Enterprise Digital Transformation (EDT) is driving fundamental changes across industries and markets with rapid pace. Many of the companies are waking up to the reality that Technology is no longer a support function as was expected from the IT function in enterprises, but it is becoming core to their way of doing business.

Companies are now spending billions of dollars on EDT and Gartner estimates that by 2020, 75% of global enterprises would have either made the transition or be well on their way to doing so. Legacy organizations are trying to reinvent themselves into Digital Enterprises to stay competitive in an environment that includes both larger Digital First companies and startups, foraying into new markets where these incumbents held sway. EDT has become a means of survival for the future and not just a nice to have.

These competitive forces are forcing enterprises to rethink how they engage with their customers with new experiences. "Consumerization" of the enterprise is a major driver since customers are demanding to be catered-to uniquely, with frictionless experiences, deep personalization and ability to engage seamlessly across channels without any drop in quality of service.

There is a constant demand for new products and services that the organization is required to create to stay relevant to their customers, many of which now involves the whole eco-system around the customer. This is a tall order for organizations which were used to dictating terms to their customers, like Henry Ford's famous statement, "Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black."

There are two major underlying technology trends that are fueling EDT - (1) immense amounts of data being generated across the enterprise and (2) infinitely scalable compute and storage infrastructure on the cloud.

Data growth is projected to hit 44ZB by 2020 which represents a 50x growth rate from 2010. The amount of data generated in the last 2 years is more than that generated throughout the existence of humankind. This amount of data creates unique opportunities to address the desire of enterprise customers to be catered to uniquely.

With the advent of cloud infrastructure, the cost of management of data & compute has come down considerably without the accompanying headache of managing the underlying infrastructure for each enterprise. Utilizing private-public clouds has made it possible to address the economic challenges that digitization of the enterprise poses.

In order to create useful applications utilizing this heady fuel of data & compute, some technologies are gaining prominence in the enterprise:

1) Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a collection of technologies which starts to mimic human intelligence in tasks such as decision making, language interpretation & translation, speech & voice recognition and machine vision. Underlying these tasks is machine learning that creates algorithms that enable computers to learn from data to teach themselves to perform the tasks of deducting, predicting and acting as they are presented with new data. AI is the underlying basis for many applications like Automated Virtual Assistants, Real-time fraud & risk detection, Customer Support and Advanced Analytics.

2) Virtual Reality (VR) is simulation of the real world generated by computers to enable an immersive experience. This enables a user to experience the visual and tactile feedback of viewing a world without actually being there and has many applications from gaming to inspection in construction & hazardous operating environments. Real-time data can be overlaid on existing information to help create this environment which is typically experienced through special devices worn on the body.

3) Augmented Reality (AR) is overlaying of useful information over a view of the physical world through either visual or audio inputs, at a time when the information is useful. Examples of this could be in Retail where customers can be provided additional information about the product they are considering at the point of sale through an app or a mechanic who is presented with schematics through special glasses when they are fixing a machine.

4) Internet of Things (IoT) involves embedding products with sensors along with connectivity, software and some compute capability to gather, process and stream data over the internet for monitoring and control. With a projection of over 50 billion internet connected objects by 2020, applications are wide ranging, such as, security, automotive, logistics, health, industrial machines, and many more. IoT has enabled everyday objects to become "intelligent" and has opened up use cases which were not possible earlier, thus making it an immense opportunity for enterprises to provide unique experiences to their customers.

5) Blockchain is a distributed electronic ledger that enables recording of information reliably. Once entered, the information cannot be altered and downstream chain reinforces the transactions recorded previously. Enterprises are utilizing Blockchain for various applications like Identity, Supply Chain Management & Tracking, Authenticity Verification, Asset Registration & Ownership etc. This has enables trust mechanisms without a central clearing authority and at scale.

Enterprise Digital Transformation is very evident in every market space as enterprises scramble to make sense of what this wave will mean for them and how they should react to it so it has a positive impact on their growth.

Success or failure in the medium to long term will be determined by how well they are able to transform themselves into a new enterprise that has Digital at its core.

Editor's Note:
The tagline of TowardsAI is "Enabling Enterprises to Adopt Artificial Intelligence". This article by Ram serves as an introduction to TowardsAI, in a way. Kindly share it wide & far, by tagging your friends & colleagues, and we'd be grateful to you.

Ramkumar Narayanan

Ram is a strategy specialist in Digital Product innovation space in consumer and enterprise markets. After leading global teams at Yahoo! and eBay, he helps companies take better business decisions.