PCR July/August issue Roundtable: The new digital age

In an industry roundtable with Halil Aksu, co-founder and CEO of Digitopia, Hasina Dhanji, Business Development for Cloud in Europe, Middle East and Africa at CommScope, Peter Ruffley, CEO at Zizo and Rob Hancock, Head of Platform at Giacom, Michelle winny, Editor of PCR delves in to the current trend towards digitisation and the role the channel has to play in this.

The pandemic has created a new era of technological advancement for UK businesses. We spoke with three key industry figures heads to find out more. Here’s some of what came up in the discussion.

Please could you explain what ‘digital transformation’ means to you and your company?
Halil Aksu, Digitopia: “Digital transformation is a long journey. With the abundance of the Internet, mobile phones, social media, and disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, and the Internet of things, digital transformation has reached a new level of importance.”

Hasina Dhanji, CommScope: “For our customers, ultimately digital transformation is a way for them to deliver more value to their customers – be that through more efficient processes, delivering new services or evolving and innovating their internal operations. However, these projects can often require complex changes, which lead to failure or stalling of projects.

This is where cloud comes in as a key enabler of digital transformation. It offers a flexible and scalable foundation that is crucial for success in this new agile world. Reducing the complexity of many digital transformation projects by adopting effective cloud solutions is usually the key to their success. Ultimately, companies that adopt cloud and digital transformation will bring new capabilities to market faster, innovate easier and scale more efficiently.”

Peter Ruffley, CEO, Zizo: “Digital transformation is as much about embracing the changes that have taken place and the possibilities that exist. To achieve true digital transformation, it is vital not to be constrained by existing IT installations and solutions. Instead, it is absolutely necessary to look for new, innovative and fast ways to deal with data to enable participation in the new digital age.”

Why is digital transformation so important now?
Halil Aksu, Digitopia: “The pandemic has drastically accelerated digital transformation efforts of many organisations. It has become a core component for businesses in their efforts towards innovation and growth. As organisations become more reliant on technology, measuring and ensuring that they are receiving maximum returns on their investment is essential.

“Digital transformation is essential for businesses. If they don’t embark on their digital journey, they will face many obstacles when trying to reach their goals.”

Hasina Dhanji, CommScope: “The term digital transformation is a broad industry trend, and is extremely far-reaching and multifaceted depending on how it’s realised. We’ve all seen that Covid-19 has accelerated digital transformation in many organisations – most of which needed to quickly shift business models to virtual ways of working, so this term has become more popular with the huge increase in tools like video conferencing, CRM systems and finding innovative, remote ways to keep operational.”

How is your company supporting the shift towards digital transformation?
Halil Aksu, Digitopia: “Digital transformation isn’t only about technology, it is made up of 6 different dimensions: technology, governance, innovation, people, operations and customers. We help our clients to understand this. We help them to assess their digital maturity, understand where they are excelling, and where there is room for improvement.”

Hasina Dhanji, CommScope: “We help businesses to cope with having more devices and data-demand on their wired or wireless network infrastructure than ever before, as they roll out their digital transformation. From IoT sensors to multiple mobile devices, or the increasing appetite for data to feed data-hungry services and applications – we believe the strength and reliability of the wired and wireless network underpins many areas of digital transformation.

“In recent times, these applications have been critical in keeping organisations and people connected and must all work flawlessly, securely and consistently. Enabled by the cloud, “lean” IT organisations can easily provision, manage, optimise, and troubleshoot a high-performance enterprise wired and wireless networks via a single web dashboard or native mobile application. This is a significant transformation on previously manual and time-intensive processes.”

Peter Ruffley, CEO, Zizo: “In order to meet edge computing requirements, a complete re-think has to happen. In a world where data is growing exponentially, Zizo decided to build solutions that were flexible, adaptable and cost effective; with the ability to be deployed either at the edge, or in the data centre.”

How are companies missing out by not being digitally savvy?
Halil Aksu, Digitopia: “If businesses don’t adapt, then they will get disrupted somehow. Digital transformation will not only help businesses survive, but it will be the gateway to long-term success and a more intelligent, digitally connected and sustainable future.

“Businesses that fail to invest in their digital journey will get left behind. Not only will they fail to keep up with competitors but will lose their competitive edge also – creating a barrier in their efforts to grow.

“Those that are also behind digitally will struggle to partner with digitally savvy companies which will have an impact on their long term business growth.”

Hasina Dhanji, CommScope: “In today’s post-pandemic world, organisations have seen they need to embrace digital transformation or they risk being left behind by competitors.

Without digital technology being embraced as a key part of business models, companies are missing out on a whole raft of benefits from increased efficiency, cost-savings, improved business continuity, delivering more personalised experiences and generating revenue through new services. And that’s just a few examples!

Furthermore, where companies are relying on too much traditional technology, their IT team’s time is spent simply on managing and maintaining the network, not allowing them to look ahead at their digital transformation strategy and potential for future success.”

Peter Ruffley, CEO, Zizo: “How many digital transformation strategies will ever extend beyond the boardroom? What, in effect, do they really entail? Digital transformation is being merged with the Internet of Things (IoT), machine learning, even Artificial Intelligence (AI) to create an unmanageable, unfocused concept of ‘doing things better’ without addressing the fundamental, underpinning essence of that change – the data.

“If individuals are not prepared to accept that data resources enable better decision-making than intuition, a business cannot be digitally transformed – however much it has expanded its connection with customers, suppliers and partners.

“There is no doubt that better use of data can have a dramatic impact on the bottom line. Being able to effectively and reliably use the data that a company owns and generates, means that every aspect of the business can be managed more effectively.

“There is no one size fits all, of course; no prescription for a digitally transformed organisation. But by taking a solution-led approach, rather than a nebulous ‘digital’ strategy, organisations can embark upon the transformation journey.”

What first or key steps should partners consider to make the move towards digital transformation?
Halil Aksu, Digitopia: “When businesses embark on their digital transformation, they must capitalise on all aspects and elements of the business in order to excel and reach their goals. Once businesses understand why, what, how and when to digitally transform, they will be able to achieve digital transformation. By analysing performance, benchmarking and measuring digital transformation, businesses will see fundamental changes.

“You manage what you measure. Balance endurance and velocity to achieve sustainable success. If you rush it, you might crush it. There is a natural order and a natural flow of things when it comes to digital transformation. The evolution and maturity of capabilities, cultural change, business model innovation, societal acceptance, regulation, and the overall adaptation to novelties takes decades or even generations. You need to plan and manage for the long term.”

What industry sectors are falling behind most with the shift towards digitisation?
Halil Aksu, Digitopia: “For all industries there is an economy of scale issue here. Larger and richer organisations have more ability to invest and grow in digital. Smaller ones suffer from finding the right talent, funds, and peace of mind to think, plan, and execute digital.

“Manufacturing is split into two camps. Some segments, such as automotive or household appliances get more digital every day, so do their suppliers, and even the whole value chain. But other industrial areas such as mining, heavy industries, asset intensive industries still remain very physical and analogue.

“Interestingly, retail is behind. They are heavily disrupted by e-commerce and last-mile-delivery services, however they are only very barely able to cope with the amount of change. Having a shop on a main street was enough for decades. But we see bankruptcies every week in the retail industry, not only because of the Internet and e-commerce giants, but also because they were not satisfying their customers and are not optimising their value chains.”

Hasina Dhanji, CommScope: “As a result of the pandemic-enforced shift to remote everything, we’ve seen sectors like hospitality, healthcare and education start to lead the way in their digital transformation journeys.

“Many organisations that were once wary of the complexity and the time associated with large-scale digital transformation projects have prioritised what will deliver for their employees and customers in the required moment. With flexibility and scalability a key requirement for most, cloud deployments have been seen as a clear enabler.

“For example, in education, their digitisation has accelerated with smart whiteboards and laptops now being commonplace in many classrooms. These customers are also investing in AI-driven applications to personalise learning journeys for the future. They are exploring the opportunities of augmented/ virtual reality to provide an immersive experience for students, in a safe way without being limited to the classroom – for example exploring the depths of the ocean or outer space when science museums are closed/restricted!

“The hospitality market has leveraged technology to keep employees and guests safe by using robots to deliver meals to guests, or contactless login using mobile check-in and keyless entry. Retailers have invested in digital stock tracking to elevate the shopping experience and go the extra mile to delight their customers.”

What risks do companies face if they do not keep up with technical advances?
Halil Aksu, Digitopia: “Simply put, those who don’t digitally transform will be rendered obsolete, sooner or later. Digital transformation won’t always mean developing a mobile app or becoming the platform of your industry. It can also mean customer centricity, value chain integration, demand forecasting, data monetisation, or just superb employee experience.

“Consider the younger generations who are born digital. They don’t know a world without the Internet, mobile phones and social media. They are used to working on the road, in the office, working late, or playing sports during office hours. Those companies, which will not be flexible enough in terms of working environment, freedom, flexibility, and diversity – by all means – will fail to attract talent. That will have existential consequences for them.”

Rob Hancock Head of Platform at Giacom: “Digital transformation initiatives have sped up almost overnight. And, while the initial scramble focused on business continuity and technology upgrades; across the board, the cloud evolution has not ceased and neither will digital transformation. COVID-19 has accelerated the need for digital transformation, as without the right technology in place, organisations will either sink or swim.

“Part of the digital transformation happening throughout the UK, businesses in every sector are migrating to digital solutions that rely on high-speed fibre Internet, rather than legacy copper infrastructure. In 2025, the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) will be switched off, meaning telephony as we know it will no longer be supported; instead, businesses will need to switch to a VoIP solution, but not all businesses are leveraging the technology available to them. We encourage partners to start having the conversation with end customers about transitioning and upgrading to a VoIP solution now, before the opportunities are lost to another supplier.”

Hasina Dhanji, CommScope: “The risk here is losing customer loyalty. Now more than ever, customers have great choice at their fingertips. If you are offering a poorer customer experience than your competitors who have embraced technological advances, they’ll quickly move on.

“Internally, organisations are also missing out on improved efficiency, cost-savings, and opportunities to grow revenue through new services. Without investing in networking infrastructure to support these goals, many organisations may fail to realise the true value of their investment or struggle to launch due to the increased complexity that IT teams have to manage.”

Peter Ruffley, CEO, Zizo: “The disillusionment with digital transformation really comes about when organisations fail to do that by trying to reuse or re-purpose their existing IT infrastructures and ignoring the potential new ways of doing things. It is only when organisations decide what and how they are going to change that they will be able to identify the ways in which IT can support them.

“Critically, the focus must be on addressing specific business requirements, whether prompted by the need to upgrade a dated system or respond to new operational requirements. By ensuring developments are business driven, data led and customer focused, with the right foundation a business can use its data to make essential change.”

What first or key step should partners consider to make the move towards digital transformation?
Halil Aksu, Digitopia: “Digital transformation is a long journey. It will occupy all of us for the next decades. There are business opportunities for everybody who provides value and are able to partner.

“Digital transformation is a team sport. There are very few companies on the selling or the buying side, who can accomplish everything with their own capabilities or resources. All the others are dependent on a functioning ecosystem. The ones who know how to partner, how to collaborate and provide value will outperform all the others.”

Rob Hancock Head of Platform at Giacom: “This shift towards digital solutions presents a fantastic opportunity for Channel partners to become trusted advisors to their customers, while supporting them with digital transformation and maximising the efficiency of their home-based teams.

“To capitalise further, though, means MSPs need to align with CSPs that can provide the strong foundations they need to support their customers with their cloud journeys. Can their preferred CSP offer collaborative consultancy? Do they support with training and marketing? Can they bring value to the MSP’s proposition by offering a breadth of technologies that enables them to expand their portfolio of products that they offer to customers? What is their long-term technology roadmap? The right CSP partner will have all these bases covered.”

Hasina Dhanji, CommScope: “Channel partners need to carefully consider which technologies to adopt, first and foremost ensuring a solution delivers on the necessary performance. Next, ensuring the solution provides the necessary speed to market is key. Intuitive, automated, cloud-based platforms bring new capabilities to partners to turnaround and set-up customers’ networks faster, more reliably, and remotely.

“Considering the flexibility and scalability of the solution is also critical as more businesses adopt a pay-as-you-grow approach to conserve CAPEX budgets and will need a network that can grow alongside their digital transformation strategy, rather than having to “rip and replace” frequently.

“Finally, investing in their own people, skills and expertise is also important. This shift towards digitisation means partners need to find new ways of serving customers, such as Service Level Agreement driven models, offering cloud-based solutions, and building complementary offerings.”

What role does the channel have to play in digitisation?
Rob Hancock Head of Platform at Giacom: “During the pandemic the channel demonstrated how adaptable it is to step up and meet customer needs fast. Strong relationships between CSPs and MSPs were at the heart of this success. But, it can’t stop there. Digital transformation is a long-term destination and the use of the cloud to support organisations is here to stay: be it for collaboration; data security; or to enable business applications to shift to the cloud. The opportunity is almost endless.

“The role of the channel has been to continuously support its customers through the journey of adapting to remote working and digitally transforming in order to stay ahead. By educating customers on the importance of security, as well as the available technologies and strategies that can support their transition, they will have the right support system in place to maintain business as usual – or even unlock additional productivity – during unprecedented times.”

Hasina Dhanji, CommScope: “The channel has a big role to play because customers are looking to the partner and reseller community as their trusted advisors and guides when it comes to making these large-scale investments. It’s important for the channel to understand their customers’ long term goals, meaning any investment can deliver today, tomorrow and beyond.”

How can partners look to get involved in facilitating the digital transformation?
Hasina Dhanji, CommScope: “Now is the time for channel partners to invest in cloud; many analysts predict that nearly half the WLAN market will be cloud-based in the next few years, so in order for partners to stay competitive they need to build expertise in this space. If partners are not already selling cloud products and services, then this is a big opportunity for them.”

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