On Jan. 27, I attended Microsoft’s Innovation Nation event at the Art Gallery of Ontario. It was, for me, an interesting and informative morning – here are some of my thoughts and observations.

You can also check out this article in Computer Dealer News for more insights.

Digital transformation

First, Digital Transformation as a movement is clearly gaining steam. It promises to be a driving force for 2017 and beyond. It was noted that this is the third revolution, preceded by the PC Revolution and the Internet Revolution.

We can, of course, debate the number of previous IT revolutions but there’s no shortage of hype about this one. I went through both the PC and Internet “revolutions” and yet cannot remember them being labeled as such or so hotly debated before they happened.

No one really knows where the digital transformation will take us over the long term. However, ecosystems that are now emerging will take advantage of device mobility, connected things, artificial intelligence, security and trust, and massively shared IT infrastructures.  The vision is a virtual universe that both mirrors our physical universe and augments our ability to innovate and prosper.

For most companies, three factors in addition to technology must be considered:  access to capital for technology modernization, globalization of services, and business model transformation. Cultural and business model changes need to keep up with the technology developments.

Data is a precious resource

The theme of the first presentation was that “data is Canada’s most precious resource.” Data access is a competitive advantage for those who can take advantage of it effectively. Examples such as aquaculture IoT were used to illustrate the power of data. Machine learning and artificial intelligence will enable us to more fully exploit the data we will gather.

The presentation by Greg Verdino focused on digital revolutionaries. He suggested that change is nothing new but that the rate of change has gone from incremental to exponential. He also said that disruption can be viewed as the state in which the other guys change faster than you do.

Change is evident in several ways:

  • Things are getting smarter (e.g., we know how the power of a watch today compares to the dumb desktop terminals of the 1970s!);
  • Things are getting smaller (for example, sensors that are much smaller than an American penny); and
  • Things are now everywhere, from embedded smart tags to smart cars and buildings.

The hierarchy of things à data à service à business was used to illustrate how IoT drives the world.

We also have major progress in both AI (Artificial Intelligence) and IA (Intelligent Assistants). Both are parts of the answer to using all the data that has become available. Examples of disruptive use of data to drive business includes smart agriculture, smart cities, smart cars, and even smart teeth. The new Uber Movement was used as an example of how people such as city planners can benefit from all the data being collected about Uber cars movements.

The customer experience and the “digital first consumer” were highlighted. The quality and capability of the user interface, in all its forms, is critical to achieving cultural change, since technology will not be useful if people struggle to use and benefit from it. For many providers, providing a high quality of customer experience on a consistent basis is a primary point of competition (i.e., things must work well all the time), and this is all based on having data about preferences, etc.

Re-imagining the customer experience is an area for innovation. The example of Johnny Walker “smart bottles” was used to illustrate this. Tapping a phone on the bottle allows its history and characteristics to be retrieved. This can also provide the customer with useful advertising and background information. The product is no longer just a bottle, it is a source of valuable data!

The downside for customers will be the difficulty of getting away from the technology. Companies will also struggle to use data securely, appropriately and sensitively. The recent concept of “alternative facts” also introduces the need for trust and confidence in the data.

One of the questions everyone, both customer and providers, must ask is: Are you creating value from the digital transformation? True transformation is more than just moving faster, it is a change in mindset.

Dynamics 365

The event was not really about products, but there was discussion of Dynamics 365 and Office 365 and a brief demonstration of how applications need to tie together to provide an integrated customer experience.

The discussion of Dynamics 365 also brought home the importance of data and its integration across different applications and processes. The concept of a “platform” serving the business model is emerging as a topic of importance. For example, Dynamics 365 offers combinations of ERP and CRM with seamless integration and a greater focus on the handling of data from various sources. Modern platforms will increasingly be API-based (e.g. Accuweather handles 17 billion API requests per day).

The idea is to develop a “transformational intelligence platform” that can harness multiple applications to increase efficiency and integrate the customer experience.

However, these are only a few of the ideas I took away from Innovation Nation. The event provided much to think about and we’ll see how things unfold during 2017!

This is what I think…. your takeaways may differ. Let me know!



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