Interview with a Microsoft 365 Pro: Is Digitalization Affordable for All?

In today`s environment, now that distant working has become the new normal, digital workplaces and remote collaboration tools are among the keys  to ensure your business runs efficiently. How should you make sure the process of digitalization runs smoothly? Are there any pitfalls on the way to a digital workplace? Are remote collaboration tools secure and trouble-free?

In the interview below, Sigma Software Microsoft 365 expert and competence center lead Yevhen Minchev reveals how he discovered answers to these questions while implementing digitalization projects.

Yevhen, can you please tell us about your background in digitalization?

In my career, I have had a chance to participate in digitalization projects on both sides – as a customer and as a contractor. In the first case, I took part in the establishment of a web presence for a large corporation. The project involved the development of several websites for various purposes and a corporate website, all united by style and ensuring brand visibility and awareness online. In about two years, about 20 web resources with unique content went live.

Interview with a Microsoft 365 Pro: Is digitalization affordable for all?

As for my experience as a contractor on a team implementing a digitalization project, I participated in creating five internal and five external digital resources to handle license-related operations for a ministry of a country in Southeastern Asia. These Sharepoint-based resources were integrated with a government bank and had billing, accounting, record-keeping, and digital signature features. The solutions we created have been successfully working for over three years now, and I would call this project an example of an efficient way of putting a complex paper-laden process into a digital footing.

How do you assess the current state of the market and its further development in the near term?

Quarantines have made a strong push to strengthen digitalization. The market has been moving forward in the same direction as before. The current situation has just highlighted areas that require more attention, such as remote workplaces, online collaboration tools, etc. A year ago, few people used Microsoft Teams or Zoom, but after the pandemic made us try such tools, we discovered that they save time. It is unlikely that we will go back to offline meetings after all the quarantine-restrictions are lifted, because we have become used to the benefits of online communication and collaboration. It is the same with digitalization. Companies started or intensified digitalization projects and they will not go back to their old ways.

Some experts say that businesses that refuse to digitalize will be extinct in about 10 years. Do you agree?

On the one hand, the inertia effect can be very strong for many enterprises. In the absence of superior orders, things may move consistently for a long time. On the other hand though, automation and digitalization are great resource savers. For example, contract drafting and negotiation with simple document processing tools takes much more time than doing it with automated agreement creation solutions like DocuSign. It is obvious that companies using digitalized processes and tools are more efficient.

So, it depends on the market I think. In the markets where competition is high, businesses cannot afford to be even a fraction less efficient than their peers, and those that are not ready to change will fade away in a matter of 10 years. For global scale corporations it may happen even quicker.

An important factor here is that disturbances like the current pandemic accelerate the transition processes and reveal inefficiencies that could otherwise stay unnoticed for a long time. For example, politicians in Sweden are discussing the complete elimination of paper money in the country. The idea was definitely streamlined by the quarantine precautions, because many healthcare professionals warned against using paper money.

Some consider digitalization a time-consuming and costly process that is available mostly to huge businesses. Would you agree? How can medium and small businesses put it to use?

As I see it, medium and small businesses have the same access to digitalization. Of course, any company should pace its digitalization goals according to its needs and resources. By choosing a smaller automated accounting package or using less space in the cloud, a company can go digital even with a small budget. For example, Microsoft provides Dynamics 365 Business Central that allows small and medium businesses to automate accounting processes besides other features.

How a business can determine which processes should be made digital?

The first step here is to examine processes in the company from the point of view of the time and resources spent on them. Repetitive processes that take the most time are the first in the queue for digitalization.

The main benefits that digitalization brings to companies are clear. Companies become quicker and more efficient, get visibility of financial flows and benefit-makers, and save resources due to automated tasks. But what about the pitfalls related to digitalization? What should business owners and top managers remember when starting the digitalization process?

The first danger that lurks around a company on the way to digitalization is not understanding their digitalization needs. I can imagine a situation when a company CEO soaks up the idea of digitalization and hires an IT company to digitalize their business without understanding which of their processes are the most resource intense and uniform. Not surprisingly, such an approach will not bring the best results. A lot of money may be spent to automate processes that take up little part of worker’s time or doing it in a way that is not suitable for the company.

The second pitfall is the discrepancy between the allocated budget and the digitalization tasks. You cannot flood a valley with a teaspoon. The customer should be ready to reconsider the budget or the scope of tasks based on professional estimates.

One more pitfall is not having any real involvement from the top stakeholder in the process. I’ve seen cases when a company CEO earmarks money for digitalization, puts someone in charge of the process, and goes on with their business. The problem here is also the resistance of the system and people’s anxiety about their place in the new situation. It’s the job of the company CEO to explain the reasons for digitalization and dispel people’s worries to get them on board.

The other side of this problem is not involving the end-users of the digitalized tools in the process to discover business processes and needs. They are your source of knowledge about the inner norms and procedures of the customer. They are the only people who see the processes you are going to digitalize from the inside and their help cannot be over-emphasized.

Is personnel training important for a seamless launch of digitalized processes?

Absolutely. Training should be planned as a part of the digital system implementation as well as time for user education. It should be taken very seriously. Moreover, all training materials should be structured to ensure that users will be able to quickly understand what they need to do.

How secure are remote digital workplaces?

The security of a digital workplace depends on the cautiousness of its user to a large extent. Not installing antivirus software, visiting dangerous resources, working from public places are all factors that put a digital workplace at risk. The other part of the equation in the digital workplace security is the company effort to protect employees’ workstations from system breaches – using a VPN or a firewall, etc. When both a user and a company take necessary security measures, digital workplaces are sufficiently secure.

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How can an IT consulting company help with digitalization? What can Sigma Software offer to companies looking to go digital?

Choosing, setting up, and integrating software systems is what IT companies are best at. When a business wants to implement a digitalization project, they want it done quickly, cost-efficiently, and productively. This is why engaging an IT consulting company makes sense – we know how to do it, we know the pros and cons of different solutions, and we have faced the risks that can occur at various stages of the digitalization process. Sigma Software has an enormous amount of experience in optimizing business processes, cost and time-optimization, and improving brand appeal for our customers. We help companies throughout the whole process of digitalization, from the first steps to user training. Moreover, we are ready to stay with our partners after the end of a successful project by developing our competencies to meet their future needs.

Can you remember any cases when digitalization was very successful or vice versa? When in an attempt to switch to digital caused a company to lose a lot of money and fail?

Among success cases, I would name digitalization of food delivery processes. Glovo, UberEats, and Raketa saw an opportunity to optimize a process and they timed their actions well. Other cases would be digital collaboration and communication tools such as Zoom.

Speaking about failures, I think about companies that could not adapt to new market tendencies and moved their business to the digital rails or were too slow in the process. It sometimes ends in bankruptcy and we observed many of these this year. The quarantine has certainly accelerated the process.

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