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Digital transformation trends in 2020: What to expect

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Analyst Brian Solis explains why he is also excited about quantum computing, cognitive automation, and robotic process automation.

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TechRepublic’s Karen Roby talked with Brian Solis, independent digital analyst, author, speaker, about digital transformation, quantum computing, customer experience, and enterprise innovation. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation. 

Karen Roby: You were telling me that you feel like the conversation is maybe shifting a little bit around digital transformation. Explain what you mean.

Brian Solis: I’m hoping that it’s shifting a bit. There are so many disruptive trends that are happening, and by disruptive I mean beyond modernization, beyond cloud migration, beyond the innovation on all of the digital fronts within a business that deserve the attention and resources beyond that traditional digital transformation roadmap.

SEE: Digital transformation road map (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

For example, I was just in India speaking at the NASSCOM event out there, and my topic–well, one of my topics–was on the state and evolution of quantum computing. When you look at enterprise organizations today, whether they’re big brands, whatever industry they’re in, some of them haven’t yet started thinking about quantum. And when you think about something like quantum, you have to apply resources. Now, even though we’re still several years away from having something that shows that it’s going to be promising in business applications, the sooner you could dedicate resources to it to learn, to be part of experiments, even if you’re testing on models rather than the real thing. Where does that fall? Does that fall in digital transformation, or is that something more on the innovation front?

Back to your question, what I’m hoping to see are things that… in digital transformation, there’s always going to be a new trend. There’s always going to be a new technology. There’s always going to be things that you can improve within the enterprise. And that means that digital transformation is now an infinite game. So, when we talk about this, it’s essentially now an everyday part of business, but one of the things I was covering today was Aera Technologies’ release of its cognitive automation platform, and that now tells me that alongside digital transformation, we’re also looking at this sort of post-digital transformation evolution of the cognitive enterprise now with companies like Aera becoming a reality. So what does that look like? That’s going to need its own dedicated resources to look at ways to implement these new platforms in ERP [Enterprise Resource Planning] and CRM [Customer Relationship Management] systems to help the enterprise become, as Aera calls it, self-driving. And then you can look at the same thing for quantum. You could look at the same thing for other disruptive trends.

Karen Roby: How do CIOs, and just companies in general, how do their ways of thinking shift? I mean you’re asking people to, when it comes to digital transformation, that’s a big change for people to still come on board with. Mindsets have to really kind of shift here.

SEE: Guide to becoming a digital transformation champion (TechRepublic Premium)

Brian Solis: Every time I talk to an enterprise, and I’ll usually talk to different stakeholders within the organization… whether it’s the CIO or CDO, whether it’s somebody in a specific application within the organization. For example, with cognitive automation, I’m speaking to a lot of people on the ERP side of things, supply chain-side of things, retail side of things, logistics. And then also on that side of the conversation with cognitive automation, I’m also talking to a lot of CEOs, which is new.

The reason is it kind of comes back to what you were asking, which is at some point it can’t just be about modernization, and it can’t just be about infrastructure, right? These are all big things, these are all must-do’s, but at the same time, when we look at it from a market perspective, we have digital natives who are coming out of nowhere and disrupting entire markets that are… It’s happening so fast, and it’s at such an accelerated pace that you have leading organizations, tried-and-true organizations that just can’t keep up, yet with inside of the enterprise, there’s still a lack of urgency, there’s still a sense of entitlement.

SEE: Top digital transformation priorities in the enterprise (TechRepublic)

There’s sort of this, they’re not seeing the need to kind of cut right through, cut corners, stop making decisions by committee, and stop having hundreds of meetings to make a decision, and start implementing pilots that allow the organization to be more agile, and be more flexible, be more adaptive to these trends. Those conversations on the digital transformation side are in many cases cross-functional, because we’re affecting lines of business in addition to technology groups. But when we’re looking at things like cognitive automation and ultimately things like artificial intelligence and quantum, we have to go right to the stakeholder groups where these things can be implemented and experimented with so that we’re improving operations, we’re improving processes, and we’re maximizing legacy systems to start performing at these innovative and also digitally native levels.

Karen Roby: Do you find sometimes that it’s difficult when you talk to companies, as you mentioned, you’ve got some over here that are so very comfortable with technology and they want to make quick decisions, and if something doesn’t work, they want to move fast from it to something different, often butting heads with the people that have been there for a long time? Do you find that tension when you try to help companies and you talk with them?

Brian Solis: Yeah, all the time. I often joke that I’m not an analyst in those cases, I’m a therapist.

A lot of the times, it’s really just egos, it’s politics, it’s budget, it’s fiefdoms. You have stuff where people are really trying to protect what they have, but they also don’t want to disrupt themselves. In fact, I just had an interview with a massive CPG [Consumer Packaged Goods] brand today where we were talking through the business case for cognitive automation. In that particular case, the stakeholder–who’s not in the CIO group and not in the C-suite, but somebody who is a lead on the practitioner level–had to make these one-two-three cases at a business level to be able to create a unity in order to be able to launch a pilot. And that case was made at a business level. I think honestly the C-suite is painfully aware–at least they better be–of the disruption that they’re facing internally and externally, that their systems are aging, that their systems are disparate and fragmented, that their data isn’t probably as clean as it needs to be in order to make decisions a lot faster and more augmented and automated across the organization.

SEE: Digital transformation: Business modernization requires a new mindset (TechRepublic)

But when you can make the business case to look beyond digital transformation for all of these things we’re doing here in terms of modernization, and improvement, and digitization, this particular investment is going to change how we make decisions and how we learn from those decisions, which is going to improve, for example in this case, decision-making accuracy in the supply chain around orders from 35% accuracy to 90% accuracy. That’s a pretty solid business case, and I think that’s the way we have to start thinking as stakeholders within the organization, is what’s that business case? What is this going to do for me? Especially as we start looking to some of these more bold technology investments that are now here on the horizon.

Karen Roby: What are the big talking points for 2020? What do you see as we get toward, say, closer to the third, fourth quarter of this year? 

Brian Solis: I have a tab open right now where I was actually starting to formulate a lot of these thoughts, because I have to write about this. There’s just so many things. I mean, when we talked about, for example, cognitive automation, you have things like RPA, or robotic process automation, or business process automation, where we’re looking at the repetitive tasks of knowledge workers. But that’s one side of the conversation. And then on the other side, this whole idea of a self-driving enterprise, a system that can learn and ultimately make decisions and allow knowledge workers to sort of become the operators rather than the practitioners, letting them be more creative and also helping them strategize, and where to make improvements across the organization. You have things like conversational AI that’s now really starting to look beyond the knowledge base or the transactional base of today’s chatbots. For example, like Google’s MENA is starting to show the power of what human conversation could look like in those applications. So essentially, ironically, I say putting humanity in artificial intelligence, making the business more human.

SEE: An IT pro’s guide to robotic process automation (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

And then you have all kinds of things, especially on the data fronts, whether beyond cognitive automation where we’re looking at visualization, we’re looking at integration, we’re looking at applying AI and machine learning to make sense of data in ways that organizations haven’t really been asking questions for it to make sense of, if that makes sense.

[There are] so many trends about improving how a business operates. And to your point earlier around mindsets, that’s really what this is about, is taking all of the different technology frontiers that are emerging now and over the course of the year looking for ways to implement them in improving not just the business infrastructure, but also in customer experience, or the customer journey, or the employee experience. The idea of even kind of stepping before the cognitive enterprise and looking at AI-powered enterprise systems for example, like Salesforce and Einstein, and adding voice as a user interface in terms of data. Not just in terms of visualization, but being able to more humanly interact with your enterprise data to make faster decisions and get faster insights. I mean, these are all trends pointing toward a smarter enterprise to be able to perform at internet speed and at scale.

Karen Roby: As you mentioned, you’ve been traveling a lot, been doing a lot of speaking engagements, and what is it at this very moment that excites you the most that you will be talking about?

Brian Solis: I’m fascinated by the impact of artificial intelligence and cognitive automation on a lot of stuff, because it allows companies to bypass decades of legacy-based systems and technologies and also mindsets in order to be able to do things fast, test them fast, and learn from them fast, and that is super exciting for me. It’s actually an area that I just started covering in the last quarter.

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Image: Mackenzie Burke

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