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Passionate cloud speaker: Q&A with Arbela’s digital transformation evangelist, Tim Harris

By Sarah Morgan, Customer Success Manager, Arbela Technologies

Tim Harris, Arbela VP of Strategy

Readers who follow my blogs know I like to interview influencers and people in the know. This week I’d like to spotlight Tim Harris, VP of Strategy here at Arbela Technologies. Myself as someone who’s been through timeshare on mainframes, the bold new world of client-server and now the digital transformation in the cloud, I know it’s all about data, how quickly users can access meaningful data and how quickly that data can transform the business to profit. Of all the people I’ve met, no one can deliver the digital transformation message better than Tim Harris in a way that empowers change.

SDM: Tim, how did you find yourself in the technology arena?

TH: It started when I was a kid. I got my first programming book in the sixth grade and started programming games on a commodore C64. In High School, I went into a Communications Technology program and did my first consulting co-op placement at 16yrs old.  I’ve been working with Microsoft technology ever since.

SDM: Of all the partners you could evangelize Microsoft Dynamics for, how did you pick Arbela?

TH: Arbela always has had a reputation for phenomenal delivery. My strength is through helping companies grow rapidly and expand their technology footprint.  Collaboration, openness, and customer excellence were all key elements of Arbela that allowed us to invest and grow quickly.

SDM: Tim, when you speak, the audience is on the edge of their seats. What empowers you so strongly toward digital change?

TH: Probably because I really enjoy it.  People talk about passion a lot.  When you truly love what you do, when you are truly excited by what you are speaking about and you genuinely love to help companies distill and apply great technology & redefine business processes to transform their business – I feel fulfilled doing this.  I can say that I get as much out of the speaking engagements as the audience does, their energy drives mine.

SDM: I mentioned in my intro I’ve been around since the first mainframe was plugged in, and so have many of the Dynamics Customers in our community. What makes this change so much different than client-server and what we’ve seen in the past?

TH: It’s about rapid enablement and experimentation.  I remember being at Accenture helping Canada Post with their business transformation back in the mid 90’s.  At the time we wanted to rollout mobile delivery scanning, but the investment was expensive to purchase mobile communication servers, storage devices, heavy hardware for mobile communication just to trial the solution.  Ultimately, they moved forward with it, but in today’s world, you can dip your toes and Proof of Concept pretty much any technology very rapidly.  That’s the power of the cloud.  Not everything will be a winner, but the cost to experiment is so low – that you can rapidly test it out and move forward.  In addition, the role of IT is shifting from operational – support the infrastructure to lifting and support business process innovation. I believe this is the most exciting time in technology I have ever been a part of.

SDM: In your talks, you present the concept of maturing the organization, what examples of change need to happen for movement to the cloud?

TH: Digital Transformation is certainly enabled by technology, but culture and organizational change are the true crux of success.  Our maturity models focus not only on how technology can be leveraged to achieve the results but shifting your culture to think different and be incentivized differently.  Of course, this also takes buy-in from senior leadership and their ability to make the change culturally.

SDM: In my own research, most people are open to digital transformation, but it continues to come back to data security issues. What are real messages that board members need to hear giving them the protection they need to see to move forward?

TH: I think in the past data security was a blocker to move to cloud-based technologies, but the reality is that people are now moving to the cloud to secure their data. The DoD is on Azure Government Cloud.  Microsoft utilizes advanced AI and Threat Detection as well as remedial strategies to recovery in the case of a breach which is far more advanced than most IT departments.

SDM: There seems to be an urgency to move existing Dynamics customers to the cloud. This is a clear path for 2009 customers who are running out of time. But the 2012 community seems to be content to wait. What is your message to the CEO’s of 2012 customers who see no benefit in moving especially when they haven’t seen ROI yet on their current install?

TH: The challenge, of course, is AX 2012 R3 has an end of life in 2021.  If you are on R2 and before your expiration is 2018.  This is causing many to evaluate their migration to the cloud but more often people are desiring to move to the cloud model, so they can’t get away from the upgrade costs that come with on-premise.  It’s about enablement with the cloud – to take advantage of the ROI not only with your Business Application but your productivity tools (Office365, Power BI). The cloud allows you to share data seamlessly between these applications driving your ROI across all your Microsoft investments.

SDM: What other tools and groups here at Arbela aid the journey to digital transformation?

TH: Business Intelligence and Analytics is critical to infusing intelligence into your business processes, the other area is around collaboration tools such as Teams, SharePoint and Office365.  The real key is integrating data from all locations into the processes to make decisions more efficiently and effectively allowing for a greater customer experience.

SDM: Is there current data that shows companies who have moved to the cloud are exceeding their revenue goals?

TH: MIT has a study around digital transformation showing leaders in Digital Transformation having 9% additional revenue, 28% more profitability. 

SDM: How does digital transformation affect customer experience?

TH: I think customer experience is one of the four pillars of Digital Transformation.  Customer Experience is a true driver in today’s market.  A recent Forrester report shows 36% of companies are not yet at a level 1 maturity in Customer Experience.  This is a huge opportunity to grab market share, increase prices and retain customers more effectively.   It’s also one of the bigger cultural shifts that need to happen within a company to be truly focused on customer experience.  When you shift your focus from outside-in from inside-out, you think in your customer's terms and creating raving fans of your brand and products.  For example, we all love Amazon and the experience we get there.

SDM: It’s most exciting for me to hear you speak about AI and IOT. To me, these are the most matured concepts that really allow companies to make the brilliant process changes that take them to the next level. What can you tell us about the impact of AI and IOT on the average operations of a manufacturing company using Dynamics today?

TH: Really AI is the crux of Digital Transformation.  Enabling intelligence and embedding that into your business processes to drive decisions and provide insights in the context of that process is how you differentiate in the market.  How can I determine the right pricing, which customers are at risk of churning, how do I prioritize my leads/opportunities and focus on the deals that are most likely to close? IoT, of course, allows additional insights into your products and processes.  We break it down into three levels – Data Ingestion (IoT devices), Intelligence and Action.  By ingesting the data, we can collect from the right data sources to make decisions with intelligence and AI, based on that intelligence we can trigger an action such as dispatching a field service worker, adding an activity for a sales rep to call an at-risk client.  IoT is a game changer, in addition, the potential for new revenue lines into your business.  Only 2% of the world's data has been analyzed, by knowing the data related to your company – you can find new opportunities for growth.

SDM: Tim, my last question is, where do you get your energy? Sometimes I feel like I’m watching Tony Robbins speak when I’m in the audience. I’ve heard something about surfing? Is that your secret?

TH: I think it comes back to passion again, I knew what I wanted to do since I was very young and have been living the dream ever since.  When you love what you do, you wake up with energy and excitement.  I also have a duty to be a positive light for our 145 employees – energy and excitement is contagious, and I think you’ll find our whole team at Arbela is excited as myself to help companies grow through Digital Transformation.

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