“Digital transformation” sounds daunting, and Paul Maher will be the first person to say that it means “a lot of different things for a lot of different people.” As the general manager of Microsoft’s Industry Experiences Team, focused on the Microsoft Azure cloud, he’s also the perfect person to help articulate just what digital transformation looks like and how you can apply it to your organization.
For Maher, digital transformation essentially boils down to “the blurring of the lines between physical and digital,” a process made possible by the cloud. Electronics and IT changed the workplace in the 1970s to 2000s. In the same way, Maher says, the cloud is changing it now by providing unparalleled computing power, capacity to consume large amounts of data and attain meaningful insights, and fundamentally enabling new levels of innovation all in a pay-as-you-go model.
Maher has spent half of his two-plus decades in technology helping organizations migrate onto cloud platforms like Microsoft Azure. He’s helped shepherd cloud migrations in numerous industries, from banking and insurance to retail and healthcare, all of which leverage the cloud’s capabilities in unique, groundbreaking ways. He speaks to current trends that he sees across industries, adopting technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), and blockchain all made possible by the cloud.
It sounds overwhelming, and it can be, but it’s the Industry Experiences Team’s job to help Microsoft customers and partners with their move to the cloud. The team helps them understand cloud concepts and also gives tailored guidance to individual organizations based on their goals. Communication and collaboration are integral to Maher’s approach; it’s his goal, he says, to immerse his team in industry, where they can develop close, ongoing partnerships with Microsoft’s industry customers and partners.
As the landscape changes, the question of what digital transformation looks like in any given organization looms. Below, Maher has shared some of the key questions that those interested in driving digital transformation can bring to their company’s leaders to facilitate change and execute successful cloud transformation projects. It all begins, he says, with a conversation.
1. What’s our motivation?
Clarity is vital, according to Maher. Articulate your business’s motivation up front. “It really starts as a business conversation,” Maher says. “What’s the driving force behind this need to disrupt? Is it because you need to drive new lines of business? A changing user base? Customer demand?”
Transformation, Maher adds, should come from a desire to change the business, not as a means to chase trends or appease a certain base. He continues, “Digital transformation is, for many people, a buzzword. They want transformation, but there’s no real substance or understanding as to why.”
2. What does success look like?
“Too often,” Maher says, “I see people who can’t articulate what success looks like for them.” This is where hard metrics come into play: What gains are you hoping to see? How will each department benefit? When should the transformation be finished? How will you know the transformation worked to your benefit?
3. Do we have the resources?
Digital transformation requires time and hard-working people. Is the business ready to take all of this on? “You’ll want to be clear on budgets, delivery dates, and participation, as well as any constraints or boundaries,” Maher says, adding that a pragmatic approach is as important as a strategic one.
4. Do I have your support?
This might be the most important question of all. Digital transformation requires an all-in approach, which means support from the highest echelons of the business. It means leaders who understand the project and represent it appropriately, and also leaders who champion the project, internally and externally.
“If the business doesn’t see the value, that can be an uncomfortable place to be,” Maher says. “The business, then, is only seeing an internal disruption rather than a transformation.”
5. How can we leverage our team to make it happen?
Digital transformation is not a one-man operation, and while it’s important to have support from leadership, it’s just as key that the right stakeholders from throughout the business are involved in its implementation. “When you think about project teams, you’ll want to make sure that there’s the right buy-in with the right level of stakeholders to ensure the project’s a success,” Maher says.
That means that a company’s IT experts should be just as involved as those on the business end. “If there’s too much of a bias toward one or the other, you’ll find there to be friction in the project,” he adds. “You want a diverse, mixed demographic of people from throughout the company.”
You’ll also want to ensure you’ve got some voices who are familiar with cloud transformation. “Cloud transformation is not new,” Maher says. “Bring in those with proven capabilities, people who’ve been there before. If you have an inexperienced team of folks who haven’t really worked on cloud transformation projects, that’s going to be a problem.”
In cases such as those, it can be helpful to bring in outside consultants. “Consult from outside,” he advises. “Bring in people with experience in cloud transformation in your industry, then leverage them to ensure you’re able stay two or three steps ahead of the curve.”
The Industry Experiences Team is available to help you do just that. Maher says it’s easiest to connect with his team on social media platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter. There you’ll find links to blogs and other types of content that center around digital transformation and the benefits of the Microsoft Azure cloud.