Digital transformation is a term being bandied about by the press, business experts, and enterprise gurus. The constant drumbeat on the topic may lead you to believe it is just another empty marketing gimmick used to sell books and pad keynote addresses. But you would be wrong to think that way.

Digital transformation is not a new concept, and in many ways, it has been occurring in fits and starts for years now. The personal computer, fax machine, email, and the internet were all digital transformation catalysts. Digital transformation does not really have an end–it is a continuous process–and it is the evolution of technology and its application to our lives.

The current digital transformation everyone is talking about now has disrupted, or soon will disrupt, how every business enterprise and every transaction works. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Just look at the results of a recent survey conducted by the Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, in which 80% of the respondents believe their industry will be disrupted by digital trends.

SEE: Free PDF ebook: Digital transformation, a CXO’s guide

The seeming inevitability of widespread digital transformation in business enterprises is why Microsoft has deployed a strategy to capitalize on the trend. By providing tools in Office 365, Windows 10, and Azure that make the transformation less disruptive and more organic to the organization, Microsoft believes it can offer paths to change that many of their competitors can’t.

HBR survey

The name of the HBR survey is Competing in 2020: Winners and Losers in the Digital Economy (PDF). It was conducted by the Harvard Business Review Analytic Services and was sponsored by Microsoft, which is one reason why the results figure so prominently in the company’s business strategies.

The digital transformation on the minds of the survey respondents this time involves the way businesses interact with customers. Technology has moved the relationship with customers beyond the transaction level. Successful companies must know their customers, must anticipate what motivates them, and must converse with them on a regular basis in authentic ways that don’t come across as forced and fake. This is complicated, somewhat messy, and can be dangerous when mistakes are made.

According to the survey, the majority of the 783 respondents say achieving exceptional customer experience is their highest current digital priority at the moment. Through technology, enterprises must be able to achieve authentic two-way communication with customers. Not achieving that goal will put your enterprise at a disadvantage, one that you may not be able to overcome once you get behind the curve.

Bottom line

Customer relationships are going through a major shift in technology, and your enterprise better get with the program. With digital tools like social media and mobile apps, customers expect to have a real relationship with the businesses they deal with. If your company is still using junk mail and phone calls to “relate” to customers, you are in deep trouble.

Microsoft has been preaching the benefits of cooperation, collaboration, and digital conversation for years now. By leveraging technologies built into Windows 10, Office 365, and Azure, Microsoft believes it has the tools to make conversing and engaging with customers a reality for your enterprise. It will take a heck of a lot of effort, and will likely require a huge cultural change for most organizations, but it can–and must–be done.

Just like with the advent of the computer, the fax machine, and the internet, the digital times are a-changing. It’s time to accept it, embrace it, and make the transition in your enterprise. You don’t have to partner with Microsoft to do it, but you need to get it done somehow, some way.

Also read…

Your thoughts

When it comes to customer interaction, has your enterprise started its digital transformation? Share your thoughts and opinions with your peers at TechRepublic in the discussion thread below.