Digital transformation – the power to engage customers, empower employees, optimise operations and transform products and services – is the new technology meme. Following a decade of hard choices, we are all trying to figure out how to do more with less. Technology can help. Let me show you how.
A.T. Kearney’s 2017 Global Retail Development Index ranks Saudi Arabia 11th and the UAE fifth. Retail sales in the emirates exceeded $73bn in 2016, with the Gulf nation – population 9 million – nipping at the heels of giants such as India and China.
Meanwhile, a PwC retail industry survey, published this year, showed the majority of respondents (56 per cent) now intend to use smartphones as their primary means of making online purchases and 64 per cent of Middle Eastern respondents use social media to select purchases. The need for standout digital experiences has never been more pressing.
A strong digital transformation programme can build customer experiences that make your brand a subject of praise, rather than ridicule, on social networks. Robust, user-friendly apps that tie both the customer and the employee to your commerce platform can deliver streamlined online and in-store experiences. For example, many retailers across the GCC have introduced mobile solutions that allow customers to make purchases on the shop floor, without having to visit a cash register.
Employees are the face of your brand, and supporting their service and innovation is a keystone of effective change. In 2015, Emirates Group embarked on a comprehensive digital transformation programme, which has allowed cabin crew to serve passengers more effectively via an onboard mobile app.
Sir Tim Clark, president of Emirates, cited the need to “intelligently redefine the customer experience”. Emirates is using big data, predictive analytics, AI, machine learning and robotics to, in Sir Tim’s words, “establish an architecture of continuous innovation”.
Cloud-based collaboration between geographically separated teams allows manufacturing firms to deliver better support services. They need not make site visits for minor maintenance that can be done remotely or automatically. And if site visits do occur, junior technicians can go it alone, confident that consultation with an office-based expert is just a click away.
Empowering employees can also be about focusing their skills on the right tasks. Earlier this year, Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) launched its AI bot, Rammas, based on a natural language platform within Microsoft Cognitive Services. In its first six weeks, Rammas dealt with more than 87,000 enquiries, spread across DEWA’s website, app and Facebook page. Rammas passes on complex queries to trained personnel, ensuring that the authority’s employees are freed up to concentrate on the most complex issues.
The UAE aims to attract $75bn to its manufacturing sector by 2025, as it continues its economic-diversification initiative, but UAE-based manufacturers of everything from clothes to semiconductors face barriers to growth that include regulatory pressures, oil prices and capital constraints.
Digital Transformation comes to the rescue in the form of the Internet of Things, the merger of the physical and the digital that allows sensors to feed the intelligent cloud. Advanced analytics can step in, to inform decision-makers of inefficiencies, leading to optimisation measures that can slash costs and drastically reduce wastage. Sensors on everything from products to production lines can enhance the supply chain, by tracking shipments or monitoring warehouse stock. The applications are endless.
Digital transformation means you don’t have to be tied to a rigid portfolio of offerings. The intelligent cloud can review customer feedback, even if it is not given explicitly but instead shared on social media. The intelligent edge can allow a complete revitalisation of a service through mobile enterprise solutions, allowing lead-generation and sales from anywhere.
F&B companies don’t sell food and drink; they solve hunger and thirst.
A fossil-fuels company doesn’t sell oil or coal; it provides energy. In other words, your brand is what you do, not what you sell. Under digital transformation, the intelligent cloud and the intelligent edge become advisors on how to tweak your portfolio to suit the current market.
If harnessed correctly, actionable insights allow you to set the trends rather than follow them. Airlines can offer new routes, energy companies can invest in sustainable alternatives at the optimum time, and manufacturers can deliver new products.
Karim Talhouk is Dynamics 365 lead at Microsoft Gulf