Digital transformation: going beyond lip service

Microsoft’s international president gives some practical advice on transforming organisations

The following is a contributed article by Jean Philippe Courtois, President, Microsoft International


I was recently in Barcelona, exploring digital transformation with other business leaders at Convergence EMEA. I’ve met with many organizations in the last few months who are all trying to do the same things – innovate, get closer to their customers, be more efficient and gain more insights to drive business. Digital transformation has the potential to help businesses achieve all of these goals, and even support governments around the world looking to stimulate economic growth.

But what does “digital transformation” really mean and how should company leaders embrace it? Partnering with Forrester Research, we examined this topic and evaluated European organizations’ digital strategies and priorities. There was an almost unanimous agreement that digital transformation is not a quick fix. Becoming more agile and customer-focused requires long-term commitment. I agree, given the huge potential impact of digital transformation on an organization’s mid- and long-term success.

The research also found that, while the majority of business leaders believe that ‘digital’ is the biggest driver for growth, just a third of IT leaders plan to create digital assets to drive revenue in the next two years. This disparity reveals that many organizations are still not collaborating in a way that aligns people, processes, technology and culture to drive transformation and boost productivity.

At the heart of this is data. I believe that the key to successful digital transformation lies in creating a data culture. In the emerging data economy, business success will be determined by how enterprises effectively use their data. This encompasses a range of technologies, such as machine learning, the Internet of Things (IoT) and data analytics, but underpinning it all is the intelligent cloud. It is the cloud that provides access to the latest tools and services, and empowers companies to gain valuable insights from their data.

I’m fortunate to travel and visit many organizations, seeing firsthand how we are helping customers to digitally transform. On a recent visit to Germany, I saw how ThyssenKrupp has embraced IoT, connecting its elevators to the cloud. Gathering data from its sensors and systems, and transforming that data into valuable business intelligence, ThyssenKrupp is vastly improving operations and doing something its competitors do not: predictive and even preemptive maintenance. The company has taken the long-term view required to get the most out of the latest technologies, transforming not only the way it operates, but its culture too.

Cultural change is ignited when decision makers go beyond adapting business processes, to completely realign business priorities and take a fresh perspective on how success is measured. Data and insights can now allow businesses to track new indicators, like customer attrition. A combination of strategic, tactical and cultural changes are needed to become a true digital organization. The fact that we have undergone these changes ourselves helps us help our customers to transform.

One-off digital tactics and a short-term view aren’t enough. Business and IT leaders must take a fresh look at all facets of their own organizations – the people, processes, technology and culture – and see if they are aligned and optimized for the digital age. Get this right, and businesses of all sizes can flourish in today’s mobile-first, cloud-first world.