CIARAN RYAN: In the very near future, every business will be a digital business. Business leaders must now make explicit choices about their strategy to win in a digital economy. Even bricks-and-mortar businesses have had to adapt hybrid models that encompass digital and real-world systems.
It’s a daunting challenge. Where does one start to digitalise one’s business? What technologies should one choose? What are the costs, and whom do I partner with on this journey – which is probably the most important question.
Joining us to discuss this is Shaun May, global sales manager for Parity, a Microsoft Gold partner that assists companies in their digital transformation journey. Hi Shaun. Obviously business conditions have changed radically in the past 18 months due to Covid. Just explain why organisations need to digitally transform themselves.
SHAUN MAY: Thank you, Ciaran, for that. If we go back a step, even before Covid, if you look at the IT sector and you look at businesses over the last four or five years, there’s been a massive drive towards digitising your business, looking at how you bring in more revenue, how you reach markets that you haven’t, and how you save costs.
Then obviously last year, with the advent of Covid – that accelerated matters a whole lot faster. You’ve got a whole workforce now working from home; working digitally. If you look at a lot of the bricks-and-mortar businesses – I don’t think that will ever really go away. We implemented ERP [enterprise resource planning] systems into several similar businesses; one, which is a case study for Parity with Microsoft, is in the cosmetics industry. We had just started implementing before Covid came, and they accelerated ‘how we get online fast’ because their physical stores literally were shut down due to Covid. So businesses now [post-Covid] have accelerated that journey even more than what we’ve seen over the past five years.
CIARAN RYAN: Okay. Let’s get into the nuts and bolts here a little bit. What does a ‘digital transformation process’ actually involve?
SHAUN MAY: The way that we approach it – and the way that Microsoft as well has approached it – is you first need to understand what we would call your current mode of operations. How do you currently work? There’s an exercise that we like to undertake called a business value assessment. And then secondly – and you can do either/or – there’s a programme by Microsoft called the Catalyst programme. Both programmes undertake to understand your current environment, how you work, what’s manual, what’s digital, what markets can you reach by going through a digital process? Once you’ve understood your ‘as is’, you then look at what the future would look like if [you] had an unlimited budget and unlimited time – which we know that most corporates or businesses don’t have, but to envision the future.
Now you have a view of ‘This is where I am today’ [and] ‘This is where I want to go tomorrow’. But the key component is ‘How do I get there?’
How much does it cost me? What’s going to work in my environment, and what’s not going to work? And that’s your transition one.
If I have to recapture that: you understand your current mode of operations, you understand your future mode of operations, and you look at ‘what is my transition mode of operations to get there?’. And what we at Parity do, combined with Microsoft, is the exercise we undertake, either through a paid-for exercise called a Business Value Assessment, or under the Microsoft Catalyst programme – the difference with the Catalyst programme is Microsoft funds that fully on behalf of the client; the client then doesn’t pay. There are certain criteria for qualifying for Catalyst, and it’s a process granted by Microsoft after having undergone some due diligence.
CIARAN RYAN: A lot of companies might’ve heard of Microsoft Dynamics 365. Maybe just take us through what it is. It’s being positioned as ‘an enabler of connected business operations’. So what does that actually mean?
SHAUN MAY: Most folk on the face of this planet have some involvement or some interaction with Microsoft, either through emails, through Excel, through Word or Outlook, which Microsoft now has wrapped into a solution called Office 365; about five, six years ago when Satya Nadella came on board as the CEO of Microsoft and consolidated Office 365 in what we call Dynamics today. Dynamics is quite a sweeping umbrella name for a group of business applications. Dynamics, in essence, the non-technical short version, encompasses business applications.
Now, what are involved in business applications? You would typically need some sort of accounting ERP platform. Within that space Microsoft has two key solutions that they go to market with. If you and I wanted to start a business tomorrow, as opposed to just having a very basic accounting platform, and we wanted something that could scale, but could start with one user, you can go to market with a platform called Business Central, which is their entry into ERPM. It’s a full-blown ERP that can scale up to over a thousand billion-dollar companies, in revenue.
At the top end of the scale in their ERP, Microsoft has a stack very simply known as Finance and Operations, which is the tier-one ERP within Microsoft that competes with all the other tier-one players in this space.
Below that, every company needs some sort of CRM [customer relationship management system]. In Microsoft terminology they refer to that as ‘customer engagement’, CE. That product set underneath that then expands into what I as a sales person would use – How do I capture my leads? How do I progress them into opportunities? How do I take a customer through the full lifecycle of a sale, proposing and capturing that, capturing my emails to my clients, even capturing the calls. That’s all contained within the CE/CRM stack.
It then expands into other modules of ‘I’ve now deployed services into the field, either hardware or software – how do I then provide a service/help desk?’
That’s also a module within the CRM/CE stack. So now I can go, and if I’m doing your typical break fix for an infrastructure company that’s monitoring your laptops and your desktops, the Microsoft CE platform – you can log your tickets for help, you can track where they are in the cycle of the man in the van coming to visit you, or if it’s online help.
Tied to that stack is also a marketing module that Microsoft themselves use globally, and you’ll find a lot of the big banks, a lot of your big insurance companies with the messages that they [are] sending us on a daily basis by SMS, WhatsApp – the Microsoft marketing platform caters for all of those components, even tracking down to what emails were sent, who opened them, on what links they clicked within it; tapping into your social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. And then a key component to remember is Microsoft a few years ago bought LinkedIn, and you’ll see increasingly the integration into the Dynamics stack of LinkedIn into even your CRM solutions and your other solutions.
And then below that there’s a whole ton of modular solutions that Microsoft has, going into the HR components, going into artificial intelligence [AI], which is almost embedded throughout the solution stack, specific AI solutions, Chatbots. There’s also a whole component of Dynamics that Microsoft has on mixed reality, augmented reality, virtual reality. One of the key things that Microsoft will be doing is bringing the Halo, which is a combination of hardware and software, used a lot by engineering firms that want to build stuff and visualise it in real time and show you and stress test how these various components that they’ve constructed operate.
And then all of this is underpinned by amazing analytics within a solution set that’s fast coming to the top of the tiers with Forrester and Gartner, which is their Power BI [business intelligence]. It becomes very easy to create customised reports for the CEO and the C-suite using Power BI on all of the solution sets within Dynamics.
So in a nutshell Dynamics is an all-encompassing name for business applications, and it’s one of the largest stacks on the market from any software vendor today.
CIARAN RYAN: It sounds like a tremendous amount of technological power at your fingertips, but how do you go about identifying the best possible solution for an organisation?
SHAUN MAY: Our preferred way of going to market is either to conduct a business value assessment, where we come in and again understand how you are working today and where you want to go. Then we map those solutions with licensing, with contextualised demos on how these solutions would work within your environment, and then we work very closely with clients on the licensing component with Microsoft.
So Parity is not only a Gold partner, we are one of only four managed partners. What Microsoft does is, out of the pool of Gold partners in any specific region – and here we are talking specifically South Africa – they will choose who is a managed partner, which means we work very, closely with Microsoft. We work a lot with their architects, both here in South Africa and in the US on certain solutions.
So to go back, how do you choose? Either through a business value assessment [BVA] or, if you meet the minimum criteria that Microsoft has put in place for Catalyst, we apply on behalf of clients for the Catalyst, and then Microsoft pays for the exercise. Microsoft also, on the Catalyst component, put governance in to ensure that we’ve done our job correctly.
CIARAN RYAN: Okay. Are these solutions only for large organisations or can smaller organisations also benefit?
SHAUN MAY: Again, going back to my analogy of maybe you and I starting up a business, we decide tomorrow we want to start up a business, but we want to gear the business correctly on having the right business applications in place, we can buy one CRM licence at $95 per user per month, which is the list price. And we can have a CRM system. We can also go and buy the ERP component of Business Central. We can buy one licence.
The Microsoft stack catches from the small business that potentially later on wants to scale up and have the right platform in place, to seriously large businesses that’ll have thousands of users that are running big ERPs across multiple geographies, multiple languages. It scales from one, right up to as many as you require.
CIARAN RYAN: We’re going to leave it there. That was Shaun May, global sales manager for Parity.
Learn more about the Microsoft Dynamics 365 offering. Visit www.paritydigitaltransformation.co.za to book a session with a Parity expert to find out how you can digitally transform your business.
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