“Digital” has actually been around for a long time now. The World Wide Web was invented in 1989, Google.com was first registered as a domain in 1997, the first mass market phone that had internet was sold by Nokia in 2002, Facebook was founded in 2004, YouTube in 2005… Even that last one is ten years ago now! Most companies and executives are aware that the world has changed and that we need to adjust our strategies accordingly. Hallelujah! Only the smallest, most out-of-touch companies don’t have at least a basic website, most will have some kind of social presence, and many are dabbling in mobile and various innovative projects. We’re talking about digital, we’re investing in digital… and yet something is getting in the way of true digital transformation.
This brave new world is rife with new technologies, channels and devices; the proliferation and democratisation of content; changing customer behaviours; opportunities for real-time conversations and laser targeting; and lots and lots of data. To respond to and take advantage of these changes, we need to be fast and agile, collaborating across functions and integrating channels, “always on” – and it’s here that we come up against some difficulties. We may talk the talk of “digital first”, our top executives may come back from Silicon Valley with thoughts of Instagram and QR codes… but most of our organisations are simply not set up to fully embrace this not-so-new world of possibilities.
There’s a lot of data, yes, but there’s really too much – how do we analyse it? What are the key measures we should be looking at? We need to invest in new technologies, with legacy systems no longer able to cope – but which ones do we choose? Our organisations are missing the skills and require comprehensive and on-going training programmes to keep on top of ever-evolving digital landscape. There are cultural issues: resistance to new approaches, concerns about threats to existing power structures, risk aversion on entering unfamiliar territory. We continue to work in siloes, having never previously had to cooperate closely across teams and departments as we now need to in order to created integrated and multi-channel experiences. And we lack the processes, the organisational set-up, to address these new challenges in an effective and efficient manner.
So who should drive this transformation effort, creating not just a vision and a strategy but the operational structures and systems to make it all happen? The marketing function has a huge role to play here, but so far we’ve been mostly focused on delivering digital campaigns and customer experiences, failing to look beyond this fancy façade to the bigger picture of fundamental restructuring of the organisation and perhaps even of the business model itself. We’ve been busy with the WHAT – the strategy, the campaign, the tools – while ignoring the HOW. Without that ‘how’, without the processes and systems to support the ‘what’, progress will be slow, fragmented, and resource intensive as digital efforts are manual and often duplicated in different areas of the organisation, as we retain a campaign mindset rather than thinking about ‘always-on’, and ultimately as we simply cannot get anywhere close to the potential of what this digital world has to offer.
Thinking about the ‘how’ means asking ourselves: What capabilities do we need in order to support our strategy? What resources, and with which skill sets? How should we adapt our internal training programmes? What should we outsource and what can we bring in house? What new processes are required? What does success look like and how will we measure it? How do we drive adoption and manage resistance to these changes? How will we keep the key stakeholders engaged? How much budget is needed? Answering these questions will help to engage and enable the organisation in a common vision with clear standards and best practices, adequate resources, and the necessary skills to make that vision a reality.
A strategy without the frameworks and processes to support it will remain a theoretical concept: a beautiful one, perhaps, in a lovely PowerPoint deck of 50 slides with pictures and everything, but one that will never be implemented in the real world. A strategy on its own will never be enough.