Here’s the second in my series of digital blogs which I have written in conjunction with The Unit. I’ve compiled some thoughts on futureproofing for the digital world, the challenges it presents, and how to make it happen.
If you’d like to continue the discussion the team at The Unit would love to hear from you – please feel free to get in touch.
In today’s digital economy, you no longer have several months to introduce new products, services and features. Lead times for launches and releases are now measured in weeks, or even days. Competitiveness depends on continuous delivery, and the agility to react instantly to change.
Faced with this fast-moving climate, organisations are keen to futureproof their digital technology.
But we think the real issue is far broader. Digital isn’t a technology problem. It’s a business problem. Whatever your firm does, and whatever sector you’re in, digital is now your business.
Innovations in digital technology can turn markets upside-down in the blink of an eye. Look at what comparator sites – unheard of 15 years ago – have done to the propositions of insurers and utilities providers. Organisations need the ability to react to such disruption at a moment’s notice.
At the same time, the digital revolution has fuelled customers’ expectations of how they interact with organisations. They take it for granted that they can engage with brands over whichever digital channels they choose, whenever they choose. If you can’t offer them this experience, there’s a risk they’ll move to somebody that can.
The reality is that digital technology now underpins everything a firm does. Futureproofing digital is futureproofing your business.
Systems & culture
Futureproofing goes deeper than simply implementing technology. Many companies will need to overhaul their IT systems and corporate cultures to compete in the digital era.
Much of their core technology infrastructure is unlikely to be compatible with today’s digital applications. But it remains the most critical element, and one where adding flexibility and agility to the periphery is often the best tactic.
As such, opening up this infrastructure to digital apps will mean embracing technologies such as web services, containerisation and APIs. The same goes for the data residing on them. All this must be achieved securely, and in ways that create seamless experiences for our customers.
Keeping pace with the digital economy will also call for different ways of working.
Getting products and platforms to market fast enough involves continuously developing and testing proofs of concept, prototypes and minimal viable products. Then rapidly deploying them, and moving on quickly if they don’t work out.
Meanwhile, changing market dynamics will oblige you to regularly reset your short, medium and long-term priorities.
This level of flexibility will require highly adaptable cultures and agile working practices. I was at a conference recently where Zara was used as a case study for responding to customer feedback. When goods were taken back to Zara they didn’t use to know why (their systems knew the item that was purchased but not why it was returned), now they log this intelligence and as soon as a trend is flagged i.e. people don’t like the lapel design, zip, colour of the thread the designers would make the design change and get the new design in the shop in days. They kept 25% of their designers time back for instantly responding to customer feedback which I love the idea of!
Design & execute
So how do firms create the systems and cultures to futureproof their businesses for the digital world?
As I mentioned at the end of my last blog, there are two key stages to this: design and execute.
The first step is to understand what you’re futureproofing in the first place.
What is your business proposition in the digital economy? What do your customers want from you? And how must your business change in order to deliver it?
Having defined this, you’ll need to assess your capabilities accordingly. What skills will you need to make your digital vision happen? Which of them do you already have, and in what numbers? Which are you lacking altogether? How will you recruit and retain what’s required?
You can’t expect your employees to execute your digital vision if they don’t understand it. Your top team must communicate it clearly and compellingly, so that everyone knows what they’re working towards, and is on board with it.
You’ll also need to inject the necessary skills. This goes further than hiring the right capabilities, and deploying them on the correct projects. Bringing in mentors to coach your people on how to work in a digital context will also be beneficial. I am a firm believer in democratising Digital so its not just the domain of your digital team (if you have a dedicated function), Marketing and Technology everyone should understand it, get involved in it and be able to have a view on how your business functions should be embracing it. Does Facebook, Google, Amazon, Uber, Airbnb etc. have a digital department? Know, they are a digital business and that’s really what most businesses are today because that’s where most customers are and how most customers interact with businesses. You still need designers, UX, analysts, content strategists of course but the fundamental’s of being a digital business are everyone’s responsible in the business. Until this point i.e the point that your business is digitally mature in every way) having a digital team incubating and providing expertise and focus in this space is the way forward.
Instilling a deep understanding of your customers will be equally important. Visualising your customer segments as personas, and mapping each one’s buying journey, is essential if you’re to create the experiences they want.
Finally, you must embed the working practices and processes to help you achieve your vision. In part, this will mean giving people the tools to help them move fast and collaborate effectively. There must be a part of your technology stack i.e. the front end of your web applications, where you can carve out faster lighter governance and decision making and empower your digital change teams (more on squads and tribes and organising your digital change teams in a future blog) to drive forward your digital progress outside of the wider organisational change machine!
Get these steps right, and your business will be futureproofed against the new world of constant digital disruption. The Unit would love to share their experiences with you, so do contact me as you wish.