“We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months,” said the head of Microsoft, Satya Nadella, back in April 2020. Since that seminal moment when the world locked down in the face of the Covid pandemic, this digital acceleration has only continued, as companies sought to accommodate fundamental changes to their customers’ behaviour.
It has now become amply clear that those customers were changing not only the way that they shopped and used services, but also the way they looked at the world. According to a 2021 report by the consultancy Accenture, the pandemic compelled consumers – en masse – to shift their expectations more rapidly and completely than at any other time in history. The report included the results of a survey of more than 25,000 consumers across 22 countries, half of whom said they felt the pandemic had caused them to re-evaluate what is important to them in life, and that they would abandon brands that didn’t support their new values.
All of this has upped the ante for today’s corporations. Not only do they need to progress quickly along the road of digital transformation, catering for customers who demand services whenever and wherever they need them – they also have to ensure that their values are aligned with those of their customers, and indeed of their employees. As a result, they’re looking at their suppliers in a very different way.
“There’s been a seismic change,” says Mike Smith, director of large enterprise and public sector at Virgin Media O2 Business. “Businesses now expect far more from a provider than just supplying a technology solution. For us, it’s about being a consultative partner who will help them innovate and push the boundaries of what their business is capable of through their connectivity.” This means not just offering new solutions, such as 5G or the Internet of Things (IoT) to create a seamless online experience for customers, he says, but it’s also about sharing customer goals. “It’s no longer enough just to ‘do business’ – when customers now expect more from their digital partner. The success of their goals is our success.”
In order to adapt to these new expectations, Virgin Media O2 Business has reimagined the standard service level agreement signed by large enterprise or public sector customers, in the form of what it calls the Success Agreement. “We’ve essentially created a whole new way of working together built on partnership, flexibility and a commitment to the customer’s success,” says Smith.
Once a customer has entered into an agreement to integrate one of a range of specified services, Virgin Media O2 Business will work closely with them to define a set of objectives based on the customer’s business goals. After six months, if those goals aren’t being met, a C-suite-led success board will be on hand to work closely with the customer’s senior leaders to help get things back on track. In addition, it will reimburse a part of the monthly charge paid for the relevant service in the previous six months. And that will continue for up to a year until the goals are met.
This strategic goal-focused digital transformation creates opportunities for partners to set objectives and create results that go deeper and further. Smith cites a project with the Northumbrian Water Group (NWG), an organisation set on becoming “the most digital water company in the world”.
At the time, Martin Jackson, NWG’s head of strategy and enterprise architecture, said: “As part of that, we were looking for a new breed of partner. We wanted somebody that would invest time coming into our business. Digital isn’t just about the technology – it’s about the culture, the people, understanding the outcomes that we want to deliver, working on how we deliver information to our guys in the field, allowing people to work more flexibly.”
The partnership focused on transforming NWG’s digital infrastructure, improving efficiencies and developing new ways of working and communicating. In pure technology terms, that meant a unified vision incorporating fixed phone lines, a mobile network and wifi, together with a cloud solution to support IoT. Added to all that was the adoption of artificial intelligence and machine learning, enabling NWG to detect leaks and even predict them before they happen.
The multiple benefits of an innovative connectivity programme can also be found as part of the seven-year project to create four connected “factories of the future” for British Sugar, with two in Norfolk, and one each in Suffolk and Nottinghamshire. The project is providing a multi-site private 4G network (the first of its kind in the UK) that will enable IoT, robotics and automation. The private network has been designed to be easily upgradable to 5G.
According to Smith, it will help revolutionise British Sugar’s production processes and increase productivity and efficiency. It also aims to improve the health and safety of employees by enabling the deployment of technology such as drones that can cover a large area, and monitor tall structures such as silos and lime kilns remotely and safely.
“This is a significant step for British manufacturing as a whole,” says Smith. “Private networks like this are a big part of building the connected factories of the future.”
Recent research with Censuswide found that only a third of senior IT managers at large organisations believed they were getting enough flexibility from their connectivity providers. Meanwhile, research by Virgin Media Business Wholesale found that (pdf) 33% of organisations feel their relationship with their partner is purely transactional.
“Digital transformation is a huge undertaking, and we believe the Success Agreement gives customers the flexibility they need, while also minimising the cost and sharing the risk,” says Smith. “It’s time for organisations to expect more from their suppliers – in every way.”
It’s time to expect more
To find out about how your organisation can benefit from challenging the status quo on service and redefine what ‘partnership’ means, discover the Success Agreement from Virgin Media O2 Business