What is Digital Transformation?
Regardless of your industry, company size or revenue, it seems organizations across the board are more alike than you’d think. At least that’s what we’ve discovered in working with our wide range of clients. The common denominator: Organizations become paralyzed by the challenge of adapting to the new realities of today’s digital landscape. The ability to adapt quickly to this disruptive environment and align all business units effectively is what we call Digital Transformation.
Yes, we know, Digital Transformation means something different to each person - we even tested this by asking a number of the attendees from Forrester’s CX West forum this past November in Anaheim. No answer was the same.
The term has taken many forms across all industries, usually beginning with a realization that “something is happening with our users” and quickly projecting itself into the reality of a need to change. From that need comes a series of actions or projects that transforms an experience and then a determination to recognize and try to document a way forward. Having dealt with all these layers and stages of activity, we refer to this digital transformation as the pursuit of employing digital technologies that connects companies to their users in ways that create a critical business advantage.
This type of connection with users was simply not possible in the past and goes well beyond an opportunistic “me too”. The transformation of an experience in the digital sense - Digital Transformation - describes a specific reality or way of life for an organization. It’s the sum of everything and everyone in an organization acting in a capacity that changes realities and eventualities for their customers by changing the rules.
Digital Transformation is an enterprise ecosystem that exemplifies collaborative innovation, embraces change, rewards critical thinking, and rallies around a common vision.
It isn’t easy… but it isn’t meant to be. Let’s boil it down.
Building a simple website, tossing an app into the marketplace - it was fun while it lasted, but it doesn’t work that way anymore. An organization’s digital experience is now being compared across industries, social circles, devices, and under a much quicker timeframe of expectation. Many organizations, both big and small, were surprised by the speed of change and the expansion of influences they were being compared against.
Organizations hit the accelerator and responded rapidly with a multitude of applications, front ends, and experiences, often with redundant or conflicting goals. These efforts were created and launched with skill-sets based in a non-mobile, internally-focused workplace, usually taking only cursory glances at customer needs and expectations. This reaction has created a digital bird’s nest that is filled with risk, maintenance headaches, and a customer experience morass.
Hate to say it but, much of the cause of the digital bird’s nest is due to rigid organizational operation. Whether due to regulation, growth by acquisition, or plain old segmentation, many businesses operate within very rigid structures. We call these structures calcified silos. Often, communication, budgeting, and goal setting exist redundantly and independently within each silo, making comprehensive digital transformation very difficult to achieve.
As companies find themselves faced with a digital bird’s nest and calcified silos, paralysis can ensue. This paralysis creates a transformation logjam, allowing only sporadic and minor achievements through.
So, there it is. The digital bird’s nest, calcified silos, logjam - now what?
We have seen success in breaking this logjam by focusing on the age old proverb “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Here are some high level steps to get things flowing again.
Strategy initiatives don’t need to be a 600-page, 5-month slog. A quick 10,000 foot helicopter view of where you are and where you are looking to go can take as little as two weeks. This initiative does not pretend to replace teams of business analysts pouring over gigabytes of data. Instead, it often reviews existing research and data while serving to point out accessible opportunities and gain a heading for the purpose of dead reckoning.
Focus on an initiative that falls into the “low hanging fruit category” that flows across silos. The idea of this first initiative is to get the gears turning. Plan on difficult communication across those silos. Plan on friction. Set your initial sights on identifying like-minded thinkers within those silos who readily understand the impact of the logjam, enlist their domain expertise and influence to help ease the friction and enhance communication and cooperation by proselytizing a common vision. Consider initially what might be good experiments. Experiments that are clearly defined, feasible, and carry some degree of wow-factor. Then, enlist the expertise of deep domain experts from the various silos to help you refine and challenge your assumptions. In this phase, shaping ideas into worthy experiments is the objective.
Prototyping is not only a great way to get user feedback; it is a great way to gain stakeholder support while showing tangible progress. At Universal Mind we refer to this as Vision Prototyping. In this initial attempt at working across silos with your vision prototype, plan on failing fast and failing small. Learn rapidly what catches attention and passion, quickly discarding the portions that don’t add value. This rapid cycle of test/fail/reset will afford you incredible insight on what gains traction within your organization. By no means should you have only one experiment in your prototype pipeline! Hedge your bets, run multiple small experiments at this time - you may be surprised to find that the least likely candidate carries the greatest success.
When you’re ready, release your best idea effort to a small portion of the world. The idea of “go big or go home” is predicated on the idea of hope: you hope it works. We suggest working on the basis of strategy and sound advice suggests that “if you’re going to fail, fail off-Broadway”. The item you’re testing in this release is considered to be your MVP (Minimally Viable Product) and as “chance favors the prepared mind” (thank you, Louis Pasteur), your preparations at this point should prove your MVP to be just the stick of dynamite needed to remove one strategically stuck log in your logjam. Light the fuse, stand back, wait and watch.
Release your effort to the world.
Don’t be surprised if you don’t see immediate results; this logjam took years/decades to form and your experiment here is based on strategic organizational physics. Watch for leading indicators that suggest your effort carried impact. Use internal measures to see if there’s movement. Who internally is commenting, who’s complaining, what’s the downstream impact of the logs moving, has the water level upstream begun to drop - even if barely noticeable. External measures can be noted as well: what’s the reception of your change in the eyes of your customers, have any digital indicators picked up movement, increases in web traffic, comments, dwell rates, etc.
It is important to not only to measure the product’s results but measure a variety of organizational metrics. The overall goal here is to make your organization more adept at creating strong digital solutions and experiences.
The process will yield numerous learning opportunities that can help your organization see what you saw in your 10,000-foot helicopter view. It will serve as a marvelous example of how cross-disciplinary efforts can result in exceptional outcomes not by giving up group identity.
Chipping away at the logjam with a quick win is a nice start. It’s critical to find ways to make this win repeatable - where the methods to create the win become the norm. This means a parallel effort with your cross-silo collaborators to evangelize how this change came to occur. It’s especially important to ensure both leaders and customer-facing employees have a firm grasp of the change. With change comes the need for clarification and demonstration. If observers are left to make meaning of what occurred, they are sure to miss critical connections - or worse - make the wrong connections.
So, rather than thinking about this as the sixth step in the process, consider how you’ll capture and share the process from an early stage.
It doesn’t end there. The influencers and changes will keep coming from every angle: devices, culture, social, business, regulation…the constant is the consistent flow of change. Given that, prepare your organization and realize this isn’t a project, its a cultural change.
Digital Transformation sounds daunting, and it is. It takes work, but take it one step at a time. Universal Mind has a wealth of experience helping companies with digital transformation. We’ll be talking about this topic in-depth in the coming months. If you are looking to get started, or figure out the first step on your journey, let’s talk.