Dell: IT and business need to blend for a successful digital transformation
John Gunning, GM & Senior Director UK Mid-Market at Dell, analyses why SMBs need to incorporate the needs of IT and the business case in order to achieve successful digital transformations.
By now we all know that digital transformation is the ‘secret sauce’ that brings to life the full flavour of contemporary business successes. Invigorating organisations, it is the key ingredient for more than survival in turbulent times, it enables innovation, growth and ultimately the competitive edge. The proof is in the pudding, as they say. Recent studies estimate that worldwide spending on technologies and services enabling digital transformation is set to reach an impressive $2trn in 2022. While this is exciting it presents a challenge for smaller businesses with tighter budgets, but for SMEs to remain competitive it must be a key priority.
Beyond that, ensuring the success of these businesses is also crucial for the UK economy. According to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, there were 5.8mn SMEs at the start of 2019 – accounting for 99.9% of the business population, three fifths of the employment market and around half of the turnover in the UK private sector. With smaller businesses playing such an important role in our economy, it’s essential they continue to grow, evolve and adapt to their customer needs through.
Digital transformation is often perceived as a programme of change that must be led and driven from the C-suite. According to an IDG survey nearly half of IT decision makers within medium-sized organisations believe that the C-suite have a better understanding of the needs of the business.
In reality, the entire organisation needs to be on board and invested otherwise it’s likely the project will fail. According to McKinsey, 70 per cent of change programs fail to achieve their goals, in large part due to employee resistance. But there are a few things that businesses can do to change those stats in their favour.
Digital Transformation: The SMB recipe for success
Address the growing pains
Mid-sized businesses have unique operational and structural challenges. They have outgrown the start-up and scale-up phases in which they were able to be extremely nimble. Neither are they able to operate via the old Facebook ethos of “move fast and break things” by adopting the hacker mentality of innovation. At the same time, these organisations don’t necessarily have the deep-rooted processes, specialised skills or resources that larger businesses do. Thus, the IT investments they do make to support digital transformation and plan for the future are that much more significant and therefore come with higher expectations. It’s no surprise why so many organisations are cautious!
If a business doesn’t have the skills or processes in-house to develop a digital transformation strategy, it’s wise to work closely with an expert partner that is able to assess the requirements and suggest the best approach and technologies that will meet the businesses goals.
Aligning business vision to end-user reality
The business leaders, through their years of experience and deep-rooted understanding of the industry and customer base, will have a good idea of where the business needs to be in the future. They will also have worked out a detailed strategy of how this vision can be made into a reality. However, since the company has grown significantly since its start-up phase, there will likely be a much larger gap between the business leaders and the grassroots employees who will ultimately be the ones using the new systems, software and technologies that are put in place as a result of digital transformation.
If there is a disconnect between the C-suite vision and what will actually work and support end-user staff, then the whole venture will fall down. Mid-sized businesses need to make sure they map out executive plans against possible end-user pain points so that the long-term IT strategy can addresses as much of both as possible.
Taking a phased approach that suits cashflow and employees
Although mid-sized businesses are more established and therefore have more access to cashflow than they did in their start-up phase, digital transformation is still a significant financial undertaking.
There are many options open to businesses when overhauling technology, systems and processes. For example, many vendors offer leasing options or hire purchase agreements for infrastructure and end-user computing, whereas if businesses are looking to move their operations into the cloud, SaaS makes it possible to split capital costs– meaning that businesses can run software on a rental model rather than paying big upfront licence costs. However, businesses need to ensure they use a phased approach when implementing new systems and technologies, mapping out what needs to be upgraded when, taking into account product lifecycle and minimising any disruption or downtime. Not only will this help the business to manage cashflow, but it will also mean that employees aren’t inundated with too much change at once.
A business in the midst of its ‘middle age’ is one that is battling challenging times. It neither has the benefits that come with being big, organised and established nor those associated with being small, agile and nimble.
By taking a fresh, more collaborative approach medium-sized businesses will find the daunting prospect of what needs to be achieved much more feasible. It will mean taking into account insights from across the whole business, using a realistic phased approach, taking advantage of flexible financing and working with expert partners who have experience executing on digital transformation projects. With the right blend of IT and business needs SMBs will unleash the full flavour of digital transformation – and enjoy the rewards on a competitive playing field.
SAS: Improving the British Army’s decision making with data
SAS’ long-standing relationship with the British Army is built on mutual respect and grounded by a reciprocal understanding of each others’ capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses. Roderick Crawford, VP and Country GM for SAS UKI, states that the company’s thorough grasp of the defence sector makes it an ideal partner for the Army as it undergoes its own digital transformation.
“Major General Jon Cole told us that he wanted to enable better, faster decision-making in order to improve operational efficiency,” he explains. Therefore, SAS’ task was to help the British Army realise the “significant potential” of data through the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to automate tasks and conduct complex analysis.
In 2020, the Army invested in the SAS ‘Viya platform’ as an overture to embarking on its new digital roadmap. The goal was to deliver a new way of working that enabled agility, flexibility, faster deployment, and reduced risk and cost: “SAS put a commercial framework in place to free the Army of limits in terms of their access to our tech capabilities.”
Doing so was important not just in terms of facilitating faster innovation but also, in Crawford’s words, to “connect the unconnected.” This means structuring data in a simultaneously secure and accessible manner for all skill levels, from analysts to data engineers and military commanders. The result is that analytics and decision-making that drives innovation and increases collaboration.
Crawford also highlights the importance of the SAS platform’s open nature, “General Cole was very clear that the Army wanted a way to work with other data and analytics tools such as Python. We allow them to do that, but with improved governance and faster delivery capabilities.”
SAS realises that collaboration is at the heart of a strong partnership and has been closely developing a long-term roadmap with the Army. “Although we're separate organisations, we come together to work effectively as one,” says Crawford. “Companies usually find it very easy to partner with SAS because we're a very open, honest, and people-based business by nature.”
With digital technology itself changing with great regularity, it’s safe to imagine that SAS’ own relationship with the Army will become even closer and more diverse. As SAS assists it in enhancing its operational readiness and providing its commanders with a secure view of key data points, Crawford is certain that the company will have a continually valuable role to play.
“As warfare moves into what we might call ‘the grey-zone’, the need to understand, decide, and act on complex information streams and diverse sources has never been more important. AI, computer vision and natural language processing are technologies that we hope to exploit over the next three to five years in conjunction with the Army.”
Fundamentally, data analytics is a tool for gaining valuable insights and expediting the delivery of outcomes. The goal of the two parties’ partnership, concludes Crawford, will be to reach the point where both access to data and decision-making can be performed qualitatively and in real-time.
“SAS is absolutely delighted to have this relationship with the British Army, and across the MOD. It’s a great privilege to be part of the armed forces covenant.”