All business leaders have heard the call — and with good reason — to become ‘digital’. We’ve seen many established companies across the globe get disrupted by the likes of Lyft, Pandora, Airbnb and Purplebricks, names that showed up seemingly out of nowhere and forced companies across and beyond their sectors to sit up, take notice and reengineer themselves.
Most business leaders recognize that they need to employ a digital strategy to avoid becoming the next hapless victim of disruption. We all know what ‘doing digital’ looks like. The majority of us have actively embraced social media platforms and also taken opportunities to simplify our lives through online banking and bill payment services. As a society, we’ve embraced digital tools to replace traditional ways of working. The crux of digital transformation, however, lies in learning to go from ‘doing digital’ to ‘being digital.’
For enterprises, truly embracing digital means altogether re-imagining the traditional operating model. Consider an airline that wants to take a fundamentally different view of the experience it provides to its customers. One day, a business traveler asks a flight attendant for her favorite cup of coffee. The airline captures this preference — and many others — to build a detailed persona for the traveler. Aside from standard travel preferences — class of travel, seat type, dietary requirements — the airline builds a richer view of specific information that can help provide a delightful new experience for the frequent traveler.
Imagine the beautiful surprise when on the next trip, the traveler is collected by a limo driver who hands over a long macchiato whilst discussing the itinerary for her trip. The traveler is further delighted to find that check-in and transfer of luggage to her preferred hotel accommodation at her destination have been arranged, and that leisure activities, including gourmet dining and a golf tee time, have been pre-booked. The airline has thus delivered a truly exceptional travel and hospitality experience, one that requires a fundamental change in the airline’s business plan, enterprise architecture and operational processes.
At companies that have made the leap from ‘doing digital’ to ‘being digital’, contextually-relevant, hyper-personalized experiences, agility, mobility and social linkages tend to continue across all stages of the customer journey. On their part, customers can easily differentiate between companies that embrace digital as part of their DNA and those that have thrown together a mixed bag of digital experiences in a bid to go digital.
Who should be in the driver’s seat?
Digital endeavors require a centralized effort, but cannot be the responsibility of a single team. However, adopting a digital mindset can only happen with active sponsorship from senior-level executives, including the CEO.
Companies looking to grow as digital businesses often start with smaller digital initiatives in various parts of the organization. These initiatives are not run-of-the-mill projects. Instead, they require new thinking around implementation and ROI analysis, outside the usual framework of annual budget cycles, making it vital for the CEO to be fully on board.
Digital transformation efforts that are led exclusively by the CMO or CIO often fall short of addressing transformational needs across the business, as they fail to prevent insular, departmental or divisional agendas from overtaking the enterprise digital mandate. The most holistic transformations can take place by creating a focused organizational unit to drive the digital agenda in collaboration with all functions across the organization.
Use a human lens for digital success
For companies looking to drive meaningful change, it’s important to make sure that any initiative is aligned with changing industry dynamics and the shifting needs of their customers. In this case, ethnographic research can provide useful insights into the type of new experiences that different types of customers will respond to. Such insights can make the difference between success and failure of a new product launch. They can also be used to start the important work in re-thinking the company operating model and enterprise architecture.
Don’t change. Evolve
Growing into digital maturity — from ‘doing’ to ‘being’ — is a process of evolution, encompassing experiments and failures. The transformation might start at the periphery of the organization, but ultimately redefines the enterprise. Companies intent on success must foster behavior that encourages difficult questions, challenges industry norms, and looks beyond organizational boundaries.
Companies must continue to build or leverage external capabilities in ethnographics, data sciences, automation and artificial intelligence to become digital. The reward for doing so is to put the company on a new path to sustained customer loyalty and trust and thus, higher revenues, better reputation and higher employee satisfaction.