Authored by Warren Shiau, Vice President Buyer Insights and Analytics, IDC

Digital transformation discussions, like many other technology-related business “hot” topics, can get overly complicated. An effective way to think about digital transformation is simplifying it: how can you use digital technologies to change the way you do business? And if you’re going to change the way you do business what do you need to analyze and evaluate, and then modify, enhance or change?

Digital Transformation Key Components

The basis of any digital transformation effort can be broken down into three components, digitization, digitalization and intelligence.

Three components of digital transformation:

  • Digitization is converting analog business information into digital form
  • Digitalization is process of technologically-induced business change
  • Intelligence is driving actionable business insight from digitization and digitalization

The Problem with Legacy Environments and Business Practices

IDC has performed research which indicates up to 75% of Canadian businesses operate with technology and data silos through using non-integrated point solutions (e.g. for finance, sales, customer service, marketing) and spreadsheets/tools like Notes, Excel and Access databases to manage their various operational and administrative functions. This presents a huge opportunity for Canadian business to modernize and address the efficiency and productivity challenges created by siloes across and within sales, marketing, operations, finance and other departments or lines of business:

Business efficiency and productivity challenges of siloed technology and data:

  • No single source of truth for customer and business data
  • Inability to access and consolidate customer and business data in a timely manner
  • Siloed customer sales and service experiences
  • Lack of data insights into sales, service and operational/process efficiency
  • Replicated and inefficient business processes
  • Absence of business insight into business process flow and resource dependencies

Dynamics 365

Dynamics 365 fits into the digital transformation picture for any business that is familiar with Microsoft technology. Dynamics 365’s core value is providing an integrated, consistent platform and common data model to digitize, digitalize and drive intelligence across processes, departments, operations, and lines of business; while offering flexibility for localized Canadian requirements on the global scale Microsoft Azure cloud platform.

Dynamics 365 provides complete integration (built on one common platform and data model) with:

  • Microsoft Office 365
  • Microsoft Power BI
  • Microsoft Cortana AI natural language processing
  • Microsoft Azure Machine Learning
  • Microsoft Dynamics function-specific business applications for sales, customer service, field service, talent, finance, operations, retail, project service automation, marketing, artificial intelligence, and virtual/augmented reality
  • Microsoft AppSource marketplace for Dynamics 365, Office 365, and Power BI plug-in apps

The integration of Dynamics 365 with Office 365, Power BI, Cortana AI natural language processing, and Azure Machine Learning connects business processes and intelligent applications with productivity tools and data input over devices and contact channels – on one familiar and common platform and data model.

This connectivity is the key to what organizations can do with Dynamics 365 because it allows organizations, with drag and drop simplicity, to:

  • View and change their business at a process level based on analysis of resource requirements and data flows
  • Adopt function and industry standardized processes or modify them based on need
  • Apply built-in analytics and AI/machine learning augmented business intelligence

How Organizations are Leveraging Dynamics 365

With Dynamics 365, organizations can manage their business from a single common platform and data model eliminating technology and data silos. This enables quickly implemented business process flexibility and application of built-in analytics and business intelligence to evaluate and optimize processes and operations; and digitally transform how the organization operates.

Successful digital transformation initiatives have typically concentrated on doing one or all of the following:

  • Business process/operational efficiency
  • Customer experience and engagement
  • Employee empowerment/productivity
  • Product and service refinement/development to better meet customer needs

Business Process/Operational Efficiency

Flexible and intelligent processes allow improved responsiveness and service levels while reducing costs.

Dynamics 365 has many tools and features to increase business process and operational efficiency. From expediting workflows to easily viewing and changing process flows, this functionality targets the efficient flow of data and operations.

Organizations are using Dynamics 365 functionality such as Process Flow Editor to show the time spent on a stage in a business process flow, predict the outcome of modifications or changes to the process, and make modifications or changes.

Within a business process itself Dynamics 365’s unique integration (common data model) with Office 365 and Azure Machine Learning allows for expedited workflows. For example, specifics such as legal information or contract terms can be pulled directly from Word contracts and automatically input to relevant legal documentation or synchronized with accounts receivable and billing.

Customer Experience and Engagement

Integrated view of customers and Cortana AI allow intelligent handling of customer experiences and engagement based on data and insight.

Dynamics 365 provides an integrated, single version of the truth platform for customer data (e.g. customer information, opportunities, contracts, inquiries, service schedules, requests and outcomes, etc.) and the supporting analytics and AI-augmented insights to help predict and fulfill varying customer interaction requirements (simple to complex), helping to orchestrate multichannel and cross-channel customer engagement supported by the context of the customer’s interaction history with the organization:

  • Input from analytics and AI can help predict customer requirements so an organization can implement functionality like predictive handling of maintenance, or streaming customer interactions to the most appropriate fulfillment resource such as a customer hotline, online chat, customer service portal, digital product catalog, searchable knowledge base, or relevant staff contact information
  • Dynamics 365’s built-in Cortana AI and Azure Machine Learning intelligence have direct access to data in real-time. This functionality can be used to predict customer needs and improve lead generation and cross-selling opportunities, or provide sales or service staff with the information to expedite and personalize interactions or else stream them to appropriate low-touch/no-touch handling models such as online self-service

Employee Empowerment/Productivity

Familiar tools enhanced by complete integration with back office applications and intelligence democratizes actionable insights.

IDC conducted research for Microsoft Canada more than ten years ago during which executive level business decision makers identified Microsoft Office front-end integration with ERP as a “game changer”. To paraphrase the research response: “If you could just take what’s in a Word document or Excel file and have it flow directly into our finance and operations ERP and be able to report it back it out in Office just as easily… that would provide incredible cost savings and productivity gains.”

With Dynamics 365 and Office 365 integration, recording contractual information, posting transactions, sending invoices, administering accounts, managing inventory… everything is handled within a single system based on a common data model and single version of the truth for customer and business information. Consolidating the organization’s data and metrics within the system – a system that has built-in Cortana AI and Azure Machine Learning intelligence – allows sophisticated analytics to be performed to surface actionable insights for operational and strategic decision making.

Dynamics 365 has many other tools to help democratize the availability of actionable business insight. One of the greatest challenges’ organizations have in creating actionable insights is visualizing data so people understand it. Power BI is a visualization and reporting tool built into Dynamics 365 that allows the drag and drop creation of interactive graphical visualization reports and dashboards from Microsoft and non-Microsoft sources. Other tools allow your non-IT staff to create custom business apps such as dashboards, forms and even business processes without software coding knowledge. And Dynamics 365 Mobile allows functionality such as real-time sales activity updates and real-time updating of customer records with field notes and attachments to be extended to all your devices with appropriate security controls and permissions.

Product and service refinement/development to better meet customer needs

Use direct feedback to transform your products and services based on customer requirements.

Azure IoT allows direct input of data from IoT devices into the Dynamics 365 platform. The implications go beyond feeding this data into Dynamics 365 Customer Service or Field Service for better servicing of products or predictive maintenance. With the intelligence gathered organizations can rethink how they do business and where they deliver customer value. Rolls-Royce’s (the airplane engine manufacturer) use of Azure IoT is a well-documented example of digital transformation: the company is aggregating information from various sources, including in-flight engines, to develop an operations consultancy service for its airline customers. Data sets such as engine performance, wear and fuel consumption, air traffic control information, and flight routing information is being collected to detect operational anomalies and trends. Using Azure Analytics and Power BI, Rolls-Royce is working to surface data insights that it can provide to airlines for improving operational performance and fuel efficiency.

The ability to obtain data on an organization’s products and services and extract actionable intelligence from this information is a critical component of ongoing digital transformation initiatives such as “servitization” of product offerings from tractors to professional sports performance monitoring to airplane engines.

The Ultimate Objective

What organizations are leveraging Dynamics 365 for boils down to gaining control over their data to implement digital transformation initiatives. While this may seem daunting, there are definite places to start – beginning with digitization of paper and analog assets and migration of legacy on-premise systems and applications to cloud. Digital transformation requires a disciplined, phased approach for which utilizing an experienced implementation partner may be a logical approach for many organizations.

Digital transformation is a long and strategic process, but this doesn’t mean it cannot deliver quick returns in many areas. The key is working with someone who can identify low hanging fruit in areas such as business and operational process efficiency or workflow adjustments. Dynamics 365’s integration with Office 365, Cortana, Azure and other key Microsoft products uniquely positions it to allow for quick hit efficiency/productivity as well as long-term strategic digital transformation gains.

About the Author

Warren Shiau, Vice President Buyer Insights and Analytics, IDC

With over 50 years of expertise, award winning end-to-end services, and offerings across the Microsoft stack, Sierra Systems is a strategic partner you can trust. To find out more about how your organization can leverage Microsoft Dynamics 365 for digital transformation, contact Sierra Systems today to schedule a discussion.