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Techaisle Blog

Insightful research, flexible data, and deep analysis by a global SMB IT Market Research and Industry Analyst organization dedicated to tracking the Future of SMBs and Channels.

Practical guidance for navigating digital transformation with customers

Digital transformation success requires that channel partners respond to a diverse set of challenges: the channel organization needs to be able to balance extensive consulting and executive customer management with product transactions, ongoing management services and tangible contribution to customer business success. Those that are able to align their capabilities with digital transformation requirements will be positioned for long-term success in IT’s highest-growth market. Techaisle’s digital transformation (DX) framework highlights six ways that channel partners can profitably connect with customers in their initial stages of the DX journey. At the beginning of the DX journey, channel partners should plan to deliver billable services in foundational technology areas:

  1. Deployment of discrete foundation technologies needed to enable pursuit of DX business objectives: The requirement for these technologies should be clearly associated with capabilities needed within the DX roadmap; the systems themselves should be prioritized in accordance with the benefits that they deliver.
  2. Provision of management/support for technology tied to the DX roadmap: In this step it is essential for channel partners to increase customer communication so that they understand the value associated with ongoing support and integration that maintains the currency of the DX platform by managing its discrete IT components.
  3. Development and delivery of incremental feature/function objectives: Some of the technologies deployed within the DX framework may provide all needed functionality ‘out of the box,’ while others may benefit from ongoing enhancements. In these latter cases, both channel partners and their customers will benefit from the addition of features that provide incremental benefit to users/organizations that have absorbed current capability and who are ready for, and have need for, additional functionality.

Interwork technologies

Once the foundational level is in place and immediate benefits of the technology have been identified and communicated as ‘success stories’ within the customer organization, the channel partner should help the customer move on to the next DX level: establishment of connected ‘Interwork’ systems. Here, channel partner opportunities expand to include higher-value activities:

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Capturing the Midmarket digital transformation business value map

IT trends belong to one of two main categories. Some, like Linux or cloud, refer to a product or product category that changes IT strategies by providing breakthrough capabilities. Others are statements of IT strategy, highlighting opportunities to directly connect IT capabilities to broader business objectives.

Digital transformation (DX) is an example of this second type of trend. DX, according to a report by global research leader Techaisle, is the integration of digitalized processes to achieve enterprise-wide automation spanning multiple functions; modernization of current processes and supporting infrastructure to achieve previously-unattainable or unimaginable business outcomes.

Digital transformation isn’t defined by a single initiative or end-point. DX describes an evolving set of capabilities that connect investments in core technologies to enhanced operational efficiency, employee empowerment, product innovation and customer intimacy – which in turn enable DX adopters to increase revenue, decrease costs, reach new markets, deliver better products and services, and ultimately, drive more profit and improve shareholder value.

Viewed from this outcome’s perspective, DX success is rooted in the ability to connect incremental investments in technology with milestone achievements, aligned within a roadmap that ties to the organizational vision of modern capabilities delivering new levels of business performance.

The channel will play a critical role in guiding midmarket firms through the DX transformation. This starts with helping IT and executives within client organizations to define their vision for the key competency areas: mapping the digital transformation pillars to business outcomes provides IT and non-IT management with a cohesive set of meaningful objectives for addressing business pain points.

techaisle midmarket business value map

Capturing the midmarket DX opportunity

What does the channel need to do to translate midmarket demand for DX and its attendant benefits into long-term customer relationships? To capitalize on the DX opportunity, channel partners need to develop deep understanding of how the DX platform is built – how this framework supports process evolution – and how to cleanly align the IT and process frameworks with a delivery plan that addresses midmarket executive care-abouts.

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Salesforce – a step closer to enabling connected business with connected insights

On Monday, 10th June, Salesforce announced a definitive agreement to acquire Tableau bringing Salesforce one step closer to empowering analytics-driven digital transformation for its customers, enabling enterprise performance management, driving connected businesses and hurtling itself on a collision course with Microsoft and SAP. Microsoft’s Power BI is rapidly dethroning many analytics platforms including Tableau and SAP is taking giant leaps towards customer experience management with Qualtrics.

Besides adding to topline revenue of Salesforce, the acquisition will likely not have any significant material effect on revenue growth rate as Tableau’s revenue is less than 10% of Salesforce’s revenue with Q/Q growth rate only slightly more than half of Salesforce.

Salesforce began as a SaaS company in 2000 with its famous “No Software” logo and attention-grabbing advertising of a fighter jet striking a biplane. In the last seven years it has transformed into a leading cloud SaaS company with creatively created and strategically segmented solution offerings – Sales Cloud, Marketing Cloud, Services Cloud, Commerce Cloud and Analytics Cloud. But collectively these are only customer-focused applications that operate within the Salesforce platform. But the scope of SaaS impact mirrors the scope of activity in the enterprise itself. SaaS is being meaningfully applied to IT operations, to core business functions (finance, HR, business operations, ERP) in addition to customer-facing tasks (customer service, marketing and sales). There are dozens of discrete SaaS application categories and thousands of applications that address part or all of the requirements in a specific area, or which bridge across process requirements.

The true benefits arise when cloud applications are connected to each other. Connected applications provide businesses the benefits of agility, efficiency, collaboration, alignment, customer intimacy and innovation. This cross-functional visibility is important to diagnosing issues within the business and formulating enterprise strategy. Almost all businesses, from small to enterprise are on their digital transformation journeys. Frequently, a key step in the digital transformation process is to automate related tasks within and across business process. In the absence of adjacent SaaS applications such as ERP, HR, financial management - Salesforce was forced to acquire MuleSoft, the integration solution to help businesses of all sizes create connected applications.

But a key missing piece from Salesforce’s portfolio has been analytics. Regardless of the business issue, analytics provides an answer. Businesses are prioritizing a wide range of improved outcomes: improvement within existing operations and processes, expansion of customer base, profitability, creation and accelerated delivery of new offerings, reduced cost, and enhanced ability to manage the unknown. Remarkably, each of the issues can be addressed with analytics solutions – and indeed, businesses are using analytics to address each today. This provides analytics vendors with a powerful ability to link product/service capabilities with critical ‘care-abouts’. And exactly this capability was missing from Salesforce’s portfolio. Its AI-led analytics platform Einstein was not proving to be a true analytics solution but rather a collection of dashboards. And for that matter, neither is Tableau (which leans more towards data visualization than analytics). However, with some of its recent announcements such as Ask Data and updates of VizQL, when combined with Salesforce platform may prove to be very useful for new and common customers.

If connected cloud applications is a logical starting point for connect businesses then connected insights is the logical destination. A fact that I feel is being pursued by Salesforce. Most businesses are developing an understanding of the power of advanced analytics, and many are well along the path of installing a “data culture” in which facts are used to identify options, not simply to justify decisions based on instinct or anecdotal feedback. Many cherished but complex metrics, such as return on marketing investment or lifetime customer value, can be established by providing analysts and data scientists with rich data and sophisticated tools. Both MuleSoft and Tableau bring Salesforce closer to delivering an Enterprise Performance Management (EPM) system which will allow businesses to have a new attitude and culture that values and uses data analytics as the quickest way to gauge overall performance and specific areas of interest at a glance. And a key reason why SAP purchased Business Objects many years ago, Oracle acquired Hyperion and IBM absorbed Cognos and SPSS, but some fell by the wayside.

Most businesses including SMBs and midmarket firms that have used CRM and ERP systems within the past few years are familiar with the dashboards that are available with many of these applications, either embedded or purchased/developed separately. Dashboards will continue to evolve and be dynamic in several ways; the way they use data from subsystems like ecommerce and other real time feed sources, the way users can personalize the layout of their dashboards, and the ability to build KPIs “on-the-fly” by calculating variables on the screen and saving the result in a meta-repository for all to use. While several SaaS vendors allow this kind of metric building and start the user at a dashboard, we have yet to see anything targeted to the mid-market or SMBs that connects the performance across front office, production, fulfillment and customer service almost out of the box – so the future has been here for a while and we are waiting for the market to catch up. Microsoft fired the most recent salvo with Power BI and now Salesforce is responding. If only Salesforce bought an ERP firm or HR or collaboration or virtual workspace or customer experience/survey. It would certainly be a game-changer.

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Midmarket digital transformation – Aspiration versus Implementation

In 2018, 41 percent of US midmarket firms had set their ambitions on a “Holistic” digital transformation strategy, meaning that these firms believed that Internet and digital technologies impacted every aspect of their business and should be a core part of their organizational strategy. In 2019, midmarket firms have tempered their ambitions and only 27 percent believe in holistic strategy. Nevertheless, the percent of midmarket firms with “Inclusive” digital transformation has remained unchanged at 43 percent. These firms believe that digital transformation while important is still a subset of strategic planning but not seen as critical business-wide. Both the 2018 and 2019 surveys were conducted with 876 midmarket firms.

Good news is that 17 percent of midmarket firms have either completed or have substantially completed their digital transformation journey. Another 46 percent are focusing on digitally transforming their businesses in the next 1-2 years. Highest planned adoption at 41 percent is coming from high-growth midmarket firms.

So what changed in the last 1-2 years?

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