As thousands of CIOs and senior IT executives descended on Orlando this week for the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo, many no doubt had digital transformation on their minds. Some argue it’s an overused or ambiguous term. However, in my experience (as a former IT industry analyst), enterprise customers by and large have very definite ideas of what IT, systems and processes they want to transform through new digital technologies, even if only on a conceptual level. Whether it’s modernizing infrastructure and applications, integrating and streamlining business processes, or improving and expanding their customer service capabilities, generating ideas for a transformation project is the easy part. It’s the questions of “how do I transform?” and “how long will transformation take?” that burn hot like the Florida sun.

Finding answers to those questions takes leadership, an engaged organization, a focus on the customer, and a willingness to invest in emerging technologies like AI, according to a recent study published by the SAP Center for Business Insight in collaboration with Oxford Economics.

Leaders Drive Transformation Through Organizations

The SAP-Oxford Economics study, which surveyed more than 3,100 organizations, identified what they describe as the top 100 leaders engaged in various digital transformation projects, and the characteristics they have in common that set them apart. The study dubbed those organizations as leaders because, in part, they have finished initial transformation projects that cross functional, departmental and organizational lines. One-third of the leaders came from the technology industry, and the remainder from a variety of other vertical markets, including financial services.

According to the survey results, 96% of leaders have identified digital transformation as a core business goal, and have pushed that goal throughout the organization in an effort to bring the employee base together around the potential IT and business benefits. Effective transformation tears down technical and operational silos, and promotes an engaged organization working together to make transformation projects strategic priorities. With this approach, about two-thirds of leader organizations in the survey (64%) reported that transformation projects resulted in more engaged employees, versus 20% for the other respondents.

Focus on Customer Experience, and Invest in AI to Scale

While empowering an organization internally is one step, it must be taken simultaneously with a relentless external focus on an enterprise’s customers and their needs. To that end, leaders in the SAP-Oxford Economics study made improved customer experience central to their plans; 70% of leaders reported significant or transformational value from their projects in customer satisfaction and engagement, and 39% cite customer empowerment as a key global trend.

Achieving improved customer experience means prioritizing investment in newer technology and services. Most of the study leaders have already made investments in IoT (76% compared to 52% of the other respondents) and AI/machine learning (50% compared to just 7% of the other respondents). More than 60% of leading organizations have teams specifically dedicated to keeping up-to-date with technological advances, and evaluating how they should be incorporated into future strategies.

AI and virtual agents like IPsoft’s Amelia can take a desire to transform to another level, particularly when it comes to scaling and adding value to the customer experience. With her autonomic and self-learning capabilities, Amelia can interact with customers in a natural way, learning behaviors and patterns, and anticipating needs. Her ability to be always-on 24×7, and handle high volumes of customer inquiries, provides scalable service that can free up human colleagues for higher-value customer interactions. Companies are already working the potential impact of AI into their future spending plans. In fact, a separate SAP-Oxford Economics study of finance executives across various industries recommends that customers consider where automation and AI can drive efficiencies in core transactional activities, relieving internal staff of repetitive tasks.

Transformation Essential to Remain Competitive

These survey results provide insight into the question of “how do I transform?” and can lead CIOs and business leaders to think what it will take for effective transformation. Answering “how long with transformation take?” is an extended discussion – the answer will depend on an organization’s willingness to adopt a strong transformation profile, the size and scope of a transformation project and the targeted IT systems and processes. However, many customers feel the need to transform quickly to keep up with market changes and to stay competitive; enterprises are increasingly aiming for one- to three-year project timeframes, versus three- to five-years or beyond. (Indeed, even three-year projects are starting to be viewed as too long.)

Finding the right methods to plan and enable digital transformation is challenging. The good news for enterprise customers is that others already have made the leap — best practices in each industry are forming, and the characteristics necessary for success are becoming clearer, as demonstrated by the SAP-Oxford Economics study. If customers came away from Gartner Symposium with a better sense of how they can map out and accomplish digital transformation, and the role that AI should play, it was a worthwhile trip to Orlando.

Source: SAP Center for Business Insight