From the frontlines of Microsoft Canada's business transformation journey
The race to disrupt is on. And in the face of innovative competition, shifting consumer trends, and technological game-changers, there's no standing on the sidelines.
Today's businesses are innovating across business models, products, services and customer engagement while disrupting markets and entire industries. Much of this innovation is being driven by applying emerging technologies through the value chain.
Understanding when, how, why and what new technologies are introduced to an organization is critical to both maximize opportunities that they present and minimize the inherent risks. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Keven Peesker, President of Microsoft Canada to discuss digital disruption and learn about Microsoft's transformation journey.
"The mantra at every board level needs to be 'transform or be transformed'," affirms Peesker, underscoring the urgency of adaptation in today's fast-moving digital market. "To remain competitive and to evolve with the customer, organizations need to be thinking about how they can use data as a strategic asset and optimize their operations in new and innovative ways to better engage their customers."
At the same time, he adds, organizations must foster a workplace culture that will attract the talent needed to lead the transformations to come.
It's no secret that technology has a critical role to play in business transformation. The likes of machine learning, extreme automation, cloud-computing, and data analytics are already re-shaping corporate functions and customer experiences in every sector.
While technology is (and should be) the lynch-pin of business transformation strategy, it is still a means to an end. True transformation begins with a clear growth strategy; that is, a shared vision across all roles and functions followed by decisions on which technologies will align with the organization's values and objectives and how they will be integrated.
Digital disruptors encompass a wide range of innovations. For any innovation to be effective, it needs to be closely aligned with the industry and business it serves. For instance IoT (Internet of Things) may be an accelerator for manufacturing, whereas Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) solutions might be better suited to transform customer call centers. You need look at the business issues you're trying to solve and the outcomes you want to achieve.
Peesker notes that a digital focus on just the front office also will not provide sustainable competitive advantage. "Organizations need to focus on restructuring operations beyond customer-facing functions to enable enterprise-wide digital transformation. Even then, such a strategy is only effective if everyone is on board. For any change to take hold – be it the implementation of new tech, a culture shift, or otherwise – there needs to be a clear indication that transformation is a priority for senior leadership."
Beyond the C-Suite or Senior Government leaders, however, organizations must also be backed by talent who can lead. Building a future-proof team, says Peesker, means understanding how technology is altering the nature of work itself:
"Like it or not, the proliferation of social media, smartphone technologies, and online services has created an 'always on' culture that's seeped into the office. Employees want to remain connected to their lives outside of the office while at the same time work in a manner that suits their routines and preferences."
Certainly, as so-called digital natives (e.g., Millennials and Gen Z) assume a greater share of the workforce, it will be organizations which cater to their digital appetites that attract the talent. Moreover, the changing workplace will mean creating the optimal environment, embracing diversity of thought and providing employees with the tools and resources they need to do their best work will be more important than ever in the coming years.
Microsoft is no stranger to transformation. Four years ago, its newly appointed CEO, Satya Nadella, launched an organization-wide initiative to revitalize its brand and re-position the tech giant as a trailblazer in the IT transformation space.
"The world was changing fast and we needed to change with it," Kevin Peesker, President of Microsoft Canada recalls. "We needed to find out who we were as a company, why we were in business, and what the world would be like without us in it. In short: We needed to rediscover our soul."
That journey was marked with Nadella's new company mantra: "To enable every person and organization on the planet to achieve more". It was a mission statement that resonated with team members across the company and one that gave rise to a new growth strategy founded by new behaviours, leadership principals, and a shift in workplace mindsets.
"We knew that if our customers were transforming, we needed to follow suit. That meant investing in a culture that placed even more value on innovation, diversity, and reacting to the customer. As Satya himself described it, 'As a culture, we are moving from a group of people who know it all to a group of people who want to learn it all.'"
Three years later and that transformation continues. It's one that has been marked by investments in AI, cloud-computing, and cognitive services to enhance Microsoft Canada's product and services lines and become a more integral partner in its clients' own business transformations.
"Our fundamental mission is to use advances in technology to make it possible for more people to benefit from computing and for more people to participate economically in our society," Peesker explains. "A critical part of that mission is recognizing the risks of IT and business transformation and building trust in technology. We must take accountability for the algorithms we create and the technology that we build."
Microsoft Canada's affinity for business transformation is not limited to its company and clients. Since forming in 2017, its global innovation pledge has been able to make significant contributions in the form of cloud computing resources donated to non-profit organizations across the world.
"Too many non-profits have been left behind in the digital revolution that's reshaping business and society. As a result, we challenged ourselves as a global company to help non-profits around the world do and achieve more," says Peesker.
To date, the pledge has provided cloud computing support to Canadian organizations such as a community centre in Toronto, which helps new Syrian refugees to Canada; Missing Children, which is leveraging the support to reach a greater audience when a child goes missing; and the Toronto Zoo, which now has greater ability to share world-class research and information around the globe.
Peesker notes: "Innovation and advances in technology are not simply about transforming businesses. We need to make it possible for more people to benefit from computing and for more people to participate economically in our society. Also critical is ensuring that we build trust in technology. This is the type of thinking that will help us create a promising future."
Central to Microsoft's business transformation was a desire to stay ahead – and, in some ways, inform – evolving customer needs and behaviours. This is a challenge all organizations face as the popularity of mobile technologies, "anytime anywhere" services, and innovative service models push expectations beyond the reach of traditional business models.
Herein, disruptors such as AI, cognitive services, and augmented / virtual reality will play a critical role in helping business to be more customer focused and optimize their operations.
"AI, in particular, will be critical in driving innovation," Peesker predicts. "Through it, technology will become more intuitive, more conversational, and more intelligent, and enable businesses to better know and serve their customers in previously unimaginable ways."
While there are real and valid concerns about the role this technology will play in both corporate and personal lives, Peesker notes Microsoft's approach to AI is one that focuses on augmenting, not replacing, human capabilities to "deliver more of the most precious commodity in life … time."
When it comes to business transformation, the power of data can be understated. Fortunately, it is not in limited supply. According to the International Data Corporation (IDC), more data has been created in the past two years than in the entire previous history of the entire race. By 2020, it's also estimated that 1.7 megabytes of new information will be created every second for every human being on the planet; and by 2025, the world will produce 163 zettabytes of data a year.
"The data is out there and many organizations are already sitting on decades of operational and customer data to begin with," says Peesker. "Now, they need to invest in the tools and capabilities to organize that data and pull insights from it that will help businesses understand customer attitudes and behaviours."
Moreover, organizations need talent and third-party partners who can discern which data is most relevant to their goals, and how to take action with that data to meet customer trends both now and into the future.
Herein, says Peesker, "Organizations should rely on partners who not only continue to develop the tools and technology based on anticipated future demands, but also partners who take the time to fully understand their industry so they can play a vital role and act as an extension of their team during their transformation."
Digital transformation is no light undertaking. And it's here where organizations can benefit from partnering with experts to implement new technologies and assist in their implementation.
Peesker leaves us with these final thoughts: "Technology is changing at an incredibly fast pace. To keep up-to-date and to get ahead, organizations should rely on partners who not only continue to develop the tools and technology based on anticipated future demands, but those who take the time to fully understand one's goals, values, and customers. Once you have that support, you'll understand what technologies you'll need to begin a united, informed, and future-proof transformation."
 Microsoft Canada is helping Canadian non-profits
 The value of data: forecast to grow 10-fold by 2025