5 Key Takeaways From Impact Optimize2019

What We Learned at Impact Optimize2019

The 2nd Annual Impact Optimize event took place at Chicago’s Navy Pier last weekend after months of planning and preparations.

Impact Networking, a leading MSP in the digital transformation space, hosted the first Optimize last year. After its success, Optimize’s co-founders Frank DeGeorge, (Impact CTO) and Patrick Layton (Impact VP Managed IT) wanted to grow this year’s event and take it to the heart of Downtown Chicago, increasing its size tenfold.

We invited over 1,000 business professionals, leaders, and decision makers to learn from leading industry experts about how to implement a strategy for digital transformation in their organizations. We kicked off with our keynote speakers for the morning session, followed by over 70 afternoon breakout sessions, presentations, and demonstrations by subject matter experts.

The goal of Impact Optimize is to bring industry thought leaders and executives together to give SMBs the tools to help grow and improve their businesses. From cybersecurity to automation and software development to change management, we covered all corners of the digital transformation landscape.

1. Cybersecurity Is Still the Top Priority

Cybersecurity was the dominant theme of Impact Optimize2019. Our keynote speaker for this year’s summit was The Herjavec Group CEO & Founder and star of Shark Tank, Robert Herjavec. The Herjavec Group is a global cybersecurity organization and a pre-eminent leader in the space.

“The industry has gone from the average person not knowing about cybersecurity to the most interesting topic today,” Herjavec told Navy Pier’s packed Aon Grand Ballroom.

With 86% of SMBs spending more on their IT security in an effort to reduce the impact of costly attacks, learning about cybersecurity and knowing what it takes to ensure that a strong strategy is in place is essential for decision makers of small businesses.

This is especially the case with Internet of Things (IoT) technology fast becoming a central part of business infrastructure. “The value of a non-connected internet device will be meaningless, the whole world will be connected,” Herjavec said.

With these added connected devices brings with it a wealth of potential cyber threats. Nearly half of all SMBs have experienced at least one IoT data breach; a solid grasp of how to tackle this emerging problem is a primary goal for modern businesses.

2. Keeping Businesses Agile Is Key

Business agility is one of the primary concerns for SMBs as they pursue digital transformation. As the DX landscape evolves, businesses must be ready and able to remain competitive in rapidly changing industries.

For SMBs that are confronting the realities of digitally transforming their organization, creating a structure which can adapt to new technologies and implement them effortlessly is a key objective. Whether they’re looking to revamp or improve their technology, this means fostering an environment which can confront new challenges quickly and efficiently.

“Agility” can be a difficult term to pin down, so we’ll try and highlight a few examples of areas where a company should expect to see a renewed or improved focus:

Continuous Improvement

Agile organizations in the process of a successful digital transformation all have one thing in common: a desire and understanding that continuous improvement of their work culture and processes is key.

This can mean moving on from established legacy systems and fostering an environment of people who are eager to embrace change. The speed at which new technologies emerge means that businesses which are constantly willing and able to adapt to new tech will stay ahead of the competition.

Customer Experience

For many decision makers, an improved customer experience is at the center of their attentions for their digital transformations. In 2019, customers expect digital competence from companies that they want to do business with. An outdated UX design or underperforming app is simply not good enough for a modern organization.

They need to be agile when dealing with the needs of customers—a positive mobile experience; strong social media presence; streamlined automated interactions throughout the buyer’s journey. Having a proactive awareness of your customers’ needs and showing a willingness to implement new technologies to engage with them is vital.

Rapid Development Turnaround

Over the last few years, development cycles for processes have shortened dramatically, primarily because of new technologies like low- and no-code development—a market which was worth $1.5 billion in 2015 and will be worth $27 billion in 2022.

The needs of businesses can change quickly. An organization might need a new automated process for invoice disputes, or a more streamlined transaction process. If these needs can be assessed, requested, and resolved in a rapid development cycle, an organization can be a step ahead and react more dynamically—speeding up existing DevOps practices.

Staying Lean

For an organization, having only what they need for the success of their digital transformation is an important factor. Too often, decision makers make the mistake of incorporating new technologies that they don’t need; doing too much, too soon, and without proper consultation.

This can inevitably lead to frustration and discontent with the project. Many businesses choose to partner with an MSP, which can provide a roadmap with realistic goals and recommend new technologies that the company actually needs, reducing expenditure in the process.

3. Intelligent Automation Is Now

We saw automation play a big part in Impact Optimize2019. This was particularly with regard to robotic process automation (RPA) and its ability to relieve employees of repetitive, manual tasks by implementing a digital workforce of bots within a business.

Amongst wider concern that robots have the potential to eliminate jobs occupied by humans, there was an emphasis on highlighting the collaborative human-robot interactions in the workplace—as opposed to putting employees out of a position.

RPA can “Add organizational capacity and create new value by blending human and digital workers to create an agile workforce,” said Dan Kuenzig, Kofax’s Vice President of Strategy in his seminar.

On the artificial intelligence side, attention was on how AI can help improve processes by being faster and making fewer mistakes then human counterparts.

“We changed our thought process and said AI can do it better and faster than a human,” said Tim Lisenmeyer, CTO of Clover Imaging Group. The thought process that Lisenmeyer alludes to is a change in culture within organizations that are reluctant to adopt new AI tech.

Understanding that intelligent automation is already a fundamental part of digital transformation and fostering an environment which welcomes AI as a resource which can hugely benefit your workforce and organizational processes.

4. Increased Demand for Cloud-Based Solutions

Cloud technology was another of the major talking points for Impact Optimize2019. As more and more businesses see the benefits of migrating their data onto the cloud, the demand to provide solutions that meet the requirements of SMBs is growing.

On-premises data centers are declining, and the resources necessary to set up and maintain in-house infrastructures to host the vast amounts of data created each day are unfeasible to many SMBs.

“Cloud is driving the fourth industrial revolution and information age,” said Edward Dryer, Senior Technology Strategist at Steadfast. The emphasis is on the need for companies that offer cloud services to have a comprehensive cloud strategy for businesses. This means having plans in place for cloud security, offering rapid growth without costly changes, and giving businesses more flexibility in how they allocate their resources by freeing up IT staff.

Cloud services will continue to become a central part of the infrastructure of many SMBs, even more so now that their affordability in recent years has made them a viable solution.

With Internet of Things tech, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), and other emerging technologies made available through the cloud, demand will increase further. The appetite among SMBs for older-style on-premises, turnkey solutions decreases as decision makers opt for longer-term strategies which can better service their demands.

5. Empowering Digital Transformation Through Change Management

Change management remains one of the most important obstacles to navigate for SMBs undergoing digital transformation in 2019.

Establishing the right culture within an organization and leading with a top-down approach are essential components of a DX strategy. Businesses that start their journey with poor communication across the company and struggle to establish a positive attitude to change will end up having difficulties from the get-go.

“Engineer a culture that is accepting of change,” said Joel Beasley, author of Modern CTO and the technology podcast of the same name.

We saw Impact Networking’s own Dan Meyer and Connected Arrows CEO & Managing Director Patricia Jones give separate presentations on leading a digital transformation. “For digital transformation efforts to be successful, executives must consider how to communicate effectively, mitigate resistance and power plays within departments and calm fears that can be a roadblock to change efforts,” Jones said.

Improving the way SMBs go about their digital transformations and preventing high failure rates are key considerations of change management. It’s one of the reasons we’ve increasingly seen C-suite executives become more involved than ever in the DX process, and also why SMBs are more frequently partnering with MSPs to help them with their strategies for change.

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