Five concepts a CEO needs to understand before embarking on a digital transformation journey
In a world full of disrupted business models and endless technological possibilities, customer expectations and solving customer pain points are still the main drivers for engaging in digital transformation.
Digital transformation is the integration of digital technology into all areas of a business, resulting in fundamental changes to how businesses operate and how they deliver value to customers. Embarking on a digital transformation journey can be challenging. With digitalization comes the rise of trends such as Industry 4.0, the Internet of Things (IoT), machine learning, robots, B2B ecommerce, and cloud computing.
Change is propagated by rapidly evolving customer expectations, connected devices, and technology improvements in neighbouring industries in the supply chain. Take the manufacturing industry, for example: digital transformation is not just about automating the assembly line or better analyzing existing data — it involves a change in mindset and approaches, and new ways of problem solving.
1. In simple terms, what is digital transformation?
Executives have come to disdain digital transformation as a concept because its meaning has been rendered nebulous from overuse.
You can blame heads of IT who use it as a euphemism for modernization — including migrating from legacy systems (traditional on-premise BI) to cloud software — or vendors who have abused the term when marketing their solutions designed to satisfy every IT leader’s requirements.
Bottom line, digital transformation doesn’t come in a box — or a cloud.
The MIT Sloan Management Review found that, digitally speaking, more mature businesses are focused on integrating digital technologies — such as social platforms, mobile, web, IoT, cloud computing, analytics, and AI — in a data-driven culture when aiming to transform how their businesses work. Less digitally mature businesses, however, tend to focus on solving precise business problems with individual technologies.
“Digital transformation marks a radical rethinking of how an organization uses technology, people, and processes to fundamentally change business performance.”
– George Westerman, MIT principal research scientist.
Digital finds its fullest potential in profound transformations, ones that necessarily exploit opportunities in every area of the organization. These transformations can change some or all areas of a business model: customer relationships, product and service offerings, sales and marketing channels, operations, finance, and even the organizational structure itself.
In other words, digital transformation is the process of using digital technologies to create new — or modify existing — business processes, culture, and customer experiences to meet changing business and market requirements. This reimagining of business in the digital age is digital transformation.
2. What role does data really play?
According to an article published by Gartner in 2019, fewer than 50% of documented corporate strategies mention data as a fundamental component for delivering enterprise value.
Companies like Amazon, Google, Facebook, Netflix and Uber have shown that treating data as a strategic asset, agnostic of technology, can allow an organization to perform better than its competitors. In this post-COVID-19 world, where many organizations are accelerating their digital transformation initiatives, being able to put data centre stage in your digital transformation strategy is key.
In the digital economy, analytics’ biggest role is to allow companies to reach their business goals with maximum efficiency and effectiveness. From a digital transformation perspective, it means that analytics should help organizations in the following primary areas:
- Reaching operational efficiency by measuring and analyzing key business processes to find opportunities through automation or reengineering;
- Better understanding their customers to identify ways of attracting and retaining the most valuable customers;
- Finding new business opportunities and new market segments, and creating new products based on customer or market needs.
3. What are the key lessons every leader must embrace to capitalize on digital disruption?
Strategy, vision, and purpose — not technology — drives transformation
Albert Einstein is reputed to have said,
“Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it; he who doesn’t, pays it.”
Focus and compounding actions are the two most powerful forces in the universe. In other words, the little things add up over time if you remain focused and driven towards your purpose.
Strategic discipline combines priority setting and focus with metrics to measure your achievements. The trouble is, we’re masters of the insignificant. Yet, the formula is simple: Strategy + Discipline = Results.
How do you inspire discipline across your organization in a continually changing, competitive environment, when leaders constantly face new challenges and must adapt both the organization and their leadership style to this new environment?
How can leaders develop and foster new skills within their teams to effectively guide their organizations into the future of the digital age? Read on to find out.
Digital strategy drives digital maturity
It is rare to talk about digital maturity without connecting the data and analytics maturity model of an organization. One of the obstacles to a successful digital transformation initiative is treating data and analytics in silos.
Successful companies treat data as a strategic asset. They have an organizational view of their data and analytics ecosystem, push the limits of analytics to optimize current business processes, and build new products or services. They have strong data governance processes to manage the data lifecycle. Most importantly, they hire the best talents to bring value to their data.
Thomas H. Davenport, in his book Competing on Analytics, uses the term “analytics competitors” to classify these companies. Like digital strategy, having leaders that believe in facts and data are key to undertaking digital transformation projects fueled by data. In a nutshell, you can’t be an analytics competitor if your leadership doesn’t believe in data and analytics.
Vision and purpose matter
Clear aspirations serve as a compass to guide employees as they work, especially in more cross-functional environments where they have greater decision-making autonomy. Yet, vision itself may not be sufficient; organizations need to strongly engage their people in owning and then fleshing out that vision, in addition to strong governance. Providing vision and purpose in a digital world does not require in-depth technical knowledge, but it does require basic digital literacy so that a leader can sufficiently understand the environment to develop that vision.
The digital world demands and enables collaboration beyond functional boundaries
In our experience, the biggest barriers to collaboration across functional boundaries are primarily culture, mindset, and silos. The digital world both demands and enables collaboration beyond simple intra-organizational communication.
Most of us work in teams organized around functions. Different departments have clear boundaries of what they work on. This functional-based structure means your teams are responsible only for small sections of the overall customer journey and, thus, they have to negotiate with and influence other departments to make holistic improvements.
While this functional structure might make sense internally, it can fail to produce a cohesive customer experience. One way to tackle this is cross-functional teams organized around the customer (journeys or segments).
The digital agenda is led from the top
Organizations are nearly twice as likely to succeed when they have a single person or group leading the effort. In addition, employees in digitally mature organizations are highly confident in their leaders’ digital fluency. Digital fluency, however, doesn’t demand mastery of the technologies. Instead, it requires the ability to articulate the value of digital technologies to the organization’s future.
Employees want to work for digital leaders
Employees of all age groups will be on the lookout for the best digital opportunities, and businesses will have to continually up their digital game to retain and attract them. Empowering people to think differently can be a key differentiator. It involves knowing not only what employees see as possible, but also what customers expect, and being prepared to respond accordingly. Both B2B and B2C customers want to consume differently; that is, they want more cost value and experience value. Effective digital leaders need to not only cast a vision, but also foster inclusive leadership.
Developing talent is as important as reducing the risk of losing it
It’s no longer acceptable to tolerate skill gaps. Organizations must be able to build the necessary skills to capitalize on digital trends. Perry Hewitt, chief digital officer at Harvard University, says agility is more important than technology skills. In the future, we will see the automation of more jobs, including customer service, data entry, and other middle-income administrative positions. At the same time, automation will increase demand for workers who possess a new blend of skills, many of which are in short supply today.
Taking risks becomes a strength
Digitally savvy organizations are more comfortable taking risks. To make organizations less risk-averse, business leaders have to embrace failure as a prerequisite for success. Creating conditions to experiment and exhibit curiosity is the biggest success factor, as well as the biggest challenge organizations face. No one fully understands how the digital environment will evolve. To keep up with digital trends and figure out how they apply to your business, experimentation is essential.
4. What are the benefits of data modernization within a digital transformation context?
With the explosion of cloud-based solutions (Amazon, Azure, Google, etc.), the terms “data modernization” and “data warehouse modernization” have been used frequently to refer to the migration from traditional BI (on-premise) to cloud-based data platforms. It is a given both that technology is an important element of digital transformation and that cloud computing is a critical component on the list of technologies that you will likely use in your digital transformation efforts. As a concrete example, take a look at the partnership between Deutsche Bank and Google Cloud Platform to foster digital transformation in banking.
The biggest financial advantage of cloud computing is cost savings. Basically, companies that are migrating to the cloud are benefiting from an economy of scale from their cloud partners. It is translated by a cost reduction related to the acquisition and maintenance of the IT infrastructure. In most cases, migrating your data warehouses to the cloud will have financial benefits (cost savings). This said, there are other notable benefits to data infrastructure modernization for a business:
- Automation of data operations (migration, transformation, storage, etc.) to gain efficiency
- Easy ingestion of structured (transactions) and unstructured data (text, videos, images) to engineer more sophisticated data sets to differentiate yourself from the competition
- Faster generation of actionable insights for better decision-making
- Self-serve and embedded analytics to empower your internal data consumers across departments and free your data scientist to work on more complex business questions
- Easier road to augmented analytics with the use of AI and machine learning
- Analysis of real-time data to monitor live events
- Flexibility and ability to scale
5. Why are data and the customer lifecycle important in digital transformation?
As stated earlier, Strategy + Vision + Purpose drive digital transformation. In this competitive business environment, bringing value to customers is an important rationale fuelling digital transformation initiatives.
To bring value to your customers, a good understanding of your customers’ journey and lifecycle is necessary.
The customer journey covers your customers’ touchpoints and behaviours when accomplishing specific tasks. It is heavily linked to the customer experience discipline. The goal is to make sure that interactions with your brand are smooth and satisfying for your customers.
The customer lifecycle is more related to the business relationship that you have with your customers. The goal here is to increase the potential value of these customers by acquiring the right ones and retaining them as long as possible — the hypothesis being that they will spend more money on your products and services.
The two concepts are complementary, so mapping each phase of these processes is a must. The customer lifecycle spans over months and years, depending on your industry. It involves all of the key activities critical for any business: attracting, converting, and retaining customers. Data is a foundational component to understand, measure, and optimize all the processes supporting customer journey and lifecycle activities.
The rise of cloud analytics, artificial intelligence, and robotic process automation presents a unique opportunity for customer-driven organizations. With the right strategy, the right team, the right processes, and the right technology, these organizations can gain a competitive edge during their digital transformation endeavours.
Digital strategies go beyond the technologies themselves. The digital revolution is transforming every facet of our society, creating new opportunities and challenges, while fundamentally altering the way we work, live, and interact.
Acceptance is the first step towards a digital journey: digital enables improvements in innovation, decision-making and, ultimately, transforms how businesses work. Reaching digital maturity requires a rotation of mindset, understanding, skills, and business practices. Many organizations will have to change their cultural mindsets to increase collaboration, and encourage the embrace of analytics and the use of data in decision-making and processes.
Bottom line, digital is everyone’s business — and not just the responsibility of the technology team. Therefore, the development of a digital transformation journey is less about pursuing every available opportunity, but rather focusing on the right areas that will deliver positive impacts for solving customer pain points and, ultimately, drive long-term value for a business.