How will you use yours?

1440 minutes…

We all get the same number of minutes in a day.

Regardless of who we are or what we do, from the CEO to the receptionist we’re all bound by the same rules. Yet, if we are honest with ourselves, we probably aren’t making the best use of it. After all, we spend so long sleeping (around one-third of our lives!), eating, drinking and commuting that there’s only about half left for anything else.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I’m a huge Star Trek fan. One of my favourite films is Generations, in which there’s a scene between Captain Picard and the villain Dr Soran that, for me, sums up the way many people feel about time. Quoting the 20th-century poem “Calmly We Walk Through This April’s Day” by American poet Delmore Schwartz, Soran says to Picard “they say time is the fire in which we burn”. It’s that notion of time being predatory, that there simply isn’t enough of it to achieve our goals, and worse still the quintessentially human trait of regretting the things we don’t do, which bothers me.

As a technologist, I firmly believe that 1440 minutes is an abundance of time. I believe that to continue to be successful as citizens, as employees, as business leaders, we need not only to embrace technology but to use it to do things differently. To be more effective, rather than more efficient. It’s not often we’re brave enough to make time to try something new. Frustratingly, all too often the solution from big IT companies is a shiny new version of the same old software we’ve been using for years.

Whilst having the latest version of something can have many benefits, not least when it comes to security, it doesn’t equate to digital transformation.

Undeniably, we are now in the middle of a fourth industrial revolution. “Digital Transformation” is the title of the current act we find ourselves muddling through; the script being written and tweaked on a daily – if not hourly – basis. Change for the sake of change isn’t the solution, and the saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is true. So, what about new ways to adopt technology? What about the things we can do today that just a few years ago were science fiction?

If we look again to Star Trek. To the Communicator and the “universal translator”. There is a piece of technology that enabled my interstellar heroes to speak to anyone, anywhere, anytime and in any language, all through a tiny device in their pocket (or later, on their shirt). As a kid, this was complete science fiction. Ubiquitous in its application, but almost invisible when compared with transporters, holodecks, and photon torpedoes, yet so fundamental that when it didn’t work everything stopped.

It’s utterly incredible then, that today I can begin to achieve much the same outcome through my humble smartphone. Thanks to the unparalleled power of cloud computing, and the democratisation of tools, I can have an app on my phone that will allow me to speak to a colleague in Germany, in English, for them to hear me translated in real time into German, and vice versa. Suddenly, I have 23rd-century technology in my pocket and it’s only 2017!

The pace of change in the technology industry is apparently inexhaustible. Many big IT companies promise to help you grow, or claim to have the ultimate solution. Sadly, most of the time this solution is just another product to deploy into your business. There aren’t many companies that take a more holistic view, providing not just individual products or services but instead integrated, intelligent, mobile and social experiences that enable whole new ways of working. In contrast, Microsoft’s approach to digital transformation is across four pillars:

  1. Empowering your employees
  2. Engaging your customers
  3. Optimising your operations
  4. Transforming your products

These pillars seek to translate this change into solutions that make a real difference to you and your business. Inevitably, there’ll be new software and services involved, and the question you should always ask before adopting anything is: how will this positively impact me, my customers, my employees and my investors? It’s easy to lose sight of measuring the impact of implementing new technology but it’s imperative that you do. How else will you know if it’s been successful, or a failure?

Evolving demands

Managing cash flow. Hiring and retaining talent. Bringing new products to market. Proving value to clients and shareholders. Data security and compliance. There are more pressures on the leaders of businesses of all sizes today than ever before.

It’s understandable that having a digital transformation strategy can seem like a challenge too unwieldy to develop, and certainly not top of the list of things to do. However, there is a universal truth that must also be acknowledged in the context of a digital transformation strategy: your customers are transforming without you.

The businesses that survive into the future are the ones who acknowledge that they need to start integrating technology into their operations to innovate and differentiate themselves from everyone else in the market. This doesn’t just mean digitising and automating a paper-based process. It means rethinking how you enable your customers to do business with you and how you give your employees the freedom to do their best work. If you don’t, they’ll begin to take matters into their own hands.

The desire path

Desire Path

There’s a concept in civil engineering: the desire path. The most convenient, often shortest, path between two locations. Rarely is the beautifully level, well-maintained, concrete path the most desirable.

The analogy for technology is simple: the services you provide to your end users and your customers is the concrete path. The desire path – the well-trodden dirt track shortcut – is everything from the USB memory stick (the one your employees resort to using to take work home to edit on their personal computers because your company IT policies are too restrictive or outdated to enable your employees to be productive on their terms) through to your customers using your competitor because they have an app, or an IM chat experience or an e-commerce platform that makes transacting with them a pleasure rather than a chore.

The challenge is clear: how can you use new technology to make all this “shadow IT” redundant, help beat the competition, and empower your employees to achieve more?

The next generation

As well as the evolution of demands on you to stay up to date to compete, there’s additional pressure as the expectations of the new generation of employees continue to challenge the status quo.

Much has been written about the so-called “millennial workforce”; not all of it good. Sadly, this wave of fresh talent is prejudged to be narcissistic, entitled, and lazy. As someone who falls into the millennial category, I find that criticism a little hard to swallow. Undoubtedly, there are young people who fit the stereotypical description. Doesn’t every generation have its layabouts and coasters? Instead, rather than targeting a demographic as the next generation of employee, I prefer to target a “psychographic”. Generation C.

Generation C, made up of people spanning all ages, is a group who are comfortable with technology. They’re connected, collaborative, social and will become disenfranchised and bored unless they can work in an environment that allows them to achieve their potential.

For Generation C, as for many others, work isn’t simply a place to go or a thing to do between 9:00am and 5:30pm Monday to Friday. Work is part of life and as well as working from home, increasingly we’re “homing from work”.

For technology, this means using a mixture of the device provided to me by work and my own devices. It means accessing data and applications from anywhere, anytime. It means communicating with colleagues and customers through multiple channels: email, text messaging, instant messaging, voice and video conferencing, etc.

Digital transformation

In trying to address all the considerations we’ve looked at, inarguably one of the biggest benefits to many businesses is the democratisation of tools brought about hyper-scale cloud computing. Small and medium-sized businesses can now use the same powerful technology as the largest global enterprises.

Knowing how to implement it can be tricky, and we’ll examine some practical examples of how you can get started easily throughout this book. Let’s look at how Microsoft’s digital transformation pillars might help.

Empower employees

Make any device your employees pick up, their device. Make it simple to work wherever, whenever and however your employees want and with the safeguards in place to protect your company data from being lost, and your corporate network from being compromised. Differentiate yourself as an employer by embracing a healthy work-life balance. Give employees the insights into how they invest their time in order to make intelligent decisions about how they organise themselves.

Engage customers

Enrich your customer engagement across multiple channels by building intelligent bots capable of understanding sentiment, intent and able to scale your lead capture process to run globally, round-the-clock, on any platform from your website to Facebook Messenger. Suddenly your customers can engage with your business, take actions driven by the bots (for example, handling shipping enquiries), and get an unmatched level of customer service without the need for an expensive 24hr call centre or man-powered help desk.

Optimise operations

Turn your mass of company data into information, cross-referenced with other external datasets (such as public health, crime, weather and other industry data) to gain actionable insights that could inform decisions about where to open a new branch based on sales and demographic data, or which products to focus on in a sales campaign based on fee-earner utilisation and average earnings per engagement by type (i.e. which products make the most money with the least utilisation of your fee earning staff).

Transform your products

Build your platform around an elastic, reliable public cloud that allows you to scale up in moments to meet the demands of your customers. It’s incredibly powerful for development and testing, and for events and other short-term engagements. You can easily scale back your deployments to avoid high costs when you don’t need the infrastructure.

None of these examples is necessarily something that couldn’t have been done by the largest companies for a few years now. The difference is that now everyone can do it; cheaply, quickly and repeatedly. Cloud technology has levelled the playing field, empowering all businesses to innovate, differentiate and survive into the future.

How will you use yours?

We all have the same 1440 minutes in any given day and we can use technology to be more effective. There’s never a perfect time to begin, and certainly, nobody who’ll tap you on the shoulder and tell you the right thing to do. Instead, you should feel confident to begin anywhere. Do anything! Surviving digital transformation happens one step at a time.

One thing you can do that requires no technology at all is, at the start of every day, when thinking about those 1440 minutes, ask yourself: how will you use yours? How will you use yours to be more effective? To embrace a new idea and try something different?

#HWYUY

You can find some ideas to get you started in the digital transformation category of my blog:

get_ideas

Desire path image courtesy of wetwebwork on Flickr under Creative Commons 2.0