Blog : digital transformation

6 tips for achieving faster results from digital

6 tips for achieving faster results from digital

Stuck in a digital rut? Doing a lot but seeing no results? Not sure where to start with digital? Here are six tips on how to make progress quickly.

 Time is of the essence when it comes to meeting the digital challenge. Finding the balance between acting quickly and planning effectively is key.

Doing nothing is not an option but nor is it advisable to rush into action without a strategic approach. But that approach needs to be based on a whole-of-business strategy for the digital world, not on a stand-alone digital strategy. The difference is important.

Digital can be defined as a ‘culture of connectedness’. To succeed, businesses need to plug themselves into this new culture and learn how to operate within it. The shift is so significant you need more than just an add-on to the way your business currently operates.

Responding to the digital revolution requires some revolutionary thinking:

1. Get used to working without the full picture

Things move fast in the digital world. While you need to work strategically, taking too long to develop a strategy risks it being out of date before you even start executing.

To paraphrase Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, you need to learn to work with 70 percent of the information. Being wrong may be less costly than you think, he says, but being slow will definitely be expensive.

The key question is: “What is the minimum we need to know to move forward?” Not all businesses are comfortable taking this approach but the ones who make progress will ultimately be those who learn to live with a little uncertainty.

2. Failure is an option

Working with less information means you’ll sometimes get things wrong. In fact, if you’re not failing occasionally, you’re probably not pushing boundaries enough. But that’s not the same as being reckless and you can mitigate the risks in various ways.

Use low-cost, controlled experiments to learn without exposing your business to financial risk. And you can mitigate any reputational risk from getting it wrong by being open and transparent about your process. People have a far greater willingness to accept imperfection if they are aware that they’re participating in a process that will lead to improvement.

3. Listen to your customers

It barely needs saying, but remind yourself regularly anyway – digital is a customer-centric medium. Everything you do as a business needs to be done with a view to the customer’s needs and expectations.

The biggest shift for businesses when it comes to communication is the change from a broadcast model to a conversation model. It is no longer acceptable to simply push messages out.

Your customers will tell you what they want from you in the digital world but you have to be listening. Ideally, you’ll get to understand what they need at each stage of their journey with your business. Customer expectations are constantly changing so an ongoing dialogue is essential to stay on top of this.

4. Test, learn – then test again

Combine the minimum knowledge you need to move forward with a customer-centric approach: act quickly to test early iterations of strategic thinking with actual customers, collect real data and feedback, and refine your approach. This iterative process should be continuous – it’s a virtuous circle, not a linear path.

5. Get everyone paddling in the same direction

Research proves that successful digital initiatives depend on leadership from Board and senior management but they can also be a leap for middle management. A lot of initiatives die when middle management doesn’t get on board.

If your internal culture is not geared to delivering good digital, the outputs are not going to be great. It may be that your first priority is to focus on getting your internal processes right – encouraging collaboration by establishing internal centres of digital excellence and cross-functional teams that work together on solving problems.

6. Above all – do something

A recent US survey indicated 83% of executives realise the need for digital transformation in their businesses but only 23% are actively doing something about it. The rules of evolution apply – adapt or die.

Introducing ‘Rapid Strategy’

Introducing ‘Rapid Strategy’

Strategic planning has a problem.

Digital has changed the way we do business, and the traditional approach of lengthy deliberation and maximum information is broken. Your strategy risks being obsolete before it’s finished.

Yet, the companies who succeed in this new digital environment continue to put strategy and insight at the heart of their business.

How, in the words of Tim Leberecht, do we run fast and go deep at the same time?

Over the last 12 months, we’ve been exploring methods for ‘speeding up’ the strategic planning and delivery process for digital.

Rapid Strategy is the result.

This process takes principles from agile, design thinking and innovation methodologies, and combines them with best practice strategic planning, where hard choices are made to achieve business goals.

Our approach understands what the architects of the Agile Manifesto talked about; to quote Jim Highsmith, “we plan, but recognise the limits of planning in a turbulent environment.”

The outcome is a faster, more responsive approach to developing and implementing digital programmes, without sacrificing insight or quality.

Here’s how Rapid Strategy works:

Rapid Strategy model

Rapid Strategy is effective for three primary reasons:

1. The minimum to get you moving

Strategic planning often begins with a lengthy discovery process. Here,  key facts and information are uncovered via in-depth audits or exhaustive periods of research.

Given the rapid evolution of customer behaviours and digital technologies, the first issue we wanted to address was: how do you get the industry, business and customer information you need, without taking months to get it?

The answer is: you don’t. You don’t try to get the full picture. Instead, decide “what is the minimum you need to know to move forward?”

This gets to the heart of good strategy – the ability to make hard choices and prioritise one area of focus over another.

If your organisation is stuck in a digital rut, or suffering paralysis by analysis, then by learning to work with incomplete information, you will be compelled to get out of the blocks and begin making progress.


“An organisation’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage”

— Jack Welch


2. Useful information, quickly

Imagine you’re a commander on a battlefield. You’ve prepared a strategy, and a set of tactics, that you believe have the best chance of defeating the enemy. You have one shot to get it right – success or failure, glory or defeat.

Now, imagine if you could test multiple different strategic ideas against the enemy, before committing your troops to the battlefield. Imagine if you could mount a series of guerilla raids that glean a mountain of useful insight, without great cost or sacrifice, and without revealing your position. What advantages might that provide when the time comes to say ‘Charge!’?

With Rapid Strategy, you can.

At the heart of our approach, is the use of quick, cheap and discreet experiments to test business assumptions.

Used this way, assumptions become powerful tools for business learning. When we ask the question, ‘what is the minimum we need to know to move forward?’, an assumption is often the starting point. Using this as our minimum, we can test and challenge it, to ensure we move forward with reliable information.


“Invest in experiments to quickly, cheaply and easily gain insight into solving problems and exploiting opportunities.”

– Michael Schrage, The Innovator’s Hypothesis

From these results, serious strategic decisions, and tactical refinements, can be made more quickly, and oftentimes with greater certainty, than using traditional methods.

3. Agile execution, bespoke teams

A strategy is not a strategy without a plan of action. Execution has always been critical to success, but as the line between strategy and tactics becomes increasingly blurred, this becomes even more true.

It is always more helpful to see a strategy in action, than to see it as a theory on the page. If agile talks about ‘working software’, we talk about ‘working strategy’.

Rapid Strategy advocates for this approach; short, rapid phases of execution, building on the stages before it, and accumulating to deliver a larger piece of work.

We deliver this via a partnership model, assembling and managing bespoke teams of trusted experts around your project. This ensures the appropriate fit and capability, in turn delivering optimal value.

We strongly believe that Rapid Strategy will deliver greater digital clarity, value and performance to your business. If these sound like results you would be interested in, please do contact us.

Digital Strategy Success

Digital Strategy Success

You’ll find online a lot of articles about why digital strategies fail. If there is a major criticism to be levelled at the discipline of digital strategy, it’s that it often seems not to work.

The reasons for this are many and varied. The concept of ‘digital strategy’ is a broad one, and failure rates vary across the many sectors which camp under the ‘digital’ umbrella. For example, if you believe reports, up to 70% of IT strategies fail.

So, it’s valid to ask the question, ‘Why?’. If 70% of IT strategies fail, that’s a massive business cost, as these are not strategies that are typically failing fast, or failing cheap.

But rather than examine, yet again, the causes of failure, I’d like to talk about the symptoms of success. What do you need to do to ensure your digital strategy will be one of the success stories?

Sadly, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Every good strategy should be unique to the problems, challenges and culture of the business it’s designed to help.

There are, however, key principles you can follow that will make your chances of success that much greater. In our next two posts, we will highlight a number of these, helping to ensure your next digital strategy doesn’t become another failed statistic.

1. Drive it from the top

The #1 reason most digital strategies fail is a lack of advocacy from senior leaders within a business. The cause of this failure can be anything from not understanding the value of digital, to not understanding digital full stop, to a fear of doing things differently. Digital evangelists, both internal and external, can push all they like; but if the leaders don’t lead, in all likelihood, the strategy is going nowhere. This goes back to making it part of the business strategy – if the exec team has it in their plan, it’s far more likely to be given priority.

2. Make the ‘digital strategy’ part of the business strategy

I’ve written about this previously, but your digital strategy should not only be tied to the goals of the business, it should be fundamentally integrated into the business strategy. In fact, your business strategy should be digital-first.

We live in a digital world, and if the business strategy doesn’t reflect this reality, then the impact of a standalone digital strategy will be limited at best, particularly in larger businesses. An analysis of companies with highly effective digital strategies showed that 90 percent of top performers have fully integrated digital initiatives into their strategic-planning process.

3. No more silos

The flipside of the previous point – digital doesn’t exist in a vacuum in the real world, so why would it exist in a vacuum within a business? A silo-ed approach to digital leads to multiple BUs with multiple competing digital strategies, usually not aligned with the broader organisational strategy. This plays havoc with resource, capability, efficiency, consistency and the customer experience.

How can IT invest strategically in the right capability if each BU is competing for resource with the other? How can marketing effectively measure its digital activity if it doesn’t understand how it’s affecting business goals? How can the contact centre avoid channel clash if it doesn’t talk to marketing?

Delivering good digital requires  – buzzword alert! – ‘cross-functional collaboration’. Going back to our first point (see how these are all connected?), leadership is crucial to bringing groups together and breaking down long-established walls or conventions. Establish a Digital Steering Group to provide strategic guidance or a Centre of Excellence to provide leadership and best practice governance on digital initiatives. Establish visibility on digital across the business and make the right conversations happen.

4. Know thy customer

You hear a lot of talk about customer experience and with good reason – 86% of customers will pay more for a good experience. The bad news is your customer doesn’t just compare the experience you offer with your competitors, they compare it to every other business they transact with. Performing poorly in that comparison can hurt your brand, your revenue and your customer loyalty.

‘Human-centred design’, ‘customer first’, ‘customer centric’ – however you want to call it, the customer should be the focal point of your strategy. Investing in research to understand exactly what customers need, at key points in time, is one of the best investments a business can make. It’s not about your business becoming a mind-reader – it’s about understanding ‘moments of intent’, and knowing where points along the journey you should concentrate your efforts to add real value.

We’re only scratching the surface here, but there’s more to come. Stay tuned for Pt.2 soon…

 

Why you need a business strategy for digital, not a digital strategy for your business

Why you need a business strategy for digital, not a digital strategy for your business

This article was first published on CIO.co.nz

Digital, in all its forms, has changed the face of business. From customer experience to sales to operations, rare is the industry that has remained fully analogue and unaffected.

Businesses have tended to address this change by creating a standalone digital strategy (or strategies), often confined to the marketing or IT departments.

While digital was still in its teenage years, this approach was understandable, if not ideal. Everyone was working out just how this new technology impacted their customers, their processes and their bottom line.

Today, this approach is no longer good enough. Digital has matured to become an innate part of our daily lives.  Just as customers are channel-agnostic, making no distinction between digital channels and ‘everything else’, so digital must be recognised as an intrinsic part of the business strategy, not silo-ed or confined to one department.

In other words, your business no longer needs a digital strategy. It needs a business strategy for a digital world.

The distinction is critical. Under the old model, your business could stay ‘as is’, with a bit of digital on the side. The new model forces your business to evolve, and reset its focus. Digital is not a tool. Digital is not a channel. Digital is a culture of connectedness, with the customer at its heart. Your business must learn how to operate within, and take advantage of, this culture.

To paraphrase Jay Baer: “the goal is not to be good at digital; the goal is to be good at business, because of digital.”

Creating your strategy

A business strategy for digital will have to consider a number of new evolutions, such as the shift to user-first or design thinking, the role of innovation, devops and systems management, business speed and agility, and more.

Digital presents a number of opportunities – to become more efficient, productive, responsive, innovative, collaborative and agile. But which do you embrace?

Digital also presents a number of challenges. It requires certain capabilities, management structures and culture, which in turn means decisions around investment, risk appetite, scale and so on.

As with all good strategic planning, it comes down to hard choices around where-to-play and how-to-win (to borrow a phrase from A.G.Lafley and Roger Martin’s Playing to Win). How your business can deliver (or not), in the context of a digital world, should ultimately inform the strategic choices you make, and in turn, how you create a competitive advantage.

For example, I have a client operating in a highly competitive marketplace. They recognise that competitive advantage will most likely be gained by using the benefits of their size to develop a unique experience only they can offer. Their target audience skews young, so digital must be at the heart of how that experience is created and delivered. Internally, delivering the experience will require coordination between a number of business units, not just marketing and IT. It will also require a change in culture to a customer-first approach.

They have made difficult choices that recognise the role of digital as a fundamental driving force within their business and their market, and will prioritise investment in the capability and skills needed to deliver. But their digital activity is very much in the service of key business goals, such as revenue, brand position and uptake. It is not in the service of Facebook likes, banner ad impressions or web traffic.

Every choice regarding digital will have an impact on your business, and it’s a fine balance – moving too fast can be overly disruptive; moving too slow risks being left behind.

However, this integrated approach is actually easier to manage. Another example: companies embarking upon digital transformation often mistakenly equate ‘transformation’ as an investment in technology. The transformation strategy is silo-ed in the IT department, neglecting important factors such as culture or process. The transformation then faces barriers around internal buy-in, transparency and accountability, inevitably leading to delays, cost overruns or an ineffective programme. This is digital in the service of IT, not the business.

When digital transformation sits as part of the business strategy, new IT infrastructure simply becomes investment in a capability to deliver on that strategy, as opposed to being the strategy. This ensures visibility and integration from the top down, and the ability to tie investment back to key business goals.

The importance of leadership

Leadership is the other vital ingredient in this mix. The number one reason digital initiatives fail? Poor governance and a lack of advocacy from the top.

My view is that many C-level executives have, in recent years, been afraid to admit what they don’t understand about digital. Silo-ing the digital strategy into one department is a convenient way of avoiding it. But once embedded as part of the business strategy, there’s no escape.

It is important to note here that, when dealing with digital, leaders shouldn’t be afraid to admit what they don’t know. Digital is a complex beast, with multiple specialisms. Your intern will always know more about Snapchat than you do. What leaders must have is an understanding of digital’s potential impact, an eye for the opportunity and the ability to make informed investment decisions. They don’t need to know the nitty gritty of every channel or technology.

Digital is not a mystery. It’s simply a new way of thinking about how your business connects with its customers, staff and the wider market. Embracing digital as a core thread within your business strategy is recognition that the world has changed, and for your business to grow, it needs to change with it.

In summary:

  1. When, where, why, and how you participate in digital should be firmly anchored in the business’ strategic priorities.
  2. Digital should work in service of the business, not in service of itself.
  3. Know your audience – a digital business is customer-led, not product or sales-led
  4. Capability is key to digital delivery – many companies fail to invest adequately in resource and infrastructure
  5. Digital change within a business must come from the top. Without leadership, it will not happen.
  6. Don’t be afraid to admit what you don’t know.