Despite the ever-growing list of options to communicate and collaborate with people, email still persists. It’s like a weed that just won’t go away. In fact, it’s estimated that email will top 3 billion users by 2020. Some days, I feel like I’m on the receiving end of all the world’s email and I bet you do, too. Wouldn’t it be great if you could automatically flag the negative emails, especially the ones from your customers, so you can prioritise dealing with their issues, and keeping them satisfied? Turns out, Microsoft Flow makes this a cinch.
You know exactly what’s happened as soon as you see it. That pesky error. One of your users has managed to create a directory structure so long courtesy of a sneaky mapped drive and now you’re unable to do anything with it; least of all get it synchronising with OneDrive for Business. If only there was a way to weed out those long paths in advance and fix them before people encounter the error?
Remember 2010? In technology terms, 2010 was a century ago. Yet, plenty of small businesses around the world still run applications and servers from that era today. Microsoft’s Small Business Server 2011 is just one example. 2010 also marks an important milestone in the development of the modern “cloud” we use today as it’s the year Microsoft launched Windows Azure and Office 365.
I’ve been talking about Digital Transformation for a while now, and recently I had an epiphany:
There’s nothing new about the idea of transformation. Businesses have been evolving and responding to change since they first appeared. That we refer to the current period of evolution and disruption as “digital” points only to the fact that Information Technology (for example, machine learning, the Internet of Things, big data, etc.) is the enabler and accelerator for business changes instead of steam power, electricity, the combustion engine or even the printing press. Some think of this as the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Yet, the question of how to navigate and survive this period of transformation still looms large in the minds of business leaders, technologists and digital transformation peddlers alike. Certainly, there’s no quick answer.
Change of mindset
“Your customers are transforming without YOU“
Instead of seeing transformation obstacles and inhibitors and trying to find ways around them, I prefer to view this as a period of huge opportunity. The chance for everyone to innovate, differentiate and survive into the future by creating and adding more value to customers and employees.
Of course, not everyone can survive and it’s not an exaggeration to say that some of the biggest, most successful, businesses around today will not be here in a decade thanks to their inability to innovate or differentiate from the smaller, more agile competition. Small businesses now have global reach and are unencumbered by the weight of a large corporate structure holding them back from trying new things, from surviving.
No matter how you decide to view this period if you do nothing then keep in mind: your customers are transforming without YOU.
The democratisation of tools
There’s a close link between digital transformation and cloud, and many could be forgiven for thinking that they’re one and the same. A clear and well-defined cloud strategy is crucial to any digital transformation plan, but it’s about more than simply shifting traditional IT into someone else’s data centre and saving money.
In the last 18 months, many technologies that were previously out of the reach of many businesses due to cost or lack of skills have not only become available but they’re cheap, easy to use and often overlooked. By taking technology such as machine learning and creating simple but powerful “off the shelf” services such as the Cognitive Services APIs that Microsoft offers, even the least technical person in a company can start to build powerful applications that can make a real difference to a business. It’s these newer platform services, connected to the existing data that businesses are sitting on, that can help a business evolve to thrive in a mobile first, cloud first world.
Betting on tomorrow’s world
We all need to start somewhere. Building bots and developing complex machine learning algorithms to enhance your services takes time. For many small businesses, the barrier for entry may seem too high – but it won’t for long. Whilst you may not have the completeness of vision to know exactly what you need to do today, there are some quick projects you can undertake that will fuel your ambitions:
- Take some company data and connect it to Power BI to create an information-rich dashboard.
- Import your FAQ content into a QnA bot and create a powerful and simple chat bot for your employees or customers.
- Empower your shift workers to be more in control of their work life by implementing Microsoft StaffHub.
Digital transformation doesn’t have to be expensive, difficult or scary. After having a go at trying some new ideas, I’d love to hear from you in the comments about how you’re approaching things.
It’s just gone 5:00am where I am in Seattle, WA. I fly home later tonight after soaking up a week with thousands of other members of Microsoft’s technical community at an internal event called TechReady. Needless to say, the content shared is highly confidential but is motivating, inspirational and truly awesome. It’s as a result of this shot of technical excitement that I decided to build a Q&A chat bot. What’s even better? I did it in less than an hour with zero code and so can you! Read on to find out how…
On Sunday, I’m flying out to Seattle for a week of pretty intensive and awesome technology training. I’m not a nervous traveller, but I hate that feeling that I’ve left something behind – especially power! In this post I’ll run through some of the devices I’m taking with me to keep me connected, without needing to take the entire home office and kitchen sink.
May 2017: In light of the recent WanaCrypt cyber attacks affecting businesses across the UK and the world, I’ve updated this post. It now reflects my most up to date advice for small businesses to keep their details safe online. Whilst the WanaCrypt attack is a form of ransomware and likely triggered by opening a malicious email, it’s a reminder to us all that good cybersecurity practice – including how you manage usernames and passwords – is something the applies to everybody. Even you.
Innocent-seeming emails can contain infected file attachments, links to websites hosting malicious code that can execute in dangerous ways, and phishing scams designed to obtain your credentials in order to impersonate you, your business and potentially steal or damage your data.
In the last few weeks, I’ve seen a flurry of activity about weak passwords, the top silly passwords from 2016 and all sorts of advice about how to keep your identity safe online. I also attended an event focused on cybersecurity and was amazed at the number of small businesses who’d fallen victim to some kind of attack (typically ransomware). In this post, I’ll cover my top 5 password security tips to help you and your business stay protected.
At the end of my digital transformation presentation, I usually play a short version of the Microsoft Productivity Future Vision video as a glimpse into some of the technology scenarios we might see in the future. I often recommend people go back and watch previous versions to see just how many experiences are now possible with Microsoft technology. This post pulls together some of those visions of the future spanning 18 years of future-gazing.
One of the closing pieces from my digital transformation talk is a short version of the Microsoft productivity future vision video. It’s a view to the future of the types of productivity experiences and scenarios Microsoft is looking at over the next few years.
More often than not I get a follow-up query about where people can watch the video and I’m always scrabbling around to search for and link to it, so as much for my own benefit as yours, here is the longer version:
If you have any questions or thoughts please leave them in the comments or reach out to me via social media.
Moving data to the cloud is, for many people, still a big deal. One of the most common concerns is over who has access to your data when it’s in the cloud. In this post, I’ll explain what Office 365 Customer Lockbox is, and how it can help address that concern.