Earlier this year, a video telling people to put down their phones went viral. For a week or two, it was difficult to escape social media links to this poem which exhorted people to tear themselves away from their screens and experience the world around them.
The irony of the flurry of ‘likes’ and shares that it provoked was presumably not lost on the poem’s author.
The fact is that technology has fundamentally and irrevocably changed the way people experience the world – including the way they interact with businesses. The fact that they’re not going to put down their phones means that businesses need a presence on devices as much as a footprint on the high street.
Many businesses fail to develop a successful mobile or applications strategy, though almost all recognise the imperative of doing so.
>See also: Inside Macmillan’s digital transformation
Often, that’s because they do not understand that to deliver this successfully, they must undergo a digital transformation – an evolution that businesses go through to add a digital dimension to the experiences of their customers, employees and partners.
A successful digital transformation is a journey without a final destination. It requires time and effort, trial and error.
The good news is that this journey has already begun by a number of forward-looking enterprises that have shown the way to others.
There is a digital divide. In a recent poll of 200 companies across 30 industries, those who got app development right reported stronger business results over the last 12 months, had higher expectations from their digital projects, and were much more optimistic about being in a stronger competitive position in the next five years.
Businesses must never lose sight of the very simple objective of digital transformation: to enable them to engage better with its customers.
More than 60% of people have a better opinion of brands when they offer a good mobile experience. A similar proportion says they’re turned off by bad mobile websites, or would be more likely to buy from a mobile-friendly site. These demands and expectations are more nimbly met by transformed enterprises.
Netflix is a great example. The company’s ability to project its streaming content across hundreds of devices has helped it to upend established industries and cement its position as a market share leader.
The company was only able to evolve from a video rental service to a streaming platform thanks to its decision to open its data and services to outside developers and partners.
By doing so, Netflix enabled developers able to create apps for practically every media device, enabling customers to switch from TV to PC to tablet and pick up their viewing experience seamlessly and without missing a frame.
Businesses might be uncomfortable with this ‘inside-out’ approach to business. After all, enterprises have always regarded their data as their crown jewels, and guarded it jealously.
Digital transformation, however, demands that organisations share their assets with the communities that build the apps that will change their business. Those that have done this successfully understand that the only way to do this is to integrate data analytics, apps and APIs into their operating model.
The transformed business
No enterprise is an island; all are affected by progress towards a digital world. One example of this is how traditional and expensive methods of data integration are proving too rigid to cope with the rapidly changing and dynamic mobile and social app ecosystem.
The way that customers and partners interact with an enterprise has evolved dramatically, and the data they produce is much less in the control of enterprises themselves.
Traditional data management methods can’t cut it in this space. Instead, the API model provides the capability to work with these new shapes and forms of data. By using APIs, organisations can simplify their infrastructure requirements, improve the speed of data analysis, and save money.
Pearson, the world’s largest education and book publishing company, recognised the value of APIs and showed how a company can unlock its assets in a way that unleashes a digital transformation.
In September 2011, the company launched its Plug & Play platform, which grants developers access to Pearson’s vast library of content for integration into innovative apps.
This enables the delivery of Pearson’s rich content in easily consumable ways to a much broader market, while also letting the company better understand usage, manage growth, drive developer adoption, and realise new revenue opportunities.
One popular app that helps users discover top London attractions and build personal itineraries was developed by digital marketer Metia, using information from Pearson’s DK Eyewitness Guides and Pearson APIs.
Almost as important as the way that apps like these have altered Pearson’s way of doing business is the fact that they are helping transform the perception of the company, from a traditional publisher to a true innovator that is part of the digital ecosystem.
The app roadmap
It’s impossible to provide a fully formed plan for a successful digital transformation. Every business is different, and part of the joy and discovery is for businesses to make their own mistakes and engineer their own successes.
Nevertheless, successful projects share several characteristics: they have clear leadership, ask questions and set aggressive goals. They assess the competition and examine the business and technology trends in their market. They identify the key internal and external stakeholders, and establish the products and services that will bring them most benefit.
Businesses should undertake a thorough audit of their organisational structure, and it’s important that this be aligned to broader business strategy. For example, when IT can deploy new capabilities quickly, the marketing team can provide new customer experiences before competitors can.
Finally, choosing the right metrics is vital. Big transitions like this require different ways of measuring success. The research found that establishing digital investments directly to enterprise KPIs is a critical way to succeed, with the top three factors being financial success, market share and customer satisfaction.
To reiterate, digital transformation is a journey, not a destination. Like all great journeys, it should be enjoyable. Businesses will know if they are heading in the right direction if the process is exciting, enlightening and fun.
Sourced from Bryan Kirschner, director, Apigee