In the first of a series exploring the digital business transformation, Baker Tilly explores how organizations are driving change, the issues that have emerged and new opportunities opening up.

As the saying goes, you can’t control the cards dealt, only how you play the hand – and the hand dealt by the COVID-19 pandemic was unlike any ever seen. But, forced to play, business leaders kickstarted an astonishing transformation, turbo charging the uptake of digital solutions to keep organizations moving and people connected.

In December 2019, video conferencing app Zoom just celebrated the milestone of reaching 10 million users in a single day. By April last year, daily calls on the platform exceeded 300 million.

As lockdowns began in western countries in March, Microsoft Teams saw users jump from 12 million to 44 million in the space of just a week.

For collaborative platform Slack, the climb from 1 million simultaneous users to 10 million took a grueling four years. The rise from 10 million to 12.5 million took 15 days.

In a recent survey of Baker Tilly firms, 56 per cent responded that their clients were only somewhat ready for remote working and 17 per cent reported that clients were not ready at all.

Sharhabeel Mansour, Partner in Baker Tilly Jordan, says the pandemic has forced many businesses to accelerate digital transformation to be able to survive. The immediate concerns were related to how to implement collaboration technologies to accomplish the daily work that we used to do in the office? Companies had to find solutions on how to move from paper based transactions to an electronic medium.

Sharhabeel added, "we focused our attention to increase our deployment of collaboration and transactional workflows technologies very quickly. Two years implementation plans were completed in two months. Most businesses had to figure out the basics of working away from the office, and have deployed laptops to individuals at home to facilitate their work.

But that was just the beginning. How are the next stages of digital transformation playing out and what will the future of business look like?

Designing a better mousetrap

With the tools in place to keep the business going, business leaders moved into the next phase of the digital transformation, which was to review their data. This was not easy for many business leaders to do and they felt the pain of not being fully prepared to handle such an unprecedent disruption. The conversations were about whether the data of what’s happening in the business is not very good, but that they needed many more insights from a cash flow perspective, and from a day’s payable and day’s sales outstanding perspective.

This is the key step into the third phase of the digital revolution – long term, sustainable digital solutions with a strong focus on automation. Think chatbots, artificial intelligence and machine learning. 

I want a chatbot, not a real person

Contrary to anecdotes that say people want to deal with a real person when it comes to customer service, in many cases the opposite is true.

Certainly, a category or persona exists that will always desire a person-to-person interaction but increasingly the demographics orient to a digital service experience if the outcomes are more predictable.

 

Consumers are increasingly comfortable conversing with a machine – so comfortable in fact, that one source stated four out of five people would use one as a primary means of customer support if they could be guaranteed an immediate response.

From an operational point of view, chatbots can reduce customer service costs by up to 30 per cent and save customers about US$8 billion a year.

In the early days of chatbots, they were pretty clunky, and people could not wait to exit out of it as they wanted to talk to a real person. However, in recent time, the shift is notable and people prefer to actually use the chatbot, so they don’t have to talk to somebody. Advanced solutions have included AI and machine learning so the chatbot solution enables increased learning of different parameters, different scenarios, different use cases that one may inquire about. The first iteration of those chatbots, they could not answer basic questions and now they often add value to the user experience by suggesting a complimentary product or service or offer valuable insights in a proactive value-added way.

More advanced solutions are almost predicting the questions that maybe asked next. And after solving the problem, they may predict that one might want to inquire about a different type of a service offering or a different type of investment solution. It’s not unlike Netflix, where you get these set of movies that you’ve accumulated and watched over time, and they now predict which movie you might have an interest in.

Automated solutions can help keep a lid on the company headcount, which in turn creates opportunities for growth elsewhere. Because the team is not focusing on reviewing claims, they can expand into new territories, they can introduce new products. But they also can improve the experience for the customer with faster payment of the claim, or as it relates to the cost of adjudicating and processing that claim. There’s lots of benefit to leveraging data for good and not requiring human intervention in the process.

Robots for your robots

It’s not just in customer service that business can leverage automation. Machine learning can also help reduce downtime in, well, your machines.

Excel now embeds all these widgets to do formulas and macros, for example the sum function, but in the old days you had to program all that. Now when we apply that analogy to new cloud-based platforms, the cloud providers have embedded high end modern digital capabilities as services, for example AI and machine learning services that can be deployed with low code or no code.

 

The cloud-based providers essentially have a widget on their menu, that is almost plug and play, for things like predictive machine downtime. As data streams in, the application will analyze the data and will send alerts with increases in machine vibration; that’s a predictive measure, an indicator of the need for preventative maintenance before that machine has a significant amount of downtime.

That can be set up in hours, given the way that their services are now plug and play, and many of these AI machine learning automation analytics services that the cloud providers have, are designed to be that way. We use the term low code, no code earlier and that deserves some explanation. Essentially, low code, no code is the democratization of IT application development through the use of power users that are not from a traditional programming background.

The power user often leverages pre-packaged services, such as the predictive maintenance on manufacturing machines described previously. A lot of these solutions are being enabled by significant cloud growth and those platforms are extremely powerful.

These are not necessarily bespoke solutions, but options that are realistic for mid-market firms and even down to small business.

The emergence of cloud-based solutions are bringing down the average price for advanced technical and digital solutions.

What’s the next wave?

Businesses are adopting emerging technologies and rethinking traditional business processes faster than ever, with investment in innovation ramping up.

Change is the only constant – and it is coming quick. With each new phase of technological change, time is being further compressed.

The time it takes new technology and disruptive technology to impact our markets is becoming very compact. There will be more change, so really being agile and having an ability to pivot quickly, will be crucial for organizations and business leaders. If they do not already have it, organizations need to foster an innovation culture that has an ability to have a laboratory-type environment, to pilot and do proof-of-concept based design sessions as it relates to solving business problems.

Innovation may someday, if not already today, be as important or more important than traditional organizational functions. It could very well be that the ability to solve business problems quickly with rapidly changing technology and disruptive digital solutions becomes a corporate competency.

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