The most successful businesses of our time thrive on innovation. Change is inevitable if you want your business to compete and win now and in the future. To succeed, you must have a better understanding of your industry, the trends, and the emerging technologies that are shaping both small and large enterprises.

Earlier this month, over 6,000 business leaders and decision makers, from nearly every industry gathered in New Orleans for an inspiring week of ideas, conversations, and insights on how technology can empower business transformation. “Digital transformation” was the predominant theme of the inaugural Microsoft Envision conference.

I joined in online and watched a lot of the Envision conversations. At some point during the morning’s opening keynotes, about 100,000 people were tuned in online via livestreaming, according to Chris Capossela, EVP and Chief Marketing Officer of Microsoft.

The event kicked off with a keynote from Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella. He opened the conference with an affirmation of  Microsoft’s mission: to empower all people and organizations on the planet to achieve more.

“This conference is all about business transformation and digital transformation, and the role technology can play in making these changes happen,” said CEO Satya Nadella in his introductory keynote.

Nadella highlighted four key trends today’s successful digital companies have embraced. They include: becoming more engaged with customers, empowering employees, optimising business operations, and transforming products and services using digital content.

He stressed that companies must use data intelligence to predict what consumers want, and adopt analytics technologies to capture business-critical information from e-mails, documents, business applications and more to gain company-wide insights.

“We want you to be able to ask and answer two key questions: how is your business being changed by digital technology, and how is your core business model being changed by digital technology?” said Satya.

Conversations

Chris Capossela, Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of Microsoft had a chat with Captain Scott Kelly, U.S. astronaut and retired U.S. Navy Captain. Kelly talked about the future opportunity for HoloLens to create better connection with astronauts in space and on the ground resources. He shared his experiences with Microsoft HoloLens in Redmond, Washington, and on the International Space Station.

Nadella and Lilian Rincon of the Skype team previewed improvements to Skype that will be rolled out in the future. The enhancements will include integrating Cortana, Microsoft’s digital assistant, with Skype. You will be able check your calendar without leaving Skype with the help of Cortana. Nadella called this shift in how we will interact with technology “conversations as a platform.”

In a business transformation fireside chat with Peggy Johnson Executive Vice President, Business Development, Microsoft Corporation, PayPal CEO Dan Schulman provided insights into how PayPal is driving forward into the digital era. “Our mission is to democratize financial services,” said Schulman.

“Managing and moving money should be a right for every citizen, not just a privilege for the affluent.” The average underserved consumer spends about 10% of his disposable income on unnecessary fees and interest rates, Schulman said. “That’s ridiculous with technology. We should be able to do things with software and mobile that make basic financial transactions faster, simpler, more secure and, most importantly, less expensive.” he said.

Dan said Venmo is one of PayPal’s “hottest properties” that is “growing quite dramatically”. “The usage is tremendous around it,” he said. “It’s in the middle of how millennials manage and move their money.” he further stressed.

“The secret to Venmo is taking a monetary transaction and turned it into a social experience,” Schulman said. “You and I might think about a transaction as private and between us. But Venmo ties transaction to social feeds. The typical Venmo user opens the app four or five times a week just to see what their friends are doing.”

Insights and opportunities for your Business

Have you embraced digital technology in your business yet? Thanks to new digital technologies and tools, traditional problems in both small and large businesses can be solved better, faster and more efficiently. In a mobile-first and cloud-first world, dreaming big as a business is your only option.

“Digital transformation is all about empowerment[…] it’s putting the power of technology in the hands of businesses so they can go through this transformation and ultimately come out a stronger company with a better product or better service.” – Peggy Johnson, Microsoft EVP of Business Development

The importance of Embracing transformation

Companies that have adapted and changed with time are now able to alter their products and services to meet market demands in real time. There are now better ways to do more, faster, and with less resources. Digital workplace and real-time collaboration are the future. The opportunities are endless.

“You’re either trying to disrupt yourselves to be competitive, or your competitors are disrupting you. So you’re always in this constant state of change. So you’re trying to communicate to your audience all the time, in terms of how your product is different, and how it’s evolving, and how it’s going to be different and change[…] you need to communicate the facts to them, but you need to inspire them at the same time.” – Mike Dudgeon, LinkedIn

Making your customer engagement intelligent

There are now better tools and services to make your customer engagement more intelligent. Your business can take customer service to a whole new level. Make it interactive and show the human side of your business to your customers. You will build loyalty and trust in the process.

“What if customers interacted with company websites and applications like they do with people? That is, through conversation. Asking questions instead of clicking around for information. Making requests of the application itself instead of calling customer service or, worse, feeling frustrated and giving up.

It’s really exciting to think about. And with personal assistants like Cortana, soon to be available within Skype, this idea isn’t as futuristic as some may think.” – David Smith, Vice President, Worldwide SMB at Microsoft

Why employee empowerment matters 

Empowering employees was a key highlight at the Microsoft Envision conference. A digital workplace and real-time collaboration can significantly improve how your staff work. With cloud technology and apps, they can perform their jobs from anywhere, on any device and still deliver expected results.

Work will continue to evolve. Businesses will keep averaging new and better tools to be better and faster. Prepare your organization by investing in new skills, digital technologies and by thinking hard about how you want to restructure the way your company works. Companies that adopt and use new technology move faster and do work efficiently with even less resources.

Microsoft Envision 2017 will kick off on February 27, 2017 in Los Angeles, CA!