[Interview] The Digital Transformation and 2019 Trends with IBM
While we previously talked about how companies in the retail industry are tackling a sea change in their industry as a consequence of the Digital Transformation, this time around, we wanted to take a look at the other side of the coin and examine firms that are leading or guiding others through their Digital Transformation journey. To do so, we sat down with Marta Fernández, the Marketing Director for IBM in Spain, Portugal, Greece, and Israel to talk about IBM's digital business strategy.
IBM: “The true challenge in digitization is knowing how to tackle the complex transformation it requires."
International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) is an American multinational firm that provides hardware and software solutions, financial services, and a wide range of information technology (IT) services. IBM’s operations encompass five areas: global technology services, global business services, software, systems and technology, and global financing. Along with IT services, it also offers business consulting, applications, and outsourcing among others. Its primary business focus is guiding other large companies to carry out their own Digital Transformation.
Marta Fernández is the Marketing Director for Spain, Portugal, Greece, and Israel. Her day-to-day responsibilities involve working alongside those in charge of the Marketing and Communications & Citizenship divisions for IBM’s operations in Spain, Portugal, Greece, and Israel. She is in charge of brand reputation and strategy, sales channel development, market strategy, and of all the firm’s marketing campaigns and programs, including content, digital activations, and events.
WAM: Digitization is a fundamental issue for companies, but what are the main roadblocks to understanding it for your customers or prospects?
Marta Fernández: IBM’s business consists of helping companies carry out their Digital Transformation, providing them with technological solutions and services that let them successfully undergo this journey to add more value to their customers, improve their operational efficiencies, or open up new business areas for them. In this sense, we work with companies and administrations that are convinced that they need to be digital.
Our clients, nonetheless, find themselves with difficulties when deciding how to apply advanced technologies that drive digitization such as Artificial Intelligence (AI). According to an IBM Institute for Business Value study done from a sample of 5,000 executives, 82% of companies have signaled their desire to apply technologies like AI. However, more than 60% of them don't know how to do it or find roadblocks, such as the lack of qualified professionals or are worried about matters of trust and the regulatory environment.
The conclusion is that advancing in digitization is not a question of a lack of interest or need of convincing within organizations, but instead, it's about how to tackle the complicated process that a transformation of this magnitude requires.
W: Virtual assistants are now the hottest trend. Do you believe they’re here to stay? Would you please tell us your viewpoint?
MF: At first glance, users that are not experts in the area may seem to be a simple technology that limits itself to basic dialogue. However, the truth is that thanks to AI and cloud technology, chatbots have the potential to understand people's natural language, identify emotions, and analyze vast quantities of data. In my opinion, this will be a critical element for user services for companies in all industries. According to Gartner, in a short time, 30% of our interactions with new technologies will be through “conversations” with smart machines.
A virtual assistant with the technological capabilities that I previously mentioned can have applications for a wide variety of uses equally applicable to help the final customer to users in organizations on a daily basis. If virtual assistants are also integrated into organizations’ back office, they can go from only answering questions and doubts to helping with transactions using very personalized dialogue. In conjunction with the degree that AI progresses, chatbots will continue to become more capable of natural communication, emotional intelligence, and data analysis. Cognitive computing will power and improve service for users due to its ability to understand customer intent and be able to learn and reason on a large scale.
W: Quantum computing could play a pivotal role in the dialogue between companies and customers. What will be its role? How soon will it become a reality?
MF: Quantum computing has taken giant steps forward in the past three years to become a cloud-accessible technology (albeit still in a lab) to anyone looking to experiment with it.
There's still a long road ahead when it comes to applications, but we do already know that quantum computing will be there in the business optimization area, research into new medications and materials, and artificial intelligence. It's about tackling those areas where there are problems that, up until now, did not have any solution with traditional computing but with the quantum computer's fast and powerful processor, they can get analyzed. This technology has tremendous potential, like the fact that no supercomputer currently on the TOP500 list would be able to successfully mimic the same functions as a quantum computer of only 50 qubits.
Today, there’s still no universal quantum computer, but IBM estimates that in the next decade there will be processors with an average size between 50 and 100 qubits on the market.
W: In your opinion, what are the digital marketing strategies that bring the best ROI to your business?
MF: For a digital marketing strategy to be successful, campaigns have to deliver the right message at the right time using the appropriate channel delivered to the right person. That only happens if we have the correct data, the primary material for our time, that gets used and analyzed correctly.
Today’s digital marketing campaigns have to be very personalized and be part of a very consistent and homogeneous omnichannel strategy. It’s not acceptable for a customer to live a different experience on every channel based on how they connect with the company in both physical and digital contexts. In this sense, it’s imperative that they adapt to mobile devices while taking the dominance of online shopping into consideration.
You logically can’t do this without the right technology. Automating and industrializing the process is fundamental for optimizing these campaigns when it comes to one-on-one conversations. Analytics, AI, and machine learning are critical tools for optimizing campaigns and earning ROI.
In our case, Watson Customer Experience lets you quickly extract the information that will get used in designing and segmenting digital campaigns, as well as tracking its performance and troubleshooting problems in the online user experience in real-time. There are companies in the industry that, upon using it speed up their decision-making at a significant rate, going from days to hours, with excellent performance and providing a higher ROI to the business. An example of this is how GroupM uses Watson Analytics.
W: In what ways can digital communication improve relationships with customers?
MF: Digital communication is vital today, but we have to funnel it well, as I previously said, with the right message, at the right time, using the right channel and to the right people. It's easy to say it but very tough to achieve that degree of personalization and specificity with messages. I insist that you can only accomplish this using appropriately analyzing and taking advantage of data. If digital communications do not respect this premise, it’s nothing more than an annoyance for customers and lost money for companies.
W: What new technologies or trends do you expect for digitization in your industry in 2019?
MF: The Information Technology sector creates technologies that drive companies' digitization efforts. In our case, we have it clear that AI is the technology that is poised to drive companies’ digitization most, along with the cloud.
Companies need to evolve into a model for accessing and exploiting data in the cloud, more specifically, the hybrid cloud, to be able to adapt AI in their operations. Hybrid clouds facilitate the coexistence of their traditional technological infrastructure with different public and private cloud environments that best fit their needs. To do all this, we think that companies need open technology platforms that let them connect different technologies from different providers that favor innovation.
One of the most significant cloud and AI applications that we already see on the market is blockchain. Carrefour Spain has recently used the IBM FoodTrust blockchain platform to guarantee that the chicken that customers buy in their grocery stores are free of antibiotics.