Digital Transformation is Essential for Competing Effectively

June 1, 2021 Shams Chauthani

digital transformation

Digital was becoming the norm for commerce even before the pandemic instilled a sense of urgency into B2B business leaders. Now, digital transformation is no longer a luxury and is critical to shaping commercial strategies and enabling B2B companies to compete effectively in today’s landscape.  

There is still some confusion around what “digital transformation” means. Many business and tech leaders have their own definition of digital transformation, which often ranges from leveraging the latest social media platform to the complete rearchitecting of applications and systems. At Zilliant, we define digital transformation as the process of using digital technologies to create new or modify existing business processes, culture, and customer experiences to meet the ever-evolving business and market requirements. In essence, it’s about applying technology to solve business problems.  

The criticality of digital transformation has been decades in the making as digital disruption fuels innovation, especially in the commerce space. Netflix and Amazon completely disrupted brick-and-mortar video rental and books stores, respectively. As Blockbuster and Borders failed to keep up with digital disruptions within their industry, they failed to stay in business. On the flipside, companies like Microsoft, Coca-Cola, Home Depot, and Pfizer embraced digital transformation, and by doing so, set themselves apart from their competition by leveraging technology.  

While the effects of digital transformation are easy to see in the B2C space, why is it important for B2B? First and foremost, many B2B buyers are digital consumers in their personal lives and are used to the convenience of the B2C eCommerce experience. Therefore, they are starting to expect that same ease when conducting business with their B2B suppliers. Additionally, the younger generation of both buyers and sellers have high expectations of what the digital shopping experience entails. 

I regularly speak with the leaders of B2B companies and have observed some common trends with regard to digital transformation:  

  • Focus on eCommerce Channel: The idea is not just about making eCommerce available, but it’s about providing a unified customer experience across all channels. Give the user the ability to pick their preferred channel, whether that’s picking up the phone, going online, or meeting with a sales rep in person, and ensure consistency across those channels when it comes to pricing and experience. 

  • More Frequent and Urgent Market Triggers: A company must be able to respond to evolving market triggers, such as cost changes, competitive dynamics or macroeconomic events with appropriate tactical adjustments to pricing, selling methodology, and even go-to-market strategies. Therefore, there is an increasing need for companies to be nimble enough to be able to quickly react to these market triggers or even capitalize on them.  

  • Flexibility is Critical: Complex systems and processes have tied the hands of pricing, sales, and marketing for years. Previously, something as simple as a quarterly price update often took months to execute. Technology advancements and innovations including self-service tools, automation, and data-driven insights are allowing businesses to unshackle their users from technology limitations.  

As a 20-year-old company, Zilliant has undertaken our own digital transformation journey. In the early 2000s, we delivered on-prem enterprise software to our customers, and in 2012, we started offering a multi-tenant SaaS platform in the cloud and initiated migration of on-prem customers to this new cloud platform. As of 2016, all of our customers were moved to the multi-tenant SaaS platform. That means we have no customers today that are on-prem or are utilizing older, legacy systems. Since then, our focus has been on creating a true 100% cloud-native platform that’s leveraging a microservices architecture, an API-first approach, and operationalizing AI.  

During our journey, we learned quite a few lessons and have a few key takeaways that we believe that are necessary for digital transformation success. Based on our experience, whether you are building your own systems or selecting a partner solution, you should strive for the following attributes: 

  • Cloud-Native Solutions: Cloud has evolved in terms of having platforms that enable the off-loading of infrastructure requirements and allow users to take full advantage of the distributed, scalable, and flexible nature of the public cloud to maximize business value. Leveraging cloud-native capabilities means abstracting away many layers of infrastructure, which include networks, servers, operating systems, etc. 

  • Microservices over MonolithAs applications get larger and more complex, the traditional way of building enterprise applications has become problematic. In a microservices architecture, applications are structured as collections of loosely coupled services, and this makes them easier to build, and more importantly, easier to deploy, expand, and scale.  

  • API-First ApproachAn API-first strategy means building APIs that encapsulate the business rules, processes, and value of a product. Then, leverage these APIs to build the product’s user-facing experience and functionality. This approach allows for a loose coupling of components and services and enables highly flexible integration.  

  • Agility: There is no one-size-fits-all template for digital transformation. Whether you are working with a partner solution or building your own, agility is critical. Agility allows for incremental steps towards the overall business goals, while at the same time, maintaining a tight feedback loop with stakeholders to adjust or evolve plans as needed and drive continuous improvement. Any solution you choose needs the agility to provide this flexibility.  

Technology leaders are uniquely positioned to champion digital transformation. B2B companies that can capitalize on this once-in-a-generation transformation will undoubtedly flourish over the next decade and set themselves apart from the competition. Digital transformation will require building or choosing a partner to help provide the right solutions, and Zilliant has partnered with many organizations to make this digital journey more effective and more efficient.  

About the Author

Shams leads Zilliant's engineering team, managing the development of the company’s innovative and scalable software products and overseeing the delivery operations of its applications in data centers globally. He has extensive experience building and managing onshore and offshore engineering teams at NewComLink, SolarWinds, Brocade, FullArmor Corporation and NetIQ. Shams believes in leading by example through empowering his team with the right tools to be successful, and measuring results. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from University of Houston and an executive certificate in innovation and strategy from MIT.

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