Welcome to The Week in Digital Transformation: a round-up of all the newsworthy developments, research and ideas from the realm of digital transformation over the past week.

This week, did you know that you can pray with your Amazon Echo? The Church of England’s digital transformation efforts have netted it several award nominations – including one for its Alexa Skill, which allows Amazon Echo users to ask their device questions about the Church and Faith, as well as hear prayers and grace.

We’ve also got more digital transformation trends and predictions for 2019, a look at how UK clothing retailer N Brown Group does digital transformation, and new research revealing the power of hybrid cloud integration.

(And remember to come along to the Digital Transformation Stage at Festival of Marketing 2018, hosted by Econsultancy, on October 10 & 11 for inspirational digital transformation case studies and insight into best practices.)

The Church of England’s award-nominated Alexa skill

I often emphasise in these round-ups that digital disruption has an impact on every type of organisation, across all industries. Governments, schools and cities are no exception – and neither is the Church of England.

It seems like the Church has been doing a great job of moving with the times so far – to the point of being shortlisted in four categories for the CorpComms Awards 2018, including Best Corporate Website for churchofengland.org, and Best Use of Digital for its Alexa Skill.

Yes, the Church of England has an Alexa skill – and it’s pretty versatile. Launched in May this year, the skill enables Alexa to recite the Lord’s Prayer (traditional version, in case you were wondering), say grace before a meal, answer questions about church figures (such as “Who is the Archbishop of Canterbury?”), and even respond to deep, existential questions like, “What does it mean to be a Christian?”

The C of E has also integrated its skill with A Church Near You, its own online church-finding tool, which allows Amazon Echo owners to ask their device to locate their nearest church.

Following the successful launch of its Alexa skill, the Church of England has plans to expand its voice support to Google Home and Apple HomePod smart speakers.

The Archbishop of York John Sentamu demonstrates the Church of England’s Alexa Skill.

The Church of England’s Alexa skill is just one of its many digital ventures from the past couple of years. The C of E began pursuing digital transformation in earnest in 2016 by hiring a Head of Digital, Adrian Harris, after realising that its digital presence and resources were woefully behind the times.

In 2017, it launched the Church of England Digital Labs, a hub for digital innovation and development designed to bring together people with the skills and ideas to help the Church advance digitally. In March, it crowned the winners of its first Digital Labs competition: among them was a chatbot designed to answer questions about the Church and faith on Twitter, Facebook and the C of E website.

This week’s nominations could see the Church win some awards of its own for digital innovation. But even if it doesn’t, the achievement still goes to show that any organisation – no matter how ancient! – can undergo digital transformation.

The biggest insights and trends in digital transformation for 2019

As we approach the end of the year, we’re sure to see many more of these prediction articles for 2019. This week’s comes from tech publication ZDNet, who have put together an in-depth list of predicted trends for next year, divided into business trends and tech trends.

ZDNet’s business predictions for digital transformation are broadly optimistic, and include increased leadership of digital transformation by company CEOs, better integration of digital initiatives, and addressing missed leadership communications opportunities.

Author Dion Hinchcliffe also predicts that an increase in digital regulations like the GDPR will complicate digital transformation efforts, requiring companies to be proactive in tackling the regulation in order to prevent projects from being held back.

Infographic about digital transformation trends by ZDNet

An infographic created by ZDNet to summarise its digital transformation trend predictions for 2019.

Hinchcliffe’s predictions for technological trends are big-picture rather than specific. Instead of placing his bets on particular technologies that will dominate the landscape, he forecasts the trends that are likely to influence them. These include better strategic organisation of enterprise data, investment in reducing technical debt, and better delivery on digital customer experience.

He also predicts that we will see a number of new technologies emerge in 2019 “to augment the vast and growing list of emerging tech that the enterprise must somehow absorb to stay relevant.” Fortunately, Hinchcliffe believes that 2019 will be the year that organisations become systematically better and faster at fielding emerging technology, experimenting, and trialling promising new innovations.

We’ll see how true that turns out to be – but the businesses that manage it will undoubtedly set themselves apart in 2019.

Report: IT and technology companies are failing to take advantage of digital partnership opportunities

Companies in every sector are keen to partner with IT and technology companies in a bid to support their digital transformation ambitions with technological expertise, resources and know-how. However, a new report this week has found that while IT and tech companies have high ambitions for driving revenue growth from partner ecosystems, less than one-fifth (18%) of them are partnering with companies in other sectors.

Instead, IT and technology organisations are overwhelmingly opting to partner with companies like themselves, with 60% partnering with established IT companies, 53% partnering with technology providers, and 26% with Internet of Things companies.

The research, carried out by BearingPoint, surveyed more than 500 executives in IT, technology, and five other sectors across Europe, Asia and the US, in order to rank the progress of IT and technology companies against other sectors driving digital change.

It found that while IT companies believe it is important to change their business models and launch new products and services to underpin growth, they are slow to act on these priorities, with more than half (53%) still in the planning phases for defining their digital strategy and introducing a partner ecosystem.

Angus Ward, CEO of Digital Platform Solutions at BearingPoint, said of the report’s findings,

“Our research shows us that the real opportunities lie in the ‘white space’ between traditional industry verticals like automotive, banking and telecoms companies. Not just to enable digital transformation, but to create new sector-specific products and services that can leverage new digital technologies. These sectors need this disruptive thinking as new digital technologies enable them to reinvent and move into adjacent markets.”

“80% NASA, 20% Disney”: How N Brown Group does digital transformation

To be a successful marketer in 2018, you are likely to need a good understanding of data and how to manipulate it, an analytical mind, and technical savvy. Increasingly, marketing is shifting much more towards the “science” end of the art – science spectrum, incorporating processes and approaches from disciplines like IT and software development.

Yet the Chief Customer Officer at N Brown Group, a UK retailer that has undergone a highly successful digital transformation, has emphasised the importance of incorporating creativity and humanity into digital transformation.

Speaking at ad:tech London this week, Ann Steer attributed much of N Brown Group’s success with digital – the company makes 77% of its sales online, and recruits 97% of its customers via digital channels – to “deep and well-organised” data.

“We have 250 people in our e-commerce team now helping in all aspects of digital and online work, and SEO specialists, conversion experts and, absolutely, data scientists are what makes that team the success it is,” she said.

But she cautioned that digital transformation shouldn’t be carried out without an element of creativity and fun.

“Someone told me that real digital transformation has to be a mix of arts and crafts – 80% NASA and the science, yes, but also 20% Disney – the creativity and fun is also vital for a brand like ours.

“Data is fantastically important, but isn’t the answer to everything. You still also have to have a sense of the customer as a human being, as that’s the only way you will be able to create compelling, novel communications that will really cut through to them.”

The whole piece, published by Diginomica, is an intriguing look at a company that has managed to stay ahead of the digital curve despite being nearly 160 years old – and has even used its legacy to its advantage, by maintaining its commitment to being customer-focused and augmenting it with the right technology.

The key to digital transformation: Hybrid cloud integration

Modernised hybrid cloud integration is the key to unlocking the business value of digital transformation – or so says a new report released this week by Capgemini.

Hybrid cloud integration is an approach to managing data that combines the use of cloud-based and on-premises applications, allowing businesses to decide which data is stored on-premises and which is stored in the cloud.

It recognises that while businesses might want to move away from legacy on-premises systems, they might not want to switch over completely to an all-cloud system, or might want to make the switch gradually. Hybrid cloud integration is therefore a middle ground between an on-premises and a cloud approach to handling data.

Capgemini’s research, which surveyed 818 senior IT executives working for organisations with revenues of more than €500m, found that firms with a more mature approach to hybrid integration and microservices-based APIs were likely to have higher revenue growth, were faster at upgrading products, and were more likely to be in a position to rapidly develop new products and bring them to market.

Infographic by Capgemini on the difference between Integrators and Deliberators

Capgemini’s research divided firms into “Integrators” or “Deliberators” depending on the maturity of their integration strategy.

While some of this may be correlation rather than causation – for instance, Integrators (firms with a more advanced hybrid integration strategy) were more likely to be “bullish” about their ability to innovate – the report emphasises the importance of being able to access data at great speed and breadth in order to unlock the potential of digital transformation.

It notes that hybrid integration is a means of managing the complexity caused by hundreds of an company’s applications residing in several different environments, and ensuring that a firm’s technology infrastructure can deliver on business objectives.

And with a strong foundation provided by cloud-based integration tools, the research argues, large enterprises can employ APIs to not only access data, but also collaborate on a greater scale than was previously possible, and improve the customer experience.

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