digital world has been truly enabled in the last 2-3 years in India by the revolutionary changes in underlying technology.

We have begun an irreversible process of migrating onto the ‘Third Platform’ of technology: it constitutes the SMAC stack (social, mobile, analytics, Big Data and cloud) and is increasingly punctuated by newer technologies such as the Internet of Things, cognitive computing and so on.

According to IDC, the cloud market in India is expected to hit $5billion by the end of next year and the enterprise mobility market is racing past the billion-dollar mark.

Almost ironically, the big change from the business leader’s perspective is that they don’t have to worry too much about the underlying technology anymore.

Here’s why

The IT industry has finally started to industrialise, and its products are getting simpler to consume than ever before. A ready example is salesforce or customer management software. Less than a decade ago, the process of automating sales force operations took 12-18 months, was full of complex processes and heavy capital expenditure, and was fraught with risk.

Now, it’s a matter of 8-12 weeks, requires simple process configurations and you can rent the software and the associated technology infrastructure on a per-user, per-month basis. While someone else outside of the company worries about ensuring the software is “always on”, available and evolving constantly.

This simplification has resulted in a never before phenomenon: business leaders are driving and leading IT investments like never before. CIOs are challenged; in some cases, their very existence threatened.

The hot areas of investment include: digital marketing, sales force automation, customer relationship management, supply chain and distribution systems as well as employee engagement and management platforms. Notice the predominance of business processes in the vocabulary.

IT is being leveraged in unprecedented ways to strengthen brands, engage new customers and deepen relationships with existing ones.

Digital technology is making it relatively easy for companies to collaborate with design, R&D and product development partners across the globe through seamless, single platforms.

Some checkers

However, the road is still not without risks. Some simple guidelines that govern strategy and action can go a long way in ensuring success. Here we go.

Get the architecture right, and take your CIO into confidence. They have an important role to play in ensuring that the correct strategy is deployed, and right partners chosen for the journey. You won’t have the skills in-house; these technologies are too new and you need expert help. Choose wisely.

Don’t get lost in the technology hype. Focus on where technology can impact business; let your IT partner worry about the ‘How’. Unless the potential pay-off is transformational, avoid the bleeding edge of technology: the risk may not be worth it.

Don’t act independently and create unintended complexity which could hurt the business a few years down the line. Visualise a scenario where every C-Suite executive goes their own way with technology procurement; integration will be a nightmare and even simple paradigms such as ‘one view of the customer’ or ‘real-time sales reporting’ could become an issue.

Outsource non-essential services. We see too many companies with in-house IT infrastructure which locks up essential capital, takes up management time and costs human resource. Outsource whatever is not a source of competitive advantage, which amounts to 70-80 per cent of IT in most organisations. A service provider, governed by an intelligent contract and a strong governance framework, will be able to provide you the same service more efficiently and effectively. And almost always cheaper.

Create an R&D fund, and even more importantly, encourage a culture of positive failure. To hit the jackpot, rapid and incremental experimentation is essential. This needs funding, as well as an inspired team which does not fear for their jobs in case projects fail. Sponsorship and active support from business executives is essential through the journey.

As a corollary to the above, have funding and infrastructure in place to rapidly scale those experiments which are successful.

Digital technologies and associated platforms promise a new, golden future for businesses. From transforming customer relationships to driving unprecedented efficiencies across supply chains, from highly engaged workforces to intimately connected partners, the digital wave can take your business to new frontiers.

The writer is MD (South Assia), IDC

Published on February 09, 2015

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