How to start your digital journey on the right foot

The path to digital transformation can be rocky, so I’m casting an eye over some of the big challenges that businesses face and offering a few pointers on how to counter them.

Digital transformation is a hot topic around many boardroom tables, regardless of company size, sector or country of operation. It can seem like a daunting task. Adapting a firm’s culture, processes and technology to meet the needs of fast-changing multichannel customers isn’t the kind of thing you’ll have nailed down before lunch! Add to the mix an array of vendors and agencies pushing the latest buzzwords and hyped-up fads, and you have a recipe for confusion.

Little wonder recent research from Gartner found that 51% of CIOs felt their organizations weren’t ready to respond to the pace of digital change.

Of course, digital transformation isn’t just about technology for technology’s sake. It’s about using data to improve the way you engage with customers. It’s about unifying web content so your brand speaks with one consistent voice. It can even involve digitizing your supply chain to improve availability and reduce costs.

Four ways to kickstart your digital journey

Whatever the specifics, people embarking on this journey constantly refer to the same issues. So here are four of the most common I hear about, together with some thoughts on how to overcome them.

1. A solution just for me. Just as your customers dislike generic messages and untargeted content, businesses too prefer a tailored approach, not a standard template that’s rolled out again and again. Many larger technology service providers favor this route because it works for them, but digital is all about personalization.

Recently a client of ours decided it was time to rationalize the number of CMSes in its business—the count had ballooned to more than 30. The client was swamped by claims from dozens of vendors, each asserting that its solution was the right one for the business. In reality, no single answer was capable of meeting the company’s requirements on its own, but with good, impartial advice that focused on its requirements, the client was able to establish the right combination of tools for its long-term needs.

A cookie-cutter methodology based on assumptions won’t deliver the differentiation you need to stand out from your competitors. It has to begin with reviewing your business problem, understanding your customer engagement and allowing a customized solution to flow from there. Beware the vendor that says it has the perfect solution all ready for you.

2. Move with speed and agility. A successful digital journey doesn’t mean rebooting your entire operation and starting from scratch. Anyone who’s been in business a while has all sorts of legacy systems and processes that need to be accounted for, even as the front end zips toward a bright new future. If that means agile, iterative processes are called for, your digital partner should be able to deliver that, rather than dictate a predetermined path.

Optimizing your existing supply chain at the same time as delivering an exciting new customer experience is incredibly important. Think about the last great online experience you had that wasn’t backed up by an equally impressive standard of delivery. Maybe the item you ordered was out of stock or the service fully subscribed. Perhaps something got delivered to the wrong address, or, as happened to me recently, the order never even reached the fulfillment department. Did you give that company a second chance? I certainly didn’t!

It’s this dual-speed execution that delivers real value for all. Make sure the vital parts of your value chain aren’t getting left behind.

3. Bring me ideas. Many digital transformations fail to reach their potential because they haven’t pushed the boundaries of what’s possible and looked far enough into the future. A lot of suitors simply don’t have what it takes to support you with meaningful innovation and imagination. What you’re looking for is one that can call upon a broad mix of skills to create new concepts and models that have genuine potential to add value to your business.

During my time in the food industry, I came across three kinds of supplier: the one-product wonders, the time wasters and the innovators. The first two were equally as bad when it came to innovation. They either relied too heavily on a single product to deliver growth, or threw the kitchen sink at me with endless “innovations” that were neither customer-focused nor insight-driven. The innovators, while few and far between, were worth their weight in gold because of their creativity and their commitment to long-term growth.

When you find an innovative partner that clicks with your team, you’ll start to realize all kinds of new possibilities. That’s when you’ll truly begin to see what your business’s future could look like.

4. A partner I can rely on. When all’s said and done, digital transformation is a complex task. By its nature, reaching your objectives takes a number of partners, all working smoothly together: strategic, creative, technical; large, medium and small. Yet if you don’t have a central linchpin with the expertise and culture to collaborate well, it could lead to problems. Everyone will say they’re collaborative, but dig deeper and see if that’s really written into a company’s DNA. Your multivendor ecosystem deserves an anchor partner with the right attitude and experience to make it work for you.

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