Talk to any business leader about their priorities, and no doubt, you will hear about digital transformation strategies that aim to utilise technology across their organisations better. While that’s all well and good, it doesn’t necessarily mean their employees are on board with building a digital culture — which is what’s really going to push their business towards digital success.
As new challengers – many being savvy startups – continue to pop up and disrupt established market places by deploying new technologies quickly, this emphasis on technology is understandable. However, in their scurry to adapt, many organisations are looking at digital transformation from an inside out perspective.
At least that’s what Rana Brightman, group director, strategy at Siegel+Gale, argued when she spoke with Information Age recently. According to Brightman, phrases such as ‘we must have an app’ or ‘how can we use AI too…’ amount to putting the cart before the horse. She believes too many organisations are choosing technology before defining what their employees and customers want and need.
She said: “The conversation has to begin with employees. Whatever technology a business buys, their competitors are going to do the same. The thing that makes a business succeed is its people; they know more about customer needs and the products and services that drive engagement.
“If you really want to succeed, you have to tap into the motivations and the mindsets of your people internally and give them a role to play within the transformation.”
Are centres of excellence the way forward?
To counteract the disconnect between leadership and employees, an increasing number of organisations have established digital centres of excellence (COE). A COE is a team, a shared facility or an entity that provides leadership, best practices, research, support and training for a focus area.
While having a COE has its pros, such as showing a company’s commitment, according to Leesa Wytock, group director, experience at Siegel+Gale, they can often be misguided; she argues that they often put innovation in a box.
People (not tech) are key to digital transformation
“I’ve seen COEs fail when they are treated like fortresses of solitude, and everyone has to just go along with whatever they decide,” she said.” I think a COE can be successful in a small, iterative, agile way. That kind of COE can start to put out proof points, take on small projects, and be successful, but that COE has to be connected to other people and work alongside other teams.”
According to her, it helps to think of digital expertise as a horizontal, as opposed to a vertical. In a horizontal approach, the digital competency is embedded across functional teams that promote integration between different groups. With IT and other digital experts working alongside marketing, product owners, businesses are better positioned to think about digital solutions in the context of the whole customer experience, as opposed to a plug-it-in-and-see approach.
She added: “Ultimately, businesses need to be thinking about how they can make digital transformation not just for the IT, or the digital people. They need to think about how employees can feel like they are part of it all.”
Understanding customers and telling them you are changing
Beyond rethinking engagement with employees, digital transformation requires a renewed focus on customer experience. But where should companies start?
While this may not sound like music to the ears of business leaders, according to Wytock, customers don’t care if you are on a digital transformation, they just care about what it all means for them; what role you’re going to play in their life.
This is why she argued it is vital to invest in research that identifies genuine customer needs and then use those insights to refine and evolve the customer journey; optimising the use of digital touchpoints when they’re the best fit for delivering against those needs and preferences.