It continues to surprise me, here in 2014, that “Digital Transformation” is still a hot topic. We’ve lived with the internet for a solid 20 years now and it is, without a shadow of a doubt, a fundamental part of our daily lives. We meet our partners with it. We browse, research and shop with it. It entertains and educates us. There is barely a single element of our lives that it is not a part of. My five year old son navigates it’s interfaces and experiences with effortless speed and without instruction (sometimes worryingly so). So why, when even our kids are immersed in technology every day, are businesses still discussing digital transformation and why, when the rest of our lives have long been transformed by being digital, have so many companies still not?
It’s a book rather than blog sized question, but here are a few thoughts as to why:
1. You still think it’s about marketing
The web (just one part of the internet after all) was only envisaged by Sir Tim as a way of publishing contextually linked documents across a world-wide network of computers. When companies started to harness it for commercial use, it was natural that it was regarded as a broadcast medium. Since then it’s been under constant evolution. We’ve had web 2.0, where the web became an application platform to deliver services (like ecommerce). We’ve seen the rise of the social web, where people connected with people (and businesses have had to think like people to succeed). We’ve had the smartphone revolution which has put a powerful and, vitally, individually personal computer with a permanent connection to the internet in everybody’s pocket. We now see the emergence of the internet and things which connects us to our lifestyles and environments. Yet digital strategy (and, vitally, budget), is still too often confined to marketing departments and executed as an extension to the media plan. People no longer consume the web, they use it like a utility. If your digital strategy is still just focusing on broadcasting brand messages, then you’re only using a fraction of it’s potential.
2. Your IT policies are still thinking in Enterprise terms
Enterprise IT is very good at infrastructure and operations. It is, largely, useless at digital. This is because technology is only one part of being digital. This revolution has not been about platforms and systems, it’s been about people and their lives. IT does not do people very well. It does vendors and processes and governance. These things have an important part to play, particularly where security is paramount, but all too often the interfaces, services and experiences delivered across that infrastructure are crippled by design due to restrictive policies, outdated delivery processes and coding standards and long term investment whose usefulness expires almost as soon as the ink is dry on the vendor contract. If your company’s IT policies are regressive (check the version number of the corporate approved browser you’re reading this on) then you are not equipped to deal with the ongoing evolution of being digital and your customers are already enjoying better service with a competitor that is.
3. You don’t invest in research
Nobody, not even the most expensive consultants that agencies can offer, is an ‘expert’ on digital. There are no gurus. The landscape changes too rapidly. To stay ahead, one must work with the medium, be immersed in it’s culture, prototype, test, learn, implement and adapt. This does not happen in “5 year plans”. The digital landscape will be unrecognizable in 5 years. Kickstarter, Instagram, Snapchat and Whatsapp didn’t exist 5 years ago. Staying ahead in digital only happens through a constant thread of product and strategic development and the investment in this must not be on the basis of ‘projects’ but as an ongoing commitment to making full use of the opportunities that being digital presents. This also means not being afraid to make some mistakes along the way which can be a hard sell in a competitive market.
Startups can be disruptive because all they *are* is research and development. They have an idea, they build an MVP to test the validity of this idea. They release executions of this idea rapidly, learning and shaping their product according to the feedback they get from their customers and the data they generate. They are also very good at making mistakes, learning and adapting as they go. This gives them an agility that is at the core of their ability to disrupt markets.
If you spend a year planning a project before you build, that strategy will already be redundant by the time it’s ready to launch. If your strategy and technology is based on competitor analysis, particularly in the startup market, you are looking at their strategy from a year ago and are already behind the curve before you’ve started. Innovation is born not of asking your customer what they want or looking at how your competitors achieve it, but in working out what your customer needs and harnessing the technology and the medium to deliver it.
4. You’re not applying the culture of the internet to your business
The internet is not really about the technology that drives it, it’s about what people use it for. Technology is just there to help solve those problems, but the user does not and should not ever care about that (bar those of us that get excited about a point update to Android). This means that it has a cultural place in our lives. For many businesses, their engagement with culture stops at brand. Understanding the place that being digital has in our day to day lives is key to harnessing the medium effectively and this understanding must be shared all the way up to the CEO. It is no surprise to me that heavily siloed businesses are often the ones that struggle most to understand how the internet is actually used. If digital is impacting every aspect of our lives, then it should be the responsibility of every aspect of one’s business, from marketing to finance to product to customer groups to planning to technology to engage with digital projects and achieve a holistic digital vision.
In short, the world, it’s markets, it’s customers and their lifestyles have already transformed into being digital. If your business is still struggling with this revolution then you’ve got some work to do…And if you need some help, I know a 5-year-old with an iPad that’d be happy to show you the ropes!