Why digital transformation must start with the user

Originally published in Channel Pro

The channel can guide companies through a user-focused strategy, but firms must practice what they preach

Digital transformation is often widely discussed among business leaders, which isn't surprising given they feel that a successful digital strategy can improve productivity, profitability, and revenue growth. But while it may mean different things to different people, digital transformation must start with assessing how any firm operates regarding individuals, processes and existing technologies.

Despite the attractive promises digitisation presents, and the fact that most business leaders feel it should be more widespread throughout their organisations, many are lagging behind the digital curve. This could be because a true digital strategy requires a fundamental change of approach. Indeed, a more mature organisation will integrate digital technology within their business with a transformative view, rather than as a way to solve discrete problems. But this may require a difficult-to-implement cultural change.

There are also significant barriers to this transformation; namely data privacy and security, a lack of budget and resources, and the absence of the right in-house skills and expertise. A great way for businesses to overcome these hurdles is to find a trusted advisor. This partner will need to appreciate that whatever the business objective is, from streamlining operations to improving productivity, technology is the key to achieving these objectives.

Finding a good starting point

In any business, employees will be using a variety of devices like laptops, smartphones and tablets. They may be based in an office, at home, or on a customer site, but all have one thing in common; the need to access the company network and systems whenever required, with no degradation in performance. Certainly, if they're unable to do this, then their productivity and morale can suffer.

Therefore it makes sense for any digital transformation strategy to start with the user and their needs. Keeping them satisfied with the right technology has the power to influence an organisation's performance and productivity, and consequently the bottom line. Employees feel valued, empowered, and, in turn, will help drive the company's journey once they feel the benefits.

The channel is ideally placed to assist organisations with this transformation. Exposed to the latest technologies from all vendors, they can assess the needs of their customers and advise on the latest solutions in an impartial manner. However, for this to work, channel partners must calculate their own digital maturity and practice what they preach.

The value of partnerships for all

One barrier that organisations face when implementing a digital strategy is a lack of in-house skills. But rather than invest in the skills themselves, many look towards the channel to provide them with the know-how and experience to assist them through their digital journey.

It's paramount, therefore, that channel partners present themselves as business advisors, and are confident to address the board and become an integral part of their customer's decision-making processes. It may not conform to the traditional channel/customer relationship, but it will be increasingly important for the partner to nurture this collaboration for the longer term. It also places the customer at the heart of any sales strategy and builds close ties between the partner and the end user.

Over time, the relationship should blossom into a rewarding one. The difficulty for the partner would come in managing the technological implementations and balancing the books if the transformation happens over a lengthy period of time.

One way to reduce exposure to any potential pitfalls in an extended project is to adopt a subscription model. As budgets are pushed, instead of investing in capital expenditure (CapEx), a subscription model keeps users happy with the latest technology and eases the burden of expenditure. For channel partners, it allows the technology to be rolled out in a cost-effective, efficient and timely manner, reducing the project's risk and protecting the already squeezed margins.

The good news is there are technology specialists who can assist channel partners with a model such as this. Accustomed to working with many large organisations, they can advise, complement and support the channel partner solution.

The majority of business still have a long way to go on their digital journey, but the vast majority of them are planning to invest in powerful technologies to realise their digital futures.
The channel is ideally placed to leverage this situation and assist businesses on their journey. Partners who are future-focused, and can act as true advisors, will be the ones that benefit. The journey may be a long one, so partners need to be clear on their own strategy, understand the budgetary implications to their business, and be able to build relationships at senior levels with the customer. Understanding the technology needs of the customer's employees is an ideal place to start.

Chris Labrey is MD of Econocom UK & Ireland