Is your business embracing #DigitalTransformation or facing #DigitalDeadlock? by James Coughlan

There’s an ever-increasing trend nowadays to put focus on the ultimate ‘buzzword’ – DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION. I often share or post articles on the subject, but I’ve never actually put down my own personal experience and recommendations on the subject matter. So here it goes…

My career story to-date spans Telco, Retail, Start-up and the quite often highlighted example of failure to see change coming, the Music Industry. I’ve been privileged to work with some remarkable individuals at every organisation and have always made the effort to cross paths with those who have left a lasting impression, the ones who I believe share the same values and remain hungry for positive change, whatever the challenge faced, no matter the industry.

There are many shared challenges faced by CEO’s and Board of Directors on all sides of the globe. Quite often publicised are the top down digital success stories, focussed on the appointments of individuals resulting in drastic short-term transformative changes. Absolutely, solid leadership and a strong voice for change is important for every company taking digital seriously, particularly when facing some of the biggest changes in a generation. Very little focus, however, is spent highlighting the ground up scenarios that I believe will leave a long-term, positive influence for many.

No elephant in the room here, Digital Transformation comes at a price, both on cost and the risk associated with embracing new technologies, new processes, new partners - oh and the disagreements you face with those stakeholders who will push back telling you“but we’ve always done things this way…”. To succeed, you have to push past the noise and remain solutions focussed throughout. To successfully transform your business, quite simply you’ve got to be ready to roll up your sleeves and work hard to install confidence throughout the chain of command. Otherwise, your digital strategy simply loses momentum.

I’m going to highlight areas of focus which I believe are relevant to businesses of any size, any industry - with a shared digital transformation goal. Success in digital doesn’t require you to necessarily have multi-million-pound budgets at your disposal, pulling together the right resource and ensuring budget allocation to review and re-establish these areas should give you a pretty healthy start.

KPI’s and Data: Key Performance Indicators are still the vast majority of Board Pack highlights - an increasing number of Board members are seeking clarity on how a business can or should measure customer habits across new technologies. New ways to analyse market segmentation, how multiple business case decisions requiring a fast turnaround to leap the competition, can be assessed. And the correlation and growth opportunity between offline to online and partner channel marketing vs the aspiration to win back margin through direct sales.

First and foremost, your KPI’s and ability to measure these accurately cannot change overnight. Making sure you have the resource in place to regularly analyse and monitor your businesses Data Capture Architecture is critical. At a time where an ever-increasing number of new world marketers enter your business, bringing with them the innovation that was asked, then unless you’re able to measure these indicators of success (ROI to most) - it will result in frustrations and inevitable delays.

On the Data side, if you have a business in the EU - by now you should be well informed and equipped for GDPR / PSD2 directives. With Data Protection and your in-house Data Officer firmly in situ, you should be thinking about how to fully utilise the realms of personal data to deliver well-targeted campaigns. Personalisation through advanced analytics and artificial intelligence is very real and if you haven’t already got a SWOT analysis in-play, then I strongly advise you do.

It’s much better to know your customer, rather than to think you know your customer.

Customer Experience, Design and Journey: Dare I say it, but you’d think gone are the days when building a website required highly trained developers and designers - heck, you can buy a domain and publish your own ‘site’ in a matter of minutes, right? Well, if you believe this, then it’s probably well reflected in your online customer experience.

I couldn’t tell you the number of meetings, workshops etc. where I have heard “We need an app!!”…“We just need a better e-commerce website”…“We really need to sell in more countries, like now!”… more times than not, I agreed with what was being asked. However, I still think there's a lack of appreciation of what is required to deliver a consistently modern and inspirational online destination for any business or service. One that strikes a balance across all customer devices, is functionally fit for agile development and aimed at giving the customer what they want, when they want it, wherever they may be.

Getting the right resource, be it internal or external is crucial for delivering an always-on optimal customer experience. This can take time - it takes knowledge, experience and understanding to ensure a business is underpinning foundations for a future destined for regular change cycles in technologies, customer habits and interactions. I fully appreciate that during this time, it can be frustrating for many whilst such critical decisions are looming. The internal vs external weigh up can quite often feel non-productive, but when the Customer is the lifeline to your business, many will understand the importance of getting it right.

Walking in the customer's footsteps is one thing, keeping them on the right path at every juncture builds up confidence and satisfaction.

Structure / Support for Change / Team Building: One of the most common challenges for getting a digital strategy moving is having legacy company structures in play. The fine line of responsibility between your traditional Marketing Lead and the Digital Lead; the unchartered territory where your IT Lead isn’t happy that new technologies are being reviewed, unbeknown to them and surely this will only bring about disruption. Not to mention for the global enterprises out there, having a territory or group of territories pushing for digital change or in-fact leading the charge, just presses all the wrong buttons. HR is merely left scratching their head.

With the political roadblocks in place, by the time this all eventually finds its way to the Boardroom, fifty percent are in favour of change and the others believe it’s not necessary…‘at this time’. Welcome to Digital Deadlock.

First things first, a business needs alignment at a Board / Senior Level that Digital First is a strategic priority and everyone needs to sign-off on this. There is absolutely no point putting a Digital Lead in place, be it temporary or permanent or reporting to the CEO / Board, unless everyone is singing from the same sheet. Of course, there are cases where individuals / agencies have influenced change in the short-term, but for the long-term, you need everyone from the ground-up on board. If you want to swiftly identify the digital naysayers, ask yourself - can Digital Transformation succeed through self-fulfilled glory hunters or by survival of the fittest?

Now that you have a Digital Lead in place, businesses should also ask themselves - is having the Digital Lead reporting to the CEO enough?

In 2018, probably not. Having a voice for change on the Board is crucial, in my opinion. Communication is key and never more so than when your business is embarking on such a mammoth task for positive change. Board members want to understand, be confident and measure the digital force now at play and this will often help alleviate any loss in digital translation.

Change Management is often considered when it comes to Digital Transformation, the timing of this activity is impeccable - be open to the fact that in this day in age you can work as a matrix organisation, combined of freelancers and agencies, that complement in-house lead talent.

As a result of embracing digital, quite often it can seem as though many changes are being concluded behind closed doors. This makes many individuals across the company nervous. One area that cannot be overlooked is regular team building sessions. This is a great opportunity for the Digital Lead to present the latest ideas, innovation, plans etc. and open it up for all colleagues to put forward their ideas and feedback. This is a great way to manage expectations, take questions and explore ideas outside of those directly responsible. OK, for some businesses this presents a challenge to be in the same place, at the same time on a regular basis - but this is digital transformation, right? There should be no excuse not to invest in a simple internal facing mechanism for such purpose. Intranet plugins, web forums and even simple online surveys are readily available. Believe it or not, a former member of my team once built me an app beta, just so they could share ideas as close to the real thing!

In my view, no idea is too small when it comes to exploring digital change for a brighter future, in any business.

Whilst there are still many areas of Digital Transformation, for example, Digital Marketing, Content Management Systems, IT technologies, Internet of Things etc. which I haven’t highlighted in detail here, for me it’s about giving back some key pointers for consideration. This could be relevant to those starting out or indeed already on a journey to long-term planning for Digital.

At a time when many industries are facing regular criticisms for lack of digital innovation, more than ever business leaders seek certainty for where big investment focus should be next. We live in a world where some Boardrooms (individuals) believe they are at the forefront of digital transformation, some are at the exploratory stage and some still licking wounds for choices they wish they had of made sooner. What we can be sure of, is that digital transformation continues to evolve; there’s room for all businesses ready to embrace change - undoubtedly this topic is not going anywhere, anytime soon.

James Coughlan.

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James Coughlan is an entrepreneurial leader with a wealth of experience in digital leadership, e-commerce, end-to-end customer experience, media and content, mobile, commercial marketing and of both owning and consulting PE & VC backed startup's in the consumer technology, retail and entertainment space.

He has an exceptional track record in delivering business growth strategies through innovative digital transformation, sales, customer-centric product/brand positioning and demand generation across international markets. He has worked with organisations including HMV Retail and Soniqplay on digital transformation projects.