Building the foundations of a Digital Business.

In the current landscape businesses are facing huge disruption from new players in their industries with ever increasing demand on revenue and pipeline. The pressure this places on not only maintaining or building their business in an ever increasingly competitive market but dealing with increasing demands of recruitment, globalisation, productisation, data and content insights and changing perceptions and needs of customers, is not insignificant.

With more startups than ever emerging, as people start to break out of the normal patterns of the traditional employment structures, building their own profiles and businesses by shaking up the norms of business development practises/ established work structures, their delivery approaches need to change. This requires them to turn their focus on understanding the needs, expansive and somewhat confusing, landscape that digital is having on their traditional business models.

There are 7 key areas that every business needs to look at when refactoring their business to bring digital to the forefront of their strategic offering and approach: 

It goes without saying that the brand of a business is its reputation and the name represents the values, the vision and strategic targets of the business. The brand is central to the integrity and authenticity of any business. The core difference with digital is how it communicates the brand, its voice, the shift towards its outward facing customer-centric focus, utilising online tools technology apps and innovation to either disrupt or grow deep roots within its marketplace. The needs of the customer and their expectations of that brand then drive the actions or outline many of the projects and transformation requirements that are required to create or regenerate their business for the future. How customers view and feedback on how the brand is critical input to building a digital business. By understanding its (perceived and sometimes real) failings and strengths, it’s these needs that are central to the direction of how a companies’ brand will refocus and look to their future engagements and interactions with both customers and suppliers.

The business product/service offering
It seems obvious to say that re-interogating the product suite and the set of offerings that you provide to your end client (business or consumer) is a core part of any reengineering approach. Old product suites whilst they might be providing the bread and butter, may not be what your end-customer demands or needs in the future. By looking outward to your competitors and carrying out a full analysis of your position in the market and how that product is faring (as evidenced in sales and market trend analysis) in the business landscape is fundamental when looking at the future vision of your business.

This is both internal and external. Most businesses have great clarity on how they are presenting to their customer, but this set of behaviours needs to be implicit in how the workforce conduct and communicate the business, its goals and values with the customer in mind. Behaviour needs to be worked on both internally and externally and requires constant investment and pulse checks to measure how the behaviours are driving better and more sustainable outcomes. Having solid tracking, metrics and insights into not only performance and sales figures, but productivity, staff satisfaction, client feedback and research, all inform a more stable and solid foundation for enablement of changed and changing behaviour. This ultimately filters out to the end users/ customers and can be a make or break scenario for the longevity and success of a product, business vision or service. Frustration, arrogance and flippancy will not a business grow!

Data, Insight and Information
Data without question has become the biggest challenge for most businesses in the past handful of years, what to do with the insights, analytics, measuring and use of, and beyond that how to store, and observe trends and make it pay back to your business. Data platforms and interrogation of the data is now at the forefront of any digitally focused business. Some of the most progressive businesses are putting Data at the heart of their strategies and creating Data and insight teams that ultimately manage and co-ordinate the customer touchpoint interactions (so as not to overwhelm customers with marketing updates, advertising and new products and services). The more insight you have on the demographics, needs, wants and desires of your customers, their behaviours and perceptions, will propel you to the forefront of how you ultimately interact and build your business. From all this information comes a need to realign products and services from which to build stronger revenue and sales objectives that are more aligned to the digital marketplace. No matter what industry sector, data is at the centre of any digital business vision and strategy and should not be underestimated again for the investment and focus required to carry out the due diligence and insights that this area will surface in remodelling or taking your business forward.

Underpins the whole business ultimately; be it a billing/ trading system, a call centre, ecommerce, data management, apps, tracking tools or services, or core internal toolsets and automation for managing all of the above and more. Technology by default aims to make and create huge efficiencies but this doesn’t mean that it’s always easy or less complex to implement. It takes time and often significant investment (people and money) to bring a business technology stack inline with the business objectives and vision, and switch away from substantial legacy systems. With the advent of cloud technologies and other advancements on a daily and monthly basis in efficiency and enhancement toolsets, this does not by default mean it’s less challenging to build (a common myth). This is an area within business operations that is often seen as the most frustrating, sometimes slow to deliver and most often the least understood on executive teams. We are frequently led by service providers and suppliers to believe technology should be easy to implement and make life easier, which it should once in place, but to get there needs clear concise planning, objectives and meticulous attention to the feasibility and reality of such implementations, and thus the time and workforce investment to achieve such things. Governance, procurement and financial teams are often misaligned with these objectives and so breaking through the fog of misunderstanding and engaging these teams on the benefits and outcomes (financial or other) will help digital transformation programmes break down the risk barriers that also become blockers to our old friends productivity and time! Businesses that are more open to dropping or decreasing high level risk walls and looking at innovation labs and prototyping activities will achieve earlier gains and insights on their digital technology transformation journeys. These in themselves de-risk delivery and increase engagement from top to bottom of every organisation and can assist in greater engagement with the technology programmes being delivered.

This naturally leads on from the implementation of new technologies and launching yourselves as businesses in to areas that are often somewhat new, uncomfortable and unknown. The workforce internally require training and support (Comms, L&D, HR) to be as efficient as possible in utilising the tools and technology that is being rolled out, but this is always easier if you involve them every step of the way on the journey to the new world. Teams that are engaged and empowered to learn alongside their day job and given the time and education that is implicit with that (i.e. not expecting them to do both in the same number of hours a day) will bring your staff with you. It prevents outcomes reminiscent of the old world implementations and delivery approaches which created the requirements upfront and then came back months or years later, often failing to deliver to the business or customer needs. This tension and resentment was caused by failure to engage or collaborate with the teams along the way, which then drives fear and avoidance to change in the future (thus negative behaviours later on on new programmes). The pain is never forgotten and creates resistance. Productivity will, for example in implementing case management or internal systems, increase 2 or 3 times over when a business team is able to input into the process along the way, let alone any benefits the new technology provides by replacing convoluted internal paper trails and manual processes. Agile and hybrid methodologies increase engagement, enable road testing and prototyping with small groups of customers/ suppliers or partners, and takes them on a journey, so that when a product is launched, it will have a higher outcome of success and hence productivity and faster uptake, because they already know what they are getting and have been core in helping create the end solution!

A mix of internal marketing communications, values, productivity, goal setting and general engagement of how the business functions on a day to day basis. By being mindful of the changing environment of workplace needs and etiquette; more flexibility and home working, flexible schedules and a supportive HR and learning team, peoples’ attitudes will change with greater transparency, collaboration, forums for sharing ideas. Other factors such as central knowledge repositories, comfortable and well designed work environments and clear objectives, direction and vision, all filters down implicitly from the Executive team. The most successful businesses have fully aligned boards and leadership teams who speak a common language and are invested and clear in the vision and strategy of the business. It will filter down to their teams by default. Knowing the teams and their needs is an underlying principle that means the difference often between success and failure of a business and its transformation to new and innovative working environments and practises.

This outline is barely scratching the surface of how to implement and implant digital thinking, processes and methodologies within organisations, but I hope that it serves a high-level summary of just some of the considerations required when looking to create a more digitally enhanced strategic and business model that will take businesses forward and future proof them in years to come.

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