Older businesses are rapidly modernizing and automating their operations using technologies such as cloud computing, machine learning, sensors and smart devices. But those pushing these digital transformation projects need to think through exactly what problems they aim to solve, what pain can be eliminated, and the best way to do so.
One thing they should not do is merely replicate what has been done manually in the digital world, said David Wilson, chief innovation officer for Bechtel, a leading global engineering and construction firm.
“Seven or eight years ago, the iPad was supposed to change construction productivity. And then we in the engineering, procurement and construction industry just took forms from paper to the tablet,” said Wilson, a panelist at the recent Oracle Industry Connect conference in New York. “Well, if you’ve ever done forms on a tablet, it’s awful. All the dropdown menus and scrolling. Pretty soon we were back to paper.”
Wilson says that Bechtel took the lessons seriously and now does not change processes unless there is a viable alternative tested and proven where it matters: on the construction site.
Make things simpler, stupid
New software applications won’t do any good if no one uses them, which is why we hear so much about simplifying computer interactions, with redesigned, hopefully easily navigated, screens.
WageWorks, the online employee benefits service, in one example of a mobile-first design that is easy to use, noted Cory Johnson, chief market strategist for payments startup Ripple.
“It looks like a phone app with two or three buttons per page and limited text. I don’t know what happened on the backend to make that work so beautifully,” he said.
That last bit is important: an elegant user interface is one thing. Making the actual app more useful often requires the harder work of tweaking or rewriting the backend systems to take advantage of machine learning and sophisticated data analytics.
So much data. Now what?
Modernized or digitizing processes lay the groundwork for better, faster, more complete data collection and analysis. And that, in turn, can lead to new service opportunities for the company trying to remake itself.
In the utilities space, for example, transformation means a massive movement to smart meters and sensor-studded energy grids.
Seven of the 20 largest hotels in the world are owned and operated by MGM Resorts International and are in Las Vegas. “We see a golden business opportunity to transform our business through technology to better serve our customers and ultimately earn their loyalty and repeat business,” said company CIO Sy Esfahani.
“Nowhere else do you have 42 million visitors wandering around a city looking for something to do. We are uniquely positioned to wow these customers because we are an entertainment leader with global brand recognition and the best assets in the Vegas market,” he noted.
“We want to interact and serve our customers based on events, location, and a multitude of triggers,” Esfahani said during the panel. “Interacting with our customers during their visit is key and we think our mobile app is the right platform to engage with our guests.”
For example, if a resort app can tell when a dining party is ready to leave, it could offer them tickets to a nearby show or concert provided there are available seats.
Go after pain points
As part of its re-invention, MGM, which sees itself as an adult Disney World, is installing new Bluetooth-enabled keyless locks and ensuring uninterrupted property-wide Wi-Fi.
MGM Resorts runs very large properties including the MGM Grand, Bellagio, ARIA and many others, each having thousands of rooms. Wait times top the list of customer concerns. With the new app, guests can bypass check-in lines and use digital keys generated by the mobile app to access their hotel rooms. “We see this digital transformation as a way to further boost customer satisfaction,” Esfahani said.
“When four thousand rooms open up at once, visitors can easily spend an hour in line at check-in,” he noted. “We see digital transformation solving one primary reason for customer dissatisfaction.”
The keyless lock application will allow guests to check in remotely and receive alerts informing them of their room number and when their room is ready, and then unlocks it for them.
Another priority for customers was Wi-Fi connectivity, so MGM made a significant investment to boost connectivity and now has nearly 27,000 Wi-Fi access points throughout its properties.
Pick modernization battles wisely
All the panelists were clearly gung-ho on technology’s ability to boost customer satisfaction. But there were also a few words of caution.
“You can do a lot of stuff now that make sense in how you apply data, information and tech to improve customer experiences,” noted Les Riedl, CEO of fintech startup Meed. But, he added that it’s equally important to figure out what you should not be doing. Bob Weiler, executive vice president of Oracle Global Business Units, agreed that companies should not push tech for tech’s sake. “You have to make sure technology is part of an actual solution that will help businesses do better.”
She has covered business technology for more than two decades—a career spanning from Lotus 1-2-3 to Amazon Web Services. She has written for InfoWorld, CRN, eWeek, ComputerWorld, and GigaOM. Before joining Oracle, she was senior writer for Fortune Magazine covering enterprise technology.