Despite possessing slick websites, obtuse social media accounts and black turtle neck wearing digital advisers, many large companies have only so far tinkered around the fringes of digital.

The current trend by many of running digital transformation programmes demonstrates that it has finally clicked in the boardroom that the impact and opportunities presented by digital touches all parts of the enterprise.

However, effective digital transformation differs markedly from other large scale business change projects, with which most senior executives will be familiar. Digital transformation is about taking the key digital drivers that have changed radically how companies acquire, engage and support customers externally and deploy them internally, across the organisation.

Digital drivers comprise:

  • having a relentless focus on the customer
  • a business vision that embraces digital
  • and a flexible mindset, approach and organisational structure to execute it
  • Underpinning these drivers are a number of methods that have evolved out of the sharp, experimental end of rapid digital evolution in the last two decades.

The good news for companies is that these methods are now mature and ready to deploy internally. The driving mantra of digitally led business change is the need to focus ever more on the customer. However, a similar focus should be aimed at staff to support digital transformation.

Angela Ahrendts, credited with turning Burberry into the first high end, online fashion retailer and now Apple’s VP Retail and Online Stores says, “Everyone talks about building a relationship with your customer. I think you build one with your employees first.”

The digitisation of organisations has to date typically been about task automation and overhead reduction. However, if back office processes and supporting systems aren’t created with internal users in mind, staff won’t use them to full effect, resulting in lower productivity.

By using internally, some of the digital methods that have evolved to better understand and support customers externally, digital transformation will not only drive the system and organisational change required but will also create a more satisfied and engaged workforce.

This is good for staff and good for the company’s bottom line. The now established digital techniques, matured in delivering external facing services, but to be used internally as part of digital transformation, are:

Focus on analytics – make user behaviour of internal systems and processes, part of your management information and use this to improve staff experience and performance.

We now know more about user behaviour online, but also have the capability to understand more about how staff operate internally. Many business systems vendors have learned from digital about the importance of collecting data on user behaviour, making this available and easy to digest.

User testing – upgrading or changing internal systems is often far more expensive than building even the most transactional website.

Deploying some of the techniques that optimise user experience with customers online with your staff internally enables you to focus on what works and what doesn’t prior to you making significant investment in new systems or processes.

Be agile – if successful digital businesses have recognised that digital is far too important to leave solely to ‘techies’ then the mechanism for doing this is using agile delivery methods. Whilst it may seem quite far from the board room, agile delivery should be at the heart of digital transformation.

It focuses on end user needs and business outcomes, rather than very detailed technical requirements. Testing starts on day one, with iterative development reducing risk and improving quality because feedback from business owners is received early, making it easier, quicker and cheaper to adapt to new or changing requirements.

Agile is gaining increasing traction across company culture, with Forbes recently quoting a survey of chief marketing officers titled ‘The Agile Advantage’ that found 87 per cent of respondents said that ‘Adopting agile made their teams more productive.’

Configuration versus customisation in supporting systems – this might sound very technical; it isn’t. Many services are now built on a core platform so that business users, rather than technical staff, can configure their system to work in a way that best suits the business.

The growth of highly configurable systems is derived directly from the success of web content management systems that support web sites, but give the business owner/user the ability to easily change, add and update new features without relying on costly technical development.

High profile users of such services include The White House and the Bauer Group.

As well as giving businesses and staff a lot more control and ownership, this ‘configuration’ approach also reduces supplier lock in, making it easier and more cost effective to switch suppliers. Of course as successfully as you may utilise some of these methods honed on the external digital coalface, you need to recognise that adapting to digital isn’t a one-off activity.

Embracing digital transformation marks a new maturity in many organisations’ understanding of the fundamental, far-reaching and continually evolving impacts and opportunities presented by digital. “Today, companies have to radically revolutionise themselves every few years just to stay relevant. That’s because technology and the internet have transformed the business landscape forever. The fast-paced digital age has accelerated the need for companies to become agile,” says Nolan Bushnell, serial entrepreneur and founder of Atari Inc.

Oh and as for your digital advisers... black turtle necks are out, beards (now that digital gurus are old enough to grow them) are in, but only use them if they can tell you how to harness what digital techniques have been used to drive success externally – to transform your organisation internally.


Henry Cook

Henry Cook is a Digital Strategist with 20 years’ experience in leading the transformation of large, complex organisations



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