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Digital transformation - tipping point or just the beginning?

Tony Colon Profile picture for user tcolon June 25, 2018
Think you’re on top of digital transformation? Try explaining it to someone else, suggests Salesforce’s Tony Colon.

Tony Colon Salesforce
Tony Colon

You read about digital transformation everywhere.

You hear about it - in your work email, your company newsletter, your CEO’s statements to the public at earnings.

It’s pretty much the sum and substance of our business world today, right?


Salesforce recently produced a Digital Transformation Survey - and it turns out that although a majority of the 562 full-time employee respondents (64%) were aware that the company they work for considers digital transformation a priority, more than two thirds (69%) of people questioned say they wouldn’t be confident explaining the concept to somebody else.

Let’s think about that for a second. The concept that businesses are betting on is something that the general population just doesn’t understand - even though they need to play a part in that transformation at work - and the entire premise of digital transformation relies on people. Individuals must realize the benefits of digital transformation and its impact on the way they work, why they are reskilling, and how new systems can make their lives easier and more efficient.

Without developing an understanding of how transformation changes not just businesses but their own lives as consumers, they’ll become disengaged. And with just over half (51.9%) saying that they have “little or no engagement” with the digital transformation happening at their businesses – this has the potential to create a bigger challenge for companies trying to create a transformation to meet the needs of their customers.

Fortunately, businesses can turn this around and create a more fertile ground and help employees and customers alike understand the benefits of digital transformation by creating understandable, tangible demonstrations of how this change helps people’s lives on an everyday basis.

Making it real for your customers

Digital transformation is a huge topic that can seem esoteric to the general public on first glance – to the extent that 29% of people said they would be ‘extremely uncomfortable’ explaining it to someone else.

But digital transformation makes life easier - and when people understand the connections that it enables, they’re usually excited to engage. Customer service is a great area for companies to demonstrate how digital transformation enhances their relationship with customers.

For instance, by offering interactive chat on smartphones, companies have effectively extended their technology transformation to their customer base. By creating reminder emails to people that indicate that they have items in their shopping cart, they make it easier for everyone who multitasks in their lives to finish their “to-do” list.

Who hasn’t created an online order, only to be distracted by something else and realized a few days later that they never actually completed the transaction? In the past it would take the unwelcome form of that birthday gift, the flowers for your wife, or the grocery delivery not showing up to realize it. Today, automated reminders and workflows mean never having to say “oops, I forgot our anniversary.” It also increases loyalty to a brand who’s “looking out for you”

And that’s what digital transformation does. Although we’re likely to take these enhancements to our personal and work lives for granted, it’s fundamental to use examples like these to illustrate what digital transformation really is and show people that they’ve already experienced some of its benefits.

Security - address it head-on

Unsurprisingly, security concerns remain the biggest obstacle in people’s minds when they think of digital transformation. Almost three-fifths (58%) of respondents identified it as the biggest deterrent standing in the way of achieving digital transformation and adoption of new technologies in society today.

It isn’t rocket science - many of the digital and technology stories that hit the mass media today are bad-news tales of data leaks, breaches and unscrupulous use of data. The stories that don’t always get told are the positive stories around the security of customer data that fuel many of the biggest digital transformations that have happened in the past year.

And it’s important to note that almost 40% of respondents know that digital transformation can bring cost savings to the individual, for example, and that is something they’re excited about. A third (33%) cite digital transformation as fostering greater data transparency.

Create an opportunity for everyone to join the digital-first world

Digital transformation has a less-well-publicized benefit: it offers the opportunity for everyone to participate in lifelong learning, right from their home, office, mobile device. Education is available in a way never before seen - with courses available to enhance the digital skills needed for every career path now. With lifelong learning to help workers continually re-skill through their career, it’s no surprise that 36% already see more accessible education as a key benefit. But there’s no question that companies must embrace and offer comprehensive delivery of training and communications around digital transformation to really boost understanding and ward off fears about automation and robotics taking people’s jobs.

Because 41% of survey participants cite ‘lack of communication’ as a real obstacle to change - both in terms of how companies communicate with their customers about how technology is making their experience better, as well as how they engage their employees in those transformations. It’s more important than ever to help employees and even customers skill up to embrace transformation.

Digital transformation has the power to make learning and re-skilling as personalized as possible. The learner can choose the types of skills they wish to gain or enhance in order to thrive in a digital-first future. Salesforce has created an entire program for people to re-skill and up-skill and even plan new careers.

At the end of the day, it’s up to us. We can’t simply expect people to get on board with the concept of digital transformation if we’re not prepared to help everyone understand the opportunities and embrace the opportunity to join in. It’s up to us to close the gap.


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