I just finished watching the live Microsoft Business Forward event, and it was pretty impressive. In addition to Satya Nadella giving us the Grand Vision, Microsoft also trotted out a few customers who had “Digitally Transformed” their businesses… big customers. But as I was watching this, with my SMB Customer goggles on, I found myself thinking, “WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?”
A Big Week for “DT”
Earlier this week I saw a study from the Harvard Business Review on “Competing in 2020“, again that phrase, “Digital Transformation” was all over it, (I should have Trademarked that phrase when I had the chance). At every Microsoft partner event that I have attended this year, that same phase was repeated over and over again, like a cult mantra. It really felt like a vague, generic term, like “Do Better”, or “Satisfy Customers”, catchy…but not very informative. But I started tossing the phase into my SMB customer conversations anyway, to which there was no reaction. Like so many phrases that sound like marketing-speak, it does not register in the SMB customers’ minds any more than say “Empowering the World to do more“, or “Modern Business“. How are these “actionable”?
Satya said it, so it is doctrine now
Fair enough, who am I to argue with the man who engineered the absolute “transformation” of one of the biggest companies in the world? After watching the presentation linked above, and reading the study also linked above, I feel like I am getting a handle on what Digital Transformation is, but now I have to translate that for SMB. Because “Re-imagining the Supply Chain” is not going to resonate. But this term will be with us for a while, or at least until the Microsoft Marketing Department comes up with another one, so we better distill this into something SMB can react to, and act on.
When I hear the word “Transformation”, I can’t help but think of the Transformers movies, you know, where the cars turn into massive robots, unfolding a part at a time, until they are something completely different. Whether a massive robot is an “improvement” over a car, I can’t really say. But, when I hear the word “Digital”, I think 1980’s technology… zeros and ones. Digital is a lousy word for where we are today, but I guess most SMB customers would at least equate it to “technology” of some kind. So we are really talking about changing your business, dramatically, and using technology to do it. Does this resonate? It will really depend on where that SMB customer is at, and more succinctly, if they are being disrupted by others.
SMB was on this planet long before Enterprise even existed. They are simultaneously more nimble, and more intransigent, than big companies. In big companies, there are people intentionally breaking stuff, just so they can keep their jobs fixing it. SMB, on the other hand, largely thinks initially, “If it ain’t broke…“. But they often say that about things that are clearly broken, as if by ignoring it, they won’t have to spend any money on it, and it will eventually go away. More likely, the thing that will go away, is that SMB. For the first time in 30 years, business deaths now outnumber business births, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Obviously today, the SMB customer is in a much more precarius spot than they even realize, or have ever been in. There is definitely some disruptin’ going on, and transforming is not really optional anymore.
Low Hanging Fruit
With rare exception, so rare that I cannot even think of one, any SMB that is continuing to invest in on-premise infrastructure is either ill-informed, or outright morons. Maybe this is our fault as partners, either not making the case well enough, or letting the customer lead in a dance they don’t understand, and stepping on their own feet. Or worse, when the partner does not understand, and leads a customer down the wrong path, and the customer blindly follows because, “They are the experts”.
So, is moving the email service from a box-in-the-closet, to Office 365, going to “transform” a business? Nope… but it’s a first step. And like Willy Wonka, our job is to get them addicted. Is cloud based email addicting? Maybe not, but that SMB, who was maintaining that box-in-the-closet might start thinking, “Hmm, not having to deal with that is cool, what else do I not want to have to deal with?” Is moving these workloads, from the box-in-the-closet, to the cloud “transformational”? Not really, it’s just one less thing that a SMB needs to “deal with”. So, “transformation” must be bigger than that… right?
Pressing a little further
Great, all of that stuff you used to do, is now served from the cloud, but you are still doing the same things you were before. At the user level, nothing has really changed. Oh sure, now they may have better mobile access, etc., but is that significant… enough? If they deploy OneDrive for Business, and synchronize it with their desktop, is that really any different than when they selected a folder from the “Z” drive before? Yes, I understand what OneDrive provides… do they? Is is significant…enough? Can we check the “Transformed” box yet? I am pretty sure this SMB customer will not think so. Jeez, whadda I gotta to do to get this damn box checked?
Press until it Hurts
Your SMB customer will not realize transformation from the edges. You are going to need to take them straight into the abyss. They will kick and scream, and maybe even call you names, but if they bought “transformation” from you, and they didn’t squeal like a new born piglet in the process, then you did not deliver it. “No Pain- No Gain”, I just made that up… okay, I didn’t… cut me some slack. What will they be squealing about? Effort, Cost, Time, you name it. But if their real goal is to minimize all of these, then they weren’t really on-board with transformation, they just thought they were.
And, every now and then, you get that customer who says “Is that are far as we can go?“. Congratulations, you just met the disrupter… the customer who is about to turn all of the squealing piglets in his space, into bacon bits. But, beware of the Disrupter pretender; this customer talks a big game, but basically just squeals from the second the project starts… and you say, “Uh, we haven’t started yet“.
Tools of Transformation
We have determined then, that cloud email and file storage are not actually going to transform anybody. But the tools of transformation are now that many steps closer, in fact, they are just down the cloud hallway from where you brought your customer. Azure, Dynamics 365, Power BI, Machine Learning et al. This is the airspace where transformation takes place, or at least can. What combination, and how, is up to you to figure out, and it will be different for each customer.
So now, you can grab your customer’s hand, and both of you can jump into the abyss, together.