In recent years, at the mere mention of the phrase ‘digital transformation’, organisations have poured funds into technology-led solutions in an almost Pavlovian response. The eye of the enterprise invariably– and understandably– shifts to these signature projects, whilst the wider organisation is left to flounder, under-funded. Often the impact is underwhelming. Sometimes, it is worse than that.
As a marketing, brand and digital expert, I have spent some time trying to pinpoint why digital transformation efforts fall short so often. I believe it is a simple issue of interpretation – or rather a misinterpretation.
The word ‘transformation’ conjures up grand, blue-sky designs of a truly unshackled change of state. Literally from one form into something entirely different. Yet ‘digital’ immediately brings everything to focus on specific technological efforts and outcomes aimed at enabling a business and its customers with new tools to achieve more.
There is no reason this could and should not be part of the solution. But in order to understand the potential of digital transformation in full, I believe the word ‘digital’ should be seen not as the ‘what’ but as the ‘why’.
In other words, ‘digital’ should refer not to the end result but to the root cause of this transformational need; the technologies customers today use in their everyday lives have empowered and inspired them to the extent that they now expect an entirely new, improved experience from the business in question.
The ‘transformation’ created in response may well be digitally-led, but no digital solution can act in isolation in meeting these complex, evolved needs. True transformation cannot be realised in just one dimension.
Digital transformation, therefore, is not solely a digital endeavour. It is a far-reaching, cross-functional, enterprise-wide initiative that leaves no stone unturned and reimagines every element of the business and brand in the context of its connected customer.
From product to people, process to experience and technology, all aspects of the business must be engaged, evaluated and recalibrated with the needs of this ‘always-on’ customer serving as the compass. A key asset in this process is brand, as this can and should tether a business and all its constituent parts to that customer’s needs and expectations.
So when turning to technology investment, the voice of the customer must be paramount. All too often, in an effort to align organisational agendas, companies settle for sub-standard solutions that work best for the business rather than that customer. Ease of integration, process complexity and price should be part of the evaluation criteria in procuring IT solutions, but the lead concern must be meeting customer expectations, almost whatever the cost.
So, successful digital transformation is customer-led rather than digitally-led. In fact, I would suggest customer-centric transformation would perhaps be a more accurate and useful term. With this as the goal, organisations would have carte blanche to re-evaluate every single aspect of the business – technological or otherwise – asking just one simple question at every step: ‘How can we improve our connected customer’s experience here?’
So where does this leave organisations that choose to focus on purely digital solutions to bring about a so-called transformation? They will duly build a set of new services that, at one end at least, begin to meet the needs of their customer. The outcome might seem like an improved proposition at first but unfortunately for that business, this outward show of progress can quickly unravel as they are simply opening up new routes into the same old, broken business and effectively just forging shiny, new ways to disappoint their customer and disillusion internal teams.
Transformation is an excellent word. It signifies a depth and breadth and revitalization that signifies surface-level change is not enough.
But the term ‘digital’ is more than a little misleading. I contend that, ultimately, true digital transformation is not digital in its means but digital in its motivations. A definitive transformational intent – and process – should be aimed very simply at building a better business around its customer.
It sounds old-fashioned I know, but customer-centricity is timeless and will never go out of style.