Making a total digital transformation -- one step at a time

Every business is ripe for disruption as these two thermostats illustrate. Credit: Photo Credit: Acarlos1000 on Flickr. Used under CC 2.0 license

Imagine you woke up one day and were told everything you think you know about how to run your business is wrong -- from sales to marketing right down to the way you run your IT department. Everybody told you that young, agile competitors had your business in their sights, and you needed to rethink the way you run your entire business to remain competitive and viable. 

That is essentially what's happening today.

Digital transformation and disruption is having an impact on every aspect of business and business leaders across every sector have to come to grips with this and begin to steer their companies in new directions to stay competitive.

It's daunting when you consider it all at once, but experts this week at Digital Pulse in Boston suggested that by taking a steady, methodical approach, you can move your business where it needs to go. But one thing is certain: You need to be doing something.

We've all heard about disruption by now, and the ability to form entirely new companies on the fly using cloud services with much less up-front investment. Just last week, we heard Gartner say every company is going to be an IT company. What they mean is every company has to have digital transformation at the center of its strategy to survive and thrive in the future.

Time to redesign your company?

At Digital Pulse, Razorfish CTO Ray Velez outlined five ways to get your company through a transformation including knocking down silos, forming cross-functional teams, making your brand a service, acting like a start-up, and embracing diversity.

Credit: CanStockPhoto
Business need to adapt very quickly to changes brought on by digital transformation.

Sure, all those things are easy to say in a speech or write in a blog post, but in most organizations trying to achieve just one of those things is going to take a major cultural shift.

Most companies aren't ready for this level of change. They still think of sales leads in the same way they always have, and do marketing according to a carefully crafted plan. But customers have different expectations and they want to be part of the conversation. They don't want you jabbering at them. They want you talking to them.

That means you have to think of new ways to interact with them to get them excited about your products and services. You have to create brand ambassadors to carry your message for you and you need to engage with them in real time, online where they live. You have to get to know them, and not in a creepy "we know all about you way," but in a way that shows you know who they are and you recognize them as a valuable customer .

IT will not escape

Meanwhile, the role of IT is changing too. Gartner has predicted that by 2017, the CMO will have a bigger technology budget than IT. The digital transformation we hear about is rolling through the marketing department. But while we hear about this marginalization of IT, we see complex systems involving multiple tools and integration with a variety of back-end systems. 

We hear that tools will be easy to use and marketing can hit the ground running, yet we see a reality where IT still will play a huge role in how this all works together. It has to.

Yet IT is facing its own levels of disruption as the cloud, social, mobile, consumerization. and bring your own device all have varying levels of impact on how IT does its job and interacts with the organization.

While IT is reeling through these changes, marketing and sales are just as confused by them. And your management? They have to find a way to lead you through all this, while pleasing shareholders and dealing with the political realities such widespread change can bring in an organization.

But wait: There is good news

The good news is that everyone is facing these monumental changes, so making that transformation first could give you a competitive advantage. Yet the shift to digital business is so all-encompassing, so daunting, and so disconcerting that it's enough to make you throw up your hands and give up regardless of your role. 

Robert Rose, a consultant at Digital Clarity Group says it's a mistake to think you have to do it all at once. While Rose believes that companies need to find ways to transform marketing, sales, and IT to meet this new level of competition and this new way of doing business, he suggests everyone take a deep breath.

"Build change one house, one grid, one neighborhood at a time and it can really work." Rather than looking at this as entire organizational transformation, pick one area and work on that. Maybe it's something you as an individual can directly control, rather than a huge companywide initiative, but it's important for each person to start somewhere.

Martin Coady, who is Managing Director of Technology at VML, a digital ad agency that helps clients navigate this type of transformation, says it takes a detailed roadmap. As you reach certain milestones, you move to the next one, one step at a time. He says his company literally makes detailed charts and shares them with customers to help them move through this process. If the C suite buys in, it makes it so much easier because there's authority behind the change, which can smooth political battles.

One quick example

As proof these transformations can be incremental, one Digital Pulse speaker, Andrew Davis, author of Brandscaping, told a story about how Dominos Pizza has transformed the mundane task of pizza ordering into a fun buyer experience with the pizza tracker. Suddenly, you can see who is making your pizza, when it goes in the oven, when the driver gets in the car and the name of your driver.

Instead of a black box, it's a personalized experience and it's having an impact. People are tweeting about their pizza makers and their delivery people. They are greeting the driver by name when he or she arrives at the door. They feel a part of the experience and it has changed the relationship with the customer simply by putting the customer at the center of the process. It's simple, digital, transformative and brilliant.

Don't forget, people are at the center of this change

Make no mistake, this is a very people-centric process. While technology can help get you where you want to go, it can't take the human element of emotion out of the process. People are going to be upended by such a complete process of change.

It's going to be confusing. People will get upset. Some will refuse to believe the change is happening. They will try to resist in direct and indirect ways, but the way we do business is really changing and people have to understand it will take new ways of working. 

You may look at all of this and roll your eyes and dismiss it as just more buzzwords or just another business guru with the latest business approach, but it's more than that. There are real trends out there happening right now and as a business you need to begin to look at where yours fits into the change, and how you can begin that transformation.

The digital reality is here, so you need to start rebuilding your company's processes and business practices around that change. It may as Rose suggested not happen all at once, but it needs to happen -- and even if it's just one step at a time, you need to take that first step and get started. 

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