Why digital transformation fails at some firms

5th Sep 2016

Across industries and across the world everybody is either doing it, saying they’re doing it or bragging about how well they’re doing it. There’s no doubt that digital transformation is the current big thing.

But what does digital transformation actually look like? Many people picture organisations going away for a few months, reappearing to fanfare and crossing off “digital transformation” from its list. Others might picture the same organisation turning their entire workforce into robots. Both of these pictures, however, are far from the truth.

At the heart of this vital concept should be the re-imagining and evolution of your business model and the roles that both you and your customer play within that. It’s about understanding your customers as individuals, what they expect, how they behave and how they want to interact with you. If they are used to shopping and communicating online, why would they want to do anything different where your company is concerned?

Throughout my career, my parents have invariably been my guinea pigs for various products and services that I have been responsible for developing and marketing. They have proofread publications, they’ve mystery shopped and they have been user testing participants.

Now in their early seventies, they each own a smartphone and a tablet, they use the Internet every day and they keep tabs on me via Twitter (although Dad freely admits he has no idea what the ‘funny symbols’ mean). Therefore, as a marketing director of a holiday company, why would I assume, just because they are in their seventies, that my parents would only want to receive a hefty paper brochure in order to research and choose their holiday, or to send in a cheque when they are ready to book?

At Technology for Marketing I will be speaking about digital transformation and my experience of running a two-year programme at a well-known charity for people living with a terminal illness, and their families. I’ll talk about how important it was for us to take a user-centred approach and how we did this when we developed new tools and online support for people reliant on our hospices. I would love to see you there.

Where digital transformation fails

It’s often because companies have started with the technology and not the customer. They have applied a pressurised time period within which to ‘transform’, not appreciating that ‘transformation’ should be the new normal.

Yes, a concerted period of investment in systems and infrastructure is likely to be required, but the real transformation is cultural and ongoing. It requires a step change in our leadership approach and the way we connect our businesses and our people with our customers. Technology should be an enabler, not the driver.

Companies that are digital leaders have a strong vision and forward-thinking governance. They appreciate the need to fully engage and bring their staff with them on the journey, and are not afraid of completely re-engineering processes and procedures that inhibit flexibility, agility and customer-centricity.

Crucially, they recognise that ‘digital first’ thinking is the remit of the whole organisation, not a single individual or department. According to Capgemini/MIT research, digital leaders are 26% more profitable than their industry peers as a result (read ‘Leading Digital: Turning Technology Into Business Transformation’ for the full story).

My top 10 tips for tackling digital transformation

  1. Understand your customers. Profile your customer base and create personas so that you can ground their wants and needs in everything you do. Consider what they do for a living, what interests them, how they might use technology, what their challenges are. Validate these against ‘real’ people on your database.
  2. Understand your business. Critically evaluate where you are doing well and where there is room for improvement. Create current and ideal customer journeys for each of your personas. Where do you have gaps in the products and services you offer? How might digital help to address some of those gaps? If you are hampered by an operational process that affects the customer experience, change the process. Do the hard work so that your customers don’t have to.
  3. Tackle the areas that will bring the greatest value to your business first. Artificial intelligence, virtual reality and the Internet of Things may well be among the shiny new toys, but they are unlikely to be of any immediate relevance or commercial value to the vast majority of businesses who don’t even have a decent website.
  4. Get down and dirty with your data. Your own database holds so much value, yet it is often overlooked. You are sitting on a goldmine of insight and personalisation without necessarily even realising it.
  5. Think differently. The thing I love about digital is that it is eminently trackable, testable, optimisable and immediate. Test, learn, test, fail, learn, optimise.
  6. Work differently. I am a huge advocate of Agile software development and project management; the approach offers business teams so many useful tools to make their processes slicker and to increase agility and output.
  7. Benchmark yourself outside of your own industry. John Lewis’ ecommerce journey may be a world away from your widget business, but it’s a useful indication of what consumers are used to when they shop online.
  8. Keep it simple and relevant. Talking tech is the quickest way to unnerve and alienate non-digital colleagues.
  9. Take your colleagues with you on the journey. It’s not about systems, it’s about people. Change can be disconcerting and this shouldn’t be underestimated.
  10. The success or otherwise of transformation largely depends on an organisation’s leadership. If your structure is inhibiting your ability to transform, then change it.


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