If you're playing buzzword bingo at a tech conference, one of the first boxes you'll check is the one for "digital transformation". Companies are looking for ways to harness technology to create new opportunities and become more efficient and effective. So, how do you go about that. A panel discussion at the recent SuiteConnect event in Sydney looked at this from the perspective of old and new companies to see how they harness emerging tech.
3P Learning is a company most people with school-aged children will have dealt with, even if they didn't realise it. As a competitor to tractional textbook makers, 3P Learning delvers the popular Athletics program and has always been an online company. But the company's CFO Dmitry Aroney said that foundation needs to constantly evolve.
"Customers research digitally before they engage our sales people," he said. "50% of all customers have already worked out what their primary solution will be before they engage us. For us, it's about using technology to assist us to reach our customer where they're making decisions".
It's not enough to just have a digital store - you need to have a digital experience that can be used wherever the customer is at a time that suits them. Graeme Burt, NetSuite's new business lead in the APJ region, said you must make the customer experience mobile and agile so you can meet changing needs as well.
That ability to meet needs is critical. Even in hospitality, which is traditionally a very person-led environment, there are opportunities to enhance the customer experience with digital. San Churro Chocolaterie's CFO, Jacqui Loveridge, says that despite having a bricks and mortar front end, the company has invested in digital at the backend with mobile marketing but the key thing that has changed for the company has been the evolution of mobile delivery services.
While the likes of Uber Eats, Menulog and Deliveroo have high costs, they have increased sales. Again, it's about being where the customer is and bringing the store to them.
When Jen Geale co-founded Mountain Bikes Direct, she and her partner began with a bricks and mortar store in Queensland. But, after customers started popping in, sheepishly asking for advice on installing something they had prulashed at a lower cost online, she realised there was an opportunity that was far broader than her corner of the Sunshine State.
That wasn't purely about price but about finding a way to leverage digital to bring a better customer experience.
"The majority of our site browsing is through mobile. The fact you can go onto a website and have a good experience is really important," said Geale.
When Geale and her team looked at redesigning the company's website, instead of starting with the desktop browser experience and then shrinking it for mobile, they designed mobile first and wireframes the entire website to be mobile. Then they looked at the larger screen experience.
James Burt from Seven Mile Coffee Roasters faced a different set of challenges. The company is over 50 years old and needed to make a change from legacy systems to digital in order to survive and thrive in the 21st century.
He says he was lucky to have a CEO who was engaged in the process and led from the front in the move. It also required a change in how the business' management operated. As a company making the shift into becoming more digital, he noted that one of the focus areas was getting to a positive outcome, not just functionally but also when it comes to staff satisfaction was critical.
Burt (the Seven Mile one, not the NetSuite one) said the transformation projects the company embarked on often started with excitement but fell into a pit of despair before recovering to a place where everyone was happy. Flattening that curve was a key. Loveridge added that finding one or two things that excite people and scoring some quick wins was important as it put people in a better mindset to meet challenges that may come later.
All of the discussion participants noted that having then right people was critical. Geale said that hiring "change friendly" people was critical and it was something she screened for at interview. And, as a digital only business, they do all their work online as there's no office, That means the workforce is distributed across the country with some overseas personnel as well.
NetSuite's Burt summarised the road to digital transformation success into four key points. Companies need to set the right foundations with leadership starting at the CEO with a strategy that can adapt to a changing world.
Taking a customer first approach, where technology is used to enhance but not replace human interactions is key with businesses needing to meet customers wherever they are and not expect them to just show up.
Innovation, coupled with a constantly questioning mindset that not only looks at what's possible but what will be beneficial to the customer and puts their needs ahead of specific processes or tool, is critical.
What's clear is that while we work and live in an age that is dominated by technology, it's personal interactions that remain important. Transformation that is not customer-centric, whether that customer is internal or external, is a fool's errand.
Anthony Caruana attended SuiteConnect as a guest of NetSuite.