On being digital

Continuing on from my last blog, here are some thoughts on what the realities of the digital era mean for what we call ‘digital strategy’.

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On being digital

It seems to me that the meaning of ‘digital strategy’ is changing.

The phrase has traditionally referred to how organisations exploit a disparate range of technologies, platforms and practices, to engage customers over digital platforms and devices.

For example, IT infrastructure and systems; working practices like agile and DevOps; process automation; search and social media; and a whole range of technologies, including cloud, AI, APIs, mobile, co-location and collaboration, and so on.

But over time, digital strategy has come to mean something wider – and something more fundamental to how businesses work.

Digital is simply what today’s customers are – a point I made in my last blog. It’s how they operate, and how they expect you to operate. It’s what they expect you to be.

In this climate, your digital strategy must make clear how your business is going to ‘be digital’, now and in the future.

Barriers to change

That sounds simple. But for many organisations, being digital will first mean becomingdigital. That could prove an enormous challenge, for several reasons.


As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, corporate infrastructures were largely built for a time when just a handful of system changes were needed each year.

But times have changed. The sheer pace of digital innovation now demands weekly, even daily, alternations. And these changes must be replicated across your website, social media profiles, mobile apps – wherever customers expect to reach you. Modernising IT systems to enable such speed and complexity isn’t a simple task.

Risk appetite

Large, corporate organisations can be risk-averse due to their complexity. This means many have been slow to embrace the cloud, despite the speed and agility it allows.

A key reason for this reticence is security. But cloud providers live and die by the safety of their solutions, and invest huge amounts in security. And let’s be frank: over the years some corporates haven’t always had a stellar track record on IT security themselves.

In a similar vein, corporates generally take a slow-and-steady approach to managing digital projects. They like to prioritise careful governance over speed of delivery.

Yet the greatest risk in the digital economy is being left behind. You don’t have time to manage every detail, and mitigate every risk. Delay and your competitors will soon steal a march.

Tools and capabilities

Building the compelling digital experiences customers want requires a wide range of specialist skills. But recruiting digital talent is only half the battle. You also need to provide the cutting-edge solutions to enable digital workers to deliver: visualisation tools, data analysis software, APIs, collaboration platforms, and more.

This doesn’t sit within corporates’ comfort zone. Many aren’t used to hiring and retaining digital stars. And as mentioned, their risk-averse attitudes can make them slow to deploy essential digital technology.

Culture and practice

You can’t keep pace with the digital world by working the way you always have.

Becoming digital means re-engineering your practices and processes for fast and continuous delivery of products, services and experiences. Your whole culture must be geared for pace, and for the agility to change direction at a moment’s notice.

First steps

You’ll need to do some essential groundwork before beginning your digital journey. You’ll need to recruit digital leaders and workers; train your people on the basics; and make sure everybody understands the bigger picture.

1.   Recruit

Bring in experienced digital leaders who can set your organisation’s strategy, and assess your current strengths and weaknesses. And start recruiting for a different breed of employee. Delivering your strategy will demand people who know how to work digitally, and the tools and processes required.

A note of caution, however. This takes time. It can take months to source the best digital talent, and a few months more to get them up to speed.

2.   Train

While building a critical mass of digital workers, train everybody else on the fundamentals of digital working: basic coding, security protocols, agile working and so on. And help them understand the importance of these things to your business in the digital era.

3.   Communicate

Frame your digital strategy for your workforce. Write a bold mission statement describing what being digital looks like for your firm.

Then map the journey. Where is your business digitally? Where does it need to be, and how will it get there?

Finally, communicate this clearly and compellingly throughout the organisation.

Words to the wise

If this seems a quantum leap from where you are now, you can always start small.

Think about creating a digital ‘incubator’ within the firm. A ‘crack’ digital team can deliver early successes, demonstrate the value of being digital, and foster momentum. Working with an experienced digital strategy and delivery partner like The Unit is a quick way to make this happen.

However you go about becoming digital, remember why you’re doing it: because the digital world moves fast and that’s where your customers are. And it will keep moving while you’re catching up. Make sure you remain externally focused while you become digital so you are not always playing catch up.

Keep an eye on where the digital economy is going, and what’s coming next. Stay current – and keep looking forward. Remember: the greatest risk is being left behind.