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Digital transformation is necessary for enterprises, though many business leaders don’t know where to start. This digital transformation primer covers best practices, challenges, tech, and more.

Digital transformation is more than a buzz phrase for the enterprise. Technology is reshaping business in numerous ways, and the overall concern is that anyone without the newest tech in place will soon be left behind. This fear is not unfounded.

“Digital transformation is not just about technology. It’s the necessary but challenging journey of operating digital-first with the speed and nimbleness to change rapidly, exploit technology to create lean operations, and free people to do more complex tasks,” according to Forrester.

SEE: Digital transformation: A guide for CXOs (TechRepublic Premium)

This cheat sheet presents leaders with details and expert analysis about the benefits of digital transformation initiatives, tips on how to start these projects, and more. Also, find out how the Internet of Things (IoT), blockchain, big data, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and cloud computing are having an impact in digital transformation strategies.

What is digital transformation?

The concept behind digital transformation is how to use technology to remake a process so that it becomes more efficient or effective. It’s not just about changing an existing service into a digital version but improving it.

Some of the technologies used in digital transformation projects are IoT, blockchain, big data, cloud computing, AI, and machine learning. Digital transformation is more than just adding technology–part of the transformation includes changing how employees think. If the corporate culture doesn’t support change, then it will be difficult for a company to instill new business processes and reach digital enlightenment. The shift to a digitally transformed business often means breaking down silos and relating differently to customers.

SEE: A guide to data center automation (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

“Digital transformation is quite simple. It’s adopting what are now becoming mainstream digitization technologies such as IoT, mobilizations, customer engagement, artificial intelligence, data and analytics. How do you use those technologies to improve the value of your product? Not just the value of your product, but the value your customers get out of your product or the value they get out of that service,” said Rick Veague, CTO of IFS North America.

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How will digital transformation impact spending?

As the COVID-19 pandemic reshaped business needs globally, companies began using less traditional processes and focusing spending on digital transformation

A 2020 Flexera report found that 54% of organizations indicate that digital transformation is a top priority. According to the report, “organizations are embracing digital transformation because it’s essential to creating a compelling customer experience that enables future business success.” 

SEE: Digital transformation: A CXO’s guide (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

The expectation of greater sales from digital transformation means executives are hopeful that business will thrive in the new environment, according to a blog post by Nigel Fenwick, vice president and principal analyst for Forrester: “This suggests not only huge awareness of the potential for digital to change today’s business but also an expectation that their company will be successful in making the transformation needed to bring this expectation to fruition.”

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Why is digital transformation a must for every company?

Regardless of industry, competition in the market spurs innovative thinking, and a company’s closest competitor may find a new solution and catch a company off guard, explained Craig Williams, vice president and CIO, Ciena. “This requires you to stay on your game by observing what is happening in your industry and whether the initiatives you implement are keeping the business one step ahead of other industry players.”

“There’s also nothing like a healthy dose of paranoia to force you to stay keenly aware of the market and motivate you to implement tools to keep the workforce competitive. IT competition isn’t necessarily the same as selling widgets, but you can pretend it is. Run your IT department like you’re running a business and understand the costs, the customer satisfaction, the competition, and see if your team is on top,” Williams said.

Digital transformation is essential for every business, according to Veague. “Using modern digital transformative techniques allow you to get closer to your customers, allow you to see how your products are really performing, and whether they’re meeting those customer expectations. In our world, if you’re not on a digital transformative strategy, your competitors are, and you’re going to get left behind,” he said.

SEE: All of TechRepublic’s cheat sheets and smart person’s guides

Digital transformation gives IT employees a chance to better integrate IT with a company’s goals, said Art Langer, a professor and director of the technology management programs at Columbia University. “Digital transformation is just an absolute fundamental requirement to get that done. This is about technology becoming clearly in the frontline of strategy,” he said.

“One of the things I always talk about is the old statement, ‘All roads lead to Rome,'” Langer said. “Well all roads today lead to a consumer. I believe that this whole digital transformation is about the consumerization of technology. If you’re a B2B [business to business] company, eventually all roads will lead to a B2C [business to consumer]. Somebody along that supply chain will be servicing the demand side, which is a consumer.”

One of the most difficult industries to transform, but that needs it the most, is manufacturing.

“Traditional manufacturing remains extremely siloed, with deployment of best practices across different cultures and systems difficult at best,” said Richard Lebovitz, CEO of LeanDNA.

Digital transformation breaks down silos to deploy best-practice analytics across multiple sites and suppliers in weeks versus months or often years. With a focus on improving working capital efficiency and on-time delivery performance, manufacturers, for example, can use digital transformation to work faster, cheaper and achieve better results, Lebovitz said.

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What are the components of digital transformation?

There are three components that comprise digital transformation.

“There is infrastructure at the bottom of the pyramid,” Langer said. “At the top, which is your CEO and C-level people, you’re trying to transform new types of business opportunities and marketing opportunities and give them a competitive advantage. On one hand you’re trying not to be disrupted because what you really want to be is the disruptor. Then in the middle, which is significant, is the operating model of the organizations.”

In a digital transformation, people will have new roles and responsibilities, with some jobs lost and others added.

Langer said, “The biggest part about digital transformation is an old Burger King cliché, ‘Have it your way.’ That’s what digital transformation demands. The consumer wants choice. The consumer wants options. When you look at the success of Amazon, what are they giving you? They’re giving you multiple ways of doing business, and they’re charging you for different things. You want something delivered right away? Amazon has Amazon Prime. Will you pay more? Yes. All right, so it’s a myriad of options. The other aspect of digital transformation is 24x7x365. Amazon is a store that never closes.”

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What are the most important technologies for a digital transformation?

“Digital transformations that leverage multiple technologies at the most effective points will be the most successful. For example, LeanDNA leverages cloud computing, AI, and ETL for data connection and extraction. We also leverage new web technologies to create powerful user experiences and interactive collaboration tools. The combination of these technologies allows customers to perform powerful analytics on extremely large and complex business data on the back end while providing a simple web-based front end that makes results easy to understand and actions easy to execute,” Lebovitz said.

SEE: America’s coolest company: How Big Ass Fans went from cooling cows to a multinational tech powerhouse (TechRepublic cover story) | Download the PDF version

IoT, blockchain, big data, AI, machine learning and cloud computing are among the most common technologies used in digital transformations.

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What are the biggest challenges to digital transformation?

Digital transformation projects fail when they’re too ambitious, Veague explained. “What we’ve seen in our customers who have gone down this journey, whether it’s implementing IoT or AI-type technologies or big data or whatever, is that they learned an awful lot along the way. And they changed their expectations about the value and what they’re going to get from it, based on what they learned.”

A digital transformation is truly about digitizing every aspect of a business, but not every company realizes that when it begins down the path to change.

Langer said, “It’s about how does one take a company, whether it’s a Citibank or it’s Macy’s or your most recent catastrophe, which is Toys “R” Us…and how do you transform not just the supply chain activities, but also the culture? Where you see companies failing at it is mostly in the cultural assimilation area. They’re just not digital people. They don’t have the cultural aspects on how to do that. There is this incredible opportunity, in my mind, through the technology people to also transform themselves.”

SEE: Culture remains biggest barrier in APAC digital transformation (ZDNet)

There is inherent risk in digital transformation.

“You have to deliver lots of things, and not everything is going to work. You have to develop what I call a batting average. A baseball player gets up to the plate, and if he gets a hit one out of every three times, he goes to the Hall of Fame. When you talk to IT people, they think they have to deliver everything on time and on budget. The reality is in digital transformation you fail fast, and you go on to the next thing,” Langer said.

Lebovitz said, “What many companies call ‘digital transformation’ is simply more of the same manual and static processes. Business Intelligence (BI) has been rather hot over the last 10 years, but it is really just a better form of Excel, and it’s nothing new. To be successful, organizations must focus on deploying solutions that can be adopted across all levels of the company. Successful digital transformations need to make working both easy and improved. Unfortunately, many initiatives fail to target specific improvements. Teams get excited about terms like big data, predictive analytics, and AI, yet remain too focused on the technology instead of solving an important business problem with a clear ROI.”

When a team is too focused on technology rather than solving a problem, the project is likely to fail and the team will resist starting over.

SEE: Straight up: How the Kentucky bourbon industry is going high tech (TechRepublic cover story)

“There are many cases in the manufacturing sector where a failed system implementation has nearly killed a business. This sector tends to be more risk averse than others and requires more examples of successful digital transformations. I am working to change the paradigm with LeanDNA demonstrating what can be done with real results,” Lebovitz said.

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What are examples of successful digital transformation projects?

BMW, Apple, and Amazon are among the many companies that have undergone digital transformations and thrived as a result. The financial industry is also changing, as blockchain makes an impact, and the education and airline industries are ripe for change.

Langer said, “If you’re BMW, you’re B2C, but there’s a whole bunch of companies that are supporting BMW that are B2B. Ultimately what is going to shake its way down is if a consumer wants something from BMW, that’s going to have a domino effect all the way down every B2B. What I’m telling all the B2Bs is you better be very close to your inevitable C [customer], because the consumer is in charge. They demand a lot. They’re very smart. They’re very technology savvy. Why is BMW changing their cars every two years when they used to do it every six or seven? Because of technology and because people want the latest and greatest in these cars and more innovations and driverless cars and parking and cameras. If you’re a B2B and you’re not on top of what’s going on in the C [customer] level, you’re going to lose touch with your clientele.”

Staying on top of the need to change is the key to successful digital transformation.

“This whole idea where you used to be a vertical and you used to be able to be in one industry and do it really well, everybody’s becoming more horizontal. Some are struggling, right? Look at GE, where they created GE Digital. Let’s look at Uber. I know they’ve had problems, but look at how they have transformed the way people travel. Or Lyft. We see these individuals, that these small companies, the Davids are beating up on the Goliaths because they’re more agile. They’re catering more to the buyer or the consumer,” Langer said.

SEE: How Sephora is leveraging AR and AI to transform retail and help customers buy cosmetics (cover story PDF) (TechRepublic)

Older companies often try to save the primary business, and that is a mistake.

“If you look at Barnes & Noble, they’re not going to give up on having stores. If you look at Macy’s, you can order stuff online at Macy’s, but it’s not a pleasant experience, as it is for customers ordering from Amazon. It’s very, very hard to ask these companies, from a management point of view, to let go of the tradition,” Langer said. “IBM almost went out of business because the mainframe people were running the company. Macy’s hasn’t given up on the idea that the store is still the key place. Automobile companies are focused on the fact that you still need to go through a dealer. These are very significant issues if you don’t transition.”

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Where should our company start with digital transformation?

For some companies it’s difficult to know where to start when it’s time to implement a digital strategy. Overcoming the initial inertia is the key to starting down the path to digital change.

“I’m a big believer that you start in the beginning and adopt a crawl-walk-run approach, especially if some of these technologies are not familiar or not in widespread use within your organization. Pick some small projects and get started with them. Because the hardest part to a digital transformation journey is just getting started. And I’m not so sure it matters where you start because the insights you gain and the experience you get will tell you what the next step is,” Veague said.

SEE: Digital transformation: An IT pro’s guide (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

If an executive starts with a modest set of expectations, and doesn’t oversell the value of the project, it can serve as an innovative and learning experience. Whatever knowledge is gleaned from the first project can be reapplied to the next project. By repeating this a few times, it results in an agile approach and that will give the best results.

Within companies that have started thinking about how to develop a digital transformation pathway, there is typically a moment when it becomes obvious how technologies could be used to do a task differently. Veague said, “The real objective of getting started and pushing that strategy is to get to that moment where you can say, ‘Wow, now that I can see this, if I only had this or that or a little bit more information, if I could only gather one more piece of data, I could get to the next step.'”

Once that process begins, it spurs more changes and becomes a self-driving exercise and the transformation begins rolling out, Veague explained.

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Who should lead digital transformation projects?

For digital transformation efforts to succeed, who you hire matters.

“Regardless of industry, talent is the number one tool of any digital transformation undertaking. It’s part hiring, part development, and part inspiration of talent (culture) that sets an IT team apart from others. A company can have a great business model, but without a great culture and workforce behind it, it will fail. If you’re not actively seeking new talent or elevating existing talent, you’ll never transform digitally,” Williams said.

SEE: IT leader’s guide to achieving digital transformation (TechRepublic Premium)

Opinions vary about who should spearhead digital transformation within a company.

“Simply put, digital transformation is the CIO’s job and should be at the forefront of what he/she thinks about. He or she should have an up-to-date understanding of business problems and what IT can do to address them with people, technology, improved processes, models, and IT competencies. CIOs should be in the business of transforming their company with the assets at their disposal all the time,” Williams said.

Lebovitz said, “There is an emerging role in manufacturing called Chief Transformation Officer–they are often a key driver of these projects. For other companies, the typical leader would be the CIO, Chief Procurement Officer, VP of Operational Excellence, or VP of Supply Chain.”

Digital transformation doesn’t have to be radical; instead, it’s about ongoing innovation.

Langer said, “The sayings ‘Either you’re growing or you’re going,’ and ‘Stagnation breeds failure’ are more relevant today than ever before. Successful organizations have to grow. If you don’t like change, you’ve really got a big problem. There’s never been a research article that says organizations love change, but you have to be change ready.”

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Editor’s note: This article was updated by Kristen Lotze.


Image: chombosan, Getty Images/iStockphoto

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Diamonds may help measuring thermal conductivity in living cells


Scientists have very precise instruments, but measuring properties of tiny little cells is still very difficult. Now researchers at the University of Queensland have developed a new tool to measure heat transfer inside living cells. It includes actual diamonds and it can work as both a heater and a thermometre. Someday it can improve cancer diagnosis.

Diamonds may help measuring thermal conductivity in living cells

Diamonds are essentially very hard pieces of carbon, which makes them great for some scientific applications. Image credit: En-cas-de-soleil via (Wikimedia(CC BY-SA 4.0)

Cancer cells are different – they behave differently and exhibit different properties. Scientists have long speculated that in some cases precisely targeted thermal therapies could be very effective against cancer. However, in order for this to become reality scientists needed to know thermal conductivity of living cells. With current technology it is literally impossible to measure thermal conductivity – the rate that heat can flow through an object if one side is hot and another is cold – inside of such tiny living things as cells.

Scientists from Australia, Japan and Singapore now employed nanodiamonds (just tiny little diamonds) to act as minute sensors in a new system. Diamonds are great, because they are very hard and because they are just a different form of carbon, which is very well-known to us. Scientists coated their nanodiamonds with a special heat-releasing polymer. This resulted in a sensor, which can act as a heater or a thermometre, depending on what kind of laser light is applied. This sensor allows measuring thermal conductivity in living cells with a resolution of 200 nanometres.

Associate Professor Taras Plakhotnik, lead author of the study, said that this new method already revealed some new interesting information about cells. He said: “We found that the rate of heat diffusion in cells, as measured in our experiments, was several times slower than in pure water, for example.”

If cancer cells and healthy cells exhibit different thermal conductivity, this kind of measurement could become a very precise diagnostic technique. Also, because these particles are not toxic and can be used in living cells, scientists think they could open the door for  improving heat-based treatments for cancer. Measuring head conductivity could help monitor biochemical reactions in real time in the cell. But that’s not all. Scientists think that this method could lead to a better understanding of metabolic disorders, such as obesity.

Diamonds are commonly used in science and industry. People oftentimes see them as something from the jewelry world, but they are much more common elsewhere. And they are not even that expensive. Hopefully, this study will result in a new method to research living cells and maybe some novel therapies as well.


Source: University of Queensland

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Redmi Note 10 Launch Teased Officially After Rumours Tipping February Debut in India

Redmi Note 10 launch has been officially teased on Weibo. The new development comes just weeks after the rumour mill suggested the existence of the Redmi Note 10 series that could include the Redmi Note 10, the Redmi Note 10 Pro, and the Redmi Note 10 Pro 5G. The new series is expected to succeed the Redmi Note 9 family that debuted with the launch of the Redmi Note 9 Pro and the Redmi Note 9 Pro Max in India in March last year.

Redmi General Manager Lu Weibing has teased the launch of the Redmi Note 10 on Weibo. Instead of giving away details of the phone directly, Weibing has posted an image of the Redmi Note 9 4G asking users about their expectations with the Redmi Note 10.

The Redmi Note 10 is speculated to launch in India alongside the Redmi Note 10 Pro in February. Both phones will be priced aggressively, according to tipster Ishan Agarwal. The Redmi Note 10 in the series is tipped to come in Gray, Green, and White colour options.

Although Xiaomi hasn’t provided any specifics about the phone yet, the Redmi Note 10 Pro 5G purportedly received a certification from the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) earlier this month. The phone is also said to have surfaced on the US

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) website with the model number M2101K6G. It has also reportedly appeared on the websites of other regulatory bodies including the European Economic Commission (EEC), Singapore’s IMDA, and Malaysia’s MCMC.

Redmi Note 10 series specifications (expected)

The Redmi Note 10 Pro is rumoured to come with a 120Hz display and include the Qualcomm Snapdragon 732G SoC. However, the 5G variant of the Redmi Note 10 Pro is said to come with the Snapdragon 750G SoC. It is speculated to have 6GB and 8GB RAM options as well as 64GB and 128GB storage versions. The Redmi Note 10 Pro models will come with a 64-megapixel primary camera sensor and include a 5,050mAh battery, according to a recent report.

Similar to the Redmi Note 10 Pro models, the Redmi Note 10 is also rumoured to have both 4G and 5G versions. The smartphone is tipped to have a 48-megapixel primary camera sensor and include a 6,000mAh battery.

The Redmi Note 10 Pro and the Redmi Note 10 are both expected to run on Android 11 with MIUI 12 out-of-the-box.

What will be the most exciting tech launch of 2021? We discussed this on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.

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Cybersecurity: Blaming users is not the answer

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A punitive approach toward employees reporting data breaches intensifies problems.

Image: iStock/iBrave

Experts are warning, when it comes to cybersecurity, blaming users is a terrible idea. Doing so likely results in creating an even worse situation. Many organizations have defaulted to a blame culture when it comes to data security,” comments Tony Pepper, CEO of Egress Software Technologies, in an email exchange. “They believe actions have consequences and someone has to be responsible.”

“In cases where employees report incidents of data loss they accidentally caused, it’s quite common for them to face serious negative consequences,” continues Pepper. “This, obviously, creates a culture of fear, leading to a lack of self-reporting, which in turn, exacerbates the problem. Many organizations are therefore unaware of the scale of their security issues.”

Pepper’s comments are based on findings gleaned by the independent market research firm Arlington Research. Analysts interviewed more than 500 upper-level managers from organizations within the financial services, healthcare, banking, and legal sectors.

What the analysts found was published in the paper, Outbound Email Security Report. Regarding employees responsible for a loss of data, 45% of those surveyed would reprimand the employee(s), 25% would likely fire the employee(s).

SEE: Identity theft protection policy (TechRepublic Premium)

Pepper suggests while organizations may believe this decreases the chance of the offense reoccurring, it can have a different and more damaging effect. There’s a chance employees may not report security incidents, to avoid repercussions from company management. 

“Especially in these uncertain times, employees are going to be even less willing to self-report, or report others, if they believe they might lose their jobs as the result,” adds Pepper. 

It gets worse 

According to survey findings, a high percentage of organizations rely on their employees to be the primary data breach detection mechanism–particularly when it comes to email. “Our research found that 62% of organizations rely on people-based reporting to alert management about data breaches,” mentions Pepper. “By reprimanding employees who were only trying to do their job, organizations are undermining the reporting mechanism and ensuring incidents will go unreported.”

The lack of truly understanding why data is escaping the digital confines of an organization makes it hugely difficult for those in charge of cybersecurity to develop a defensive strategy that will effectively protect an organization’s data.

Overcome the blame game

Once it is understood that reprimanding employees is ineffective, organizations should look to create a more positive security culture. One immediate benefit is the increased visibility of heretofore unknown security risks.  

Another benefit is the ability to show regulatory bodies the organization has taken all reasonable steps to protect sensitive data. Pepper adds, “If you don’t know where your risks are, it’s hard to put reasonable measures in place. Regulators could surmise that during a data breach investigation and levy higher fines and penalties.” 

Technology has a role

Once the blame game is curtailed, it’s time to get technology involved. “The first step is to get reporting right, using technology, not people, which will remove the pressure of self-reporting from employees and place the responsibility firmly in the hands of those in charge of cybersecurity,” suggests Pepper. “Advances in contextual machine learning mean it’s possible for security tools to understand users and learn from their actions, so they can detect and mitigate abnormal behavior–for example, adding an incorrect recipient to an email.”

This is where technology makes all the difference. It prevents accidental data loss before it can happen. It empowers employees to be part of the solution, and technology gives the security team unbiased visibility of risks and emerging threats. 

What cybersecurity teams need to understand

Education about potential consequences is vital. Anyone working with the organization’s digital assets needs to understand the possible outcomes from a data breach–for example, regulatory fines or damage to the organization’s reputation. 

It’s a safe bet when users understand the consequences of emailing client data to the wrong recipient or responding to a phishing email, they’ll be much more likely to report the incident if and when it occurs. Remember: If an incident isn’t reported, there’s no way to remediate it or prevent it from happening again.

Pepper, in conclusion, offers advice to those managing cybersecurity. “The best way to engage employees with security, and ensure they understand its importance, is to create a ‘security-positive’ company culture,” explains Pepper. “Security teams need to reassure the wider organization that, while data breaches are to be taken seriously, employees who report accidental incidents will receive appropriate support from the business and not face severe repercussions.”

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