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When is the Right Time For Digital Transformation? Now!

June 22, 2020
Louis Tetu, CEO of Coveo discusses how COVID-19 has brought about an era of survival of the digital-first and fittest -- and what manufacturers need to do now.

The idea of digital transformation has been something manufacturers have discussed for years. While some went out on the bleeding edge, most dabbled with pilot projects, trying to figure out how the new digital world would actually impact their environments. And, how they could demonstrate the ROI fast enough. This is approach is nothing new. It happens repeatedly as new technologies enter the market. Often it takes a big success from a competitor who made the investment or some other event that forces manufacturers into action.

That significant event is ongoing, according to Louis Tetu, CEO of Coveo who stresses that thriving post pandemic is going to require moving from a digital crunch to a digital rush mentality. “Being digital won’t be enough; the companies that will succeed are the ones that create intelligent experiences that people have come to expect. The companies that fail will be those that can’t quickly adapt their digital transformation roadmap to this new AI and data-powered experiences imperative,” he says. “Companies are starting to realize that they need to go beyond just being digital, to be truly relevant in every digital interaction with their customers. Leaders across every industry are harnessing the power of data and AI to make this happen - and this gap between the leaders and the rest will only grow wider.”

Read on for more of Tetu’s insights into the meaningful role digital will play for manufacturers going forward:

IW: Knowing that now is the time for digital transformation, what do see as the next steps, especially for manufacturers?

Tetu: The immediate next step is for the senior leadership team to immediately recognize the acceleration that COVID-19 is driving. Manufacturers who choose to stay with the status quo and wait for the “back to normal” phase to begin will fall behind. Consumers’ preferences and expectations are changing and we won’t be going “back to normal.” What was going to be a two-to-five year timeline for digital transformation is now six to eighteen months. Aligning resources around this reality is paramount. 

No organization wishes they were less digital right now, as we are witnessing a form of business Darwinism where the most adaptable, through technology enablement, are surviving much better through this crisis. Manufacturers who have embraced flexible manufacturing, 4.0, digital supply-chain optimization, digital commerce, digital service and the cloud, are currently thriving. Those who had plans to do this will be compelled to invest much faster, as the world is experiencing digital excellence at a much faster pace right now since this has become the only alternative. These businesses and consumers will not go back to older less personal, less effective means of getting the products and services they want. 

Too often, transformation initiatives happen in silos in a channel-by-channel approach and the bigger opportunity for true, enterprise-wide transformation is lost. Customer data, for example, is spread between multiple systems of engagement, from the website to the self-service portal to the agent portal to social media channels. In order to truly understand the customer journey, this data needs to be connected and unified.

Applying artificial intelligence (AI) has become paramount, to deliver personal and effective experiences that digital leaders have trained people to expect. Business has moved from persona to persons. The good news is that you no longer need an army of data scientists, like Amazon, Netflix, Airbnb, Uber or Wayfair has deployed over the years. The technology stack has been democratized and is now available to every business, so they too can participate in this new low-touch experience economy.

IW: As manufacturers embrace more digital technologies to thrive rather than survive, are there certain technologies that should be most pressing?

Tetu: AI has the power to look at your existing customer dataset, including data coming from consumption, use and products themselves, understand the patterns of customer intent and context, and then apply that data to predict and improve every interaction in the customer journey. The digital economy started more than a decade ago. Smart manufacturers realize that this is the experience economy, that it’s powered by data and AI, that it’s a quantum leap opportunity for those who participate. COVID-19 has been a catalyst.

There are a few that I would recommend as high priority for getting up to speed:

Intelligent self-service channels. The latest research from the Technology Services Industry Association confirms that customers, across every generation and location, overwhelmingly prefer to self-serve. With COVID-19, it is often the only choice. This experience needs to be intelligent, effortless, and consistent across all channels. AI can revolutionize self-service intelligence by delivering service and knowledge experiences that are relevant and personalized to customers’ situations. 

Commerce intelligence. For manufacturers, the search user experience is a critical part of the buying experience, with some saying that up to 95 percent of customers prefer to search first. How do you bring a complex catalog – products, SKUs, entitlement, distribution channels – into the digital sphere and allow customers to self-serve? Digital leaders use AI to create relevant and personalized experiences that understand buyer intent and context, and can even recommend intelligently, impacting both conversion as well as cart-size (cross-selling). This is not only for business to consumers companies, but B2B leaders are also deploying these capabilities.

An Experience Intelligence platform. Experience Intelligence is a whole new category of technology that applies data and AI to the problem of delivering the competitive experiences that people have come to expect, irrespective of channel. EIP is the layer of technology that gives companies the ability to unify disparate data and automatically make every experience unified, relevant and valuable. Under the hood, experience intelligence platforms are at the confluence of several leading-edge technologies: unified cloud secure indexing, content enrichment, natural language understanding, content analytics, behavioral analytics, AI semantics and natural conversation understanding, intent and propensity detection, and machine learning-powered recommendations. Simply said, this is how Netflix understands, better than you do, what you will watch next.

These technologies are available to every business, so they can compete against the Goliaths of the experience, data and AI-powered, economy. Manufacturers who adopt them will make huge strides forward.

About the Author

Peter Fretty | Technology Editor

As a highly experienced journalist, Peter Fretty regularly covers advances in manufacturing, information technology, and software. He has written thousands of feature articles, cover stories, and white papers for an assortment of trade journals, business publications, and consumer magazines.

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