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Digital transformation must start with customers

20th Oct 2016
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Once again, I hand the blog baton to my PeopleTECH colleague, Maurice Vink, who has some thoughts on digital transformation to get off his chest…

Few would under estimate the importance of a business undergoing digital transformation. Digital is arguably one of the biggest disruptors to impact the business world and organisations face a stark choice – embrace digital transformation or ultimately become extinct.

But what exactly does ‘digital transformation’ entail? It is essentially a wholesale change of how a business is structured and operates, reconfigured to better suit the digital technologies that are now so prevalent.  So this isn’t a simple box-ticking exercise, something that a small team can look at and then report back saying ‘job done’.

To transform a major organisation takes time, huge resources and a cross-functional set of business skills and it is no small undertaking. One common mistake is for brands to overly focus on the technology element of digital transformation. That sounds contradictory, given that it is technology driving this change, but in actual fact, organisations should always start with their customers when embarking on digital transformation.

A change of focus, not a project with a timescale

When organisations start out on their digital transformation, it is not uncommon to set a time frame with which to complete it by. This is not wrong per se – most major projects and programmes need to be allocated cost and resources and timings are vital for such planning.

But digital transformation is not about ‘completing’ – it is an on-going process that is ultimately about cultural change, a new way of approaching things. It must involve true change at a senior leadership level and a re-evaluation of how businesses and employees are connected with customers.

A truly digital organisation will have a strong vision and an understanding and appreciation of the requirement to bring employees with them on the journey. Businesses don't generally transform by choice, because it is costly and risky. So they must also be fearless, as some processes will need to completely overhauled, and some people may not be suited to the new direction.

Understanding customers

But understanding customers and their changing requirements and behaviours is really the crux of digital transformation and there is no better starting point for any organisation embarking on that journey. Using data sets from across the business, an organisation should seek to do as much customer segmentation as possible, learning what they do, what drives them, how they use technology and how they have engaged with your company.

This information can then be used to shape the direction you take next. A smart organisation will know that digital transformation falls under the remit of the entire company, not a single department or individual within that.

Of course, technology will always play a significant role when it comes to digital transformation, particularly so when it comes to the customer experience. This is what underpins and enables an organisation’s transformation. But it is not a driver and should not be the sole or even primary focus. Customers are what dictate a direction a business is headed in, and that is why customers should always be at the heart of any digital transformation programme.

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