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Digital Transformation Shifts Into High Gear Amid COVID-19

Digital transformation

The definition of digital transformation changed dramatically in 2020, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many channel businesses already were replacing their processes and technologies to better serve their customers. Then the pandemic hit, presenting new challenges in meeting their customers’ needs.

Everything has changed, from customer needs to measuring customer experience. Furthermore, partners are demanding more from providers during this transformational time.

So how do channel businesses catch up to the new digital transformation? Kris Blackmon, channel veteran and chief channel officer at JS Group, has your back.

JS Group's Kris BlackmonDuring her Channel Partners Virtual keynote, titled “Business in the Matrix: The Digitization of Channel,” March 4, Blackmon will provide an overview of what has and hasn’t changed, and how partners can catch up.

In a Q&A with Channel Partners, Blackmon gives a sneak peek of what she plans to share with attendees.

Channel Partners: Has the definition of digital transformation changed? How was it impacted by the upheaval of the pandemic?

Kris Blackmon: The problem with trying to define digital transformation is that it’s a moving target. It’s all about using digitization to fundamentally change the way businesses operate, to put a laser focus on the customer experience, and to take a holistic look at operations. Processes, systems, channels of communication, even business models — these are things that businesses should never stop trying to evolve and improve. Companies should never consider themselves digitally transformed.

Digital transformation, like many things, was absolutely accelerated by the pandemic. It wasn’t just individual businesses that were impacted. Our entire society was pushed down a path of sudden and fast digital transformation. We use apps to order delivery and never even have contact with the driver. We’re educating our kids through online learning portals. We communicate with peers through video conferencing and Slack. Never have our digital and physical lives been more intertwined.

CP: What all does digital transformation entail when it comes to the channel? Have many firms in the channel fallen behind?

KB: Because digital transformation strategies entail bringing technology into every aspect of a business, the role of the CIO or CTO has never been more important. The channel plays a support role for the CIO or, in some cases, replaces it altogether. That means that the channel has to know more than just technology. It has to understand business. Partners can drive digital transformation for their clients, or they can be dragged along, more of a burden than an advantage.

It’s two very different types of channel partner. One is dealing in cloud, automation, software development and business consulting. They’re looking to help their clients get a competitive advantage so they can keep up with the pace of business. The other type of partner is focused on keeping the lights on, keeping the status quo. Both types of partners have value. But the forward-thinking partner knows they’ll have value in the future. They can adapt pricing strategies and offerings to make sure their clients continue to need them as their businesses evolve.

CP: Can you give some examples of the competitive advantages of up-to-date digitization?

KB: I’ll give you a personal example. Last May, I bought a new car. It was two months into the pandemic, and my home state of Colorado was essentially in lockdown mode. I was dreading the entire process. I’d never had to buy a car where I wasn’t allowed contact with anyone at the dealership.

I emailed the dealership with what I wanted, which wasn’t much. I’m not much of a car geek. The next day, the sales rep emailed me a custom link to video tours of four different options and an explanation of how each of them met my requirements. I chose two to test drive. When I arrived at the dealership, the keys were in the vehicles, and the sales rep was on FaceTime. I did my test drives, chose my vehicle, and signed my contract online. I drove off the lot with my new car having never been within six feet of an actual person. I barely saw an actual person at all.

Digitization is what made that no-contact sale possible. It could have been a super stressful experience, but instead, it was probably the best time I’d ever had buying a car. There was another dealership in town that wanted me to come in and talk to someone in person. They gave me vague guarantees that they’d be in masks and socially distanced. But they didn’t seem to have an actual strategy to keep me safe. Choosing which dealership to go with wasn’t a difficult decision.

CP: What are some of the pitfalls of not keeping up with the changes?

KB: The pitfall is that your digitized competitor takes your customers. This can happen in a direct manner like in the car example. Or it can be a more indirect, subtle process. Who’s faster to quote? Who's faster to respond to customer service requests? Whose service times are the fastest? Who has automated processes that reduce the risk of manual error? Whose backend processes are buttoned up with integrated systems that allow employees to devote time to higher-value tasks that move the business forward? Who’s created room for workers to innovate and ideate? Digital transformation isn’t all about concrete technology. It’s about using technology to optimize internal operations, improve customer experience and evolve business models to stay competitive.

CP: What do you hope attendees can learn and make use of from your keynote?

KB: What partners want from their vendors and distributors isn’t all that different from what their clients want from them. They want first-call resolution, quick response times, automated processes, and that elusive single pane of glass. Everything they want from their providers are things their customers want in turn. If you look at it through that lens, helping customers with digital transformation becomes less of a mystery and more of an opportunity. What would you want? That’s what you provide.

Kris Blackmon, digital transformation