Australian business knows the need for digital transformation – here are the steps to making it happen


New research of 505 medium to large Australian businesses – commissioned by Microsoft Australia and conducted by Colmar Brunton – shows the vast majority know they need to digitally transform their businesses and believe they have a digital transformation strategy, yet less than a third “have a company wide strategy for sharing data”.

That means that data is siloed away in one department, not available to the wider business and as such can act as a handbrake on transformation.

Michael O’Keefe, Microsoft’s Business Applications Director said:

to transform, is to re imagine the organisation in every way possible. It requires an integrated digital strategy with comprehensive access to company-wide data at its heart. This encourages informed insights and better decision-making, which in turn, delivers dramatically enhanced outcomes. Think of it as democratising your corporate data…. It’s really important that organisations identify and tackle their digital blindspots – and introduce policies, processes and technology that lets data help draft the organisational transformation blueprint.

Business Insider asked him for his top three pieces of advice for companies undertaking a digital transformation initiative that lives up to expectations. Here’s what he told us.

  1. A cross-company data sharing strategy
  2. You need to get access to your data across a wider audience in the business, he said.

    That’s because “successful digital transformation is often about being able to make the data you have in your business more visible to employees and departments so they can make smarter decisions and improve performance. Data can be embedded into Customer Experience (CX) programs that enable your business to enhance customer outcomes and drive operational efficiency”.

    But, rather than just sharing the data the company has to take two further steps to ensure the best possible outcomes.

    The first step, “before you start surfacing your data”, O’Keefe said, is an exercise to “define the value of your corporate data and who has access to it”. Crucially he says managers need to “start with an audit: where is it, what is it, and what’s worth keeping and sharing”.

    Auditors of the world are all breathing a sigh of thanks. Audits as enablers are something your author has always believed in and had experience with in my banking and business life.

    The second step on the road to data sharing, O’Keefe says, is to “get clear on your data governance”.

    This is a crucial step because while “your plan might be to make data more visible and accessible… there still need to be controls in place. Security and privacy are becoming make or break issues for businesses, and consumers want to know their data is being handled appropriately”.

    So, “before you embark on digital transformation, make sure you have strong governance that is aligned to relevant regulatory frameworks. These might be Australian or, more recently, European, in the form of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDRP)” he said.

  3. The digital feedback loop
  4. O’Keefe hits on a theme that recurs again and again in my writing and discussions about digital transformation: that it’s “not an end in itself”.

    Rather, the process of digital transformation is about what business is trying to achieve when implementing new technology – namely “improvements in customer and employee experience, process optimisation, more agility and better products and services”.

    That’s not going to happen with just the technology alone.

    Rather, “successful digital transformation programs must be accompanied with a focus on several factors if they’re to result in tangible change. In each of these areas, there must be an emphasis on continually testing and improving”, O’Keefe says.

    He says companies need to:

  • Empower your employees – once they have access to data, are they being given the authority and encouragement to act on that data?
  • Process and operating model optimisation – are you using newly-surfaced data to drive fundamental enhancements to how you go about business?
  • Customer experience – are you continually seeking to improve the ways in which we communicate and engage with customers, including new digital channels?
  • Better products and services – are we on the lookout for new ways to transform the products and services we offer to customers? Are we aligning what we’re offering to what the customer needs?

  • Technology is a tool
  • In another piece of advice that underlines how digitisation is about more than just tech, O’Keefe says that “people are too often overlooked as a core component of a successful digital transformation”.

    As a result he says, “within your existing team, there’s a need to break down cultural barriers to change if the full benefit of new technology is going to be realised within your organisation”.

    After that business owners and managers need to critically evaluate their business because, “a digitally-driven customer experience requires a team with the right skill set to deliver on innovative customer experience initiatives”.

    To do this will take some skill from management and the board along with a narrative from the top, given the survey reveals, “that the two major barriers to successful transformation were a lack of senior management support (64 per cent) and a lack of company strategy from the board down (61 per cent)”.

    Interestingly, the research showed that government, finance, and retail had different imperative driving the desire and need for a digital transformation. The research revealed, “government was driven towards optimising its operations, while the primary focus for finance firms was empowering employees. Not surprisingly engaging customers was the number one transformation priority for retail businesses”.

    One thing worth noting: as the crossover between customer-centricity in retail and finance grows and as Open Banking comes over the horizon in Australia, it’s likely there will be a better alignment of finance and retail as the customer offering becomes more competitive.