How To Lead A Digital Business Transformation

Hindsight can make transformation look obvious and easy. Of course DVDs by mail were better than VHS tapes rented from a store. Of course the iPod was better than the Walkman. Of course the caterpillar turns into a butterfly.

In the moment, however, transformation can be overwhelming and full of uncertainty. Digital business transformation invites-and dares-an organization to reinvent itself with the goal of delivering enhanced, modern experiences to customers and a streamlined, efficient workflow internally. Whether your organization is on the cusp of a digital business transformation or firmly committed, there are tremendous opportunities to create competitive momentum and redefine your industry, and just as much uncertainty and potential for negative impact.

Digital business transformation invites-and dares-an organization to reinvent itself.


Unlike caterpillars, organizations aren’t predestined to make a successful transition. But fortunately, there are strategies that can keep digital business transformation from becoming overwhelming. We spoke with Publicis Sapient CEO Nigel Vaz and financial services international lead David Murphy about how companies can stay authentic, anchored and successful in a time of unprecedented change and disruption.

How To Think Like Your Customers

For decades, giving the customer what they wanted meant a relentless drive for quality and value. But intense competition has driven out most of the gaps in both. A buying public with unlimited access to information can find the products or services that are objectively best for them anywhere and at any time.

Companies today can transform to a mindset of influencing and differentiating not just on the product itself, but on how the customer engages with it. “The key is realizing that everything centers around how a customer experiences your product or service. And experience is not just what happens inside a screen. It is how they will choose one business over another,” Vaz says. “You need more than a burger or an airline seat or a car. You need engineering and technology to deliver a good experience to the customer around those products or services.”

How To Identify Digital Business Transformation Opportunities

Finding your best and ripest opportunities for transformation requires a willingness to be brutally honest about your organization. What conventions, assumptions or hidebound practices seem unfriendly, inflexible or just plain strange to an outsider? “In the banking world, you can see the fundamental challenges before transformation. There were numerous breaks in the customer service experience. It could take weeks and weeks to open a commercial banking account,” Murphy says.

If introspection isn’t enough, just look at what new digital competitors do. They will come into your market and take on a narrow sliver of the market with an offer that few if any incumbents would have dreamed was possible. “They will come in and use their low barrier to entry to pick off your most profitable products or services at will,” he says. “And that’s when you need to realize that your business will be turned on its head.”

How To Guide Transformation From The Top

Partners that can focus on efficiency, growth and experience are valuable allies for any business undertaking a significant transformation. Outside partners can help rapidly build out new capabilities, accelerate the introduction of new processes and serve as a catalyst for new modes of customer engagement.

But the commitment to transformation still needs to come from within. “The single biggest factor for success is the leadership mindset,” Murphy says. “That’s the only way to break down silos between organizations, get the customer’s voice into the metrics and move your company at a pace two to four times faster than you’ve ever moved before.”

It can be tempting to think that the best candidate to lead that change is someone with a proven track record at one of the digital giants to define the last decade-someone with a long tenure at Google, Amazon or the like. But Murphy believes the strongest candidates for long-term digital business transformation are actually already inside their parent organizations.

“The most effective transformation will be led by an internal candidate, someone who has been there for years, with the internal capital and trust to drive change and a willingness to embrace new working models,” he says. “You can teach someone Agile, DevOps, service design or other new ways of thinking. You can’t teach them trust.”

How To Commit To Constant Transformation

Think of transformation as a journey rather than a destination. Working up to a Big Bang isn’t just a risky and costly way to approach change. It makes it almost impossible to hit the target before your competitors or customers move on from the point you’re trying to reach. “By the time you can decide and commit to making a big step, the target moves because the world has moved on,” Vaz says. “Instead of getting trapped into the idea that transformation has to be a big step change, realize your transformation needs to be incremental.”

As it happens, the techniques that make transformation consistent and constant are the same ones that make it manageable. Attack a thin, vertical aspect of your business, such as identifying and on-boarding new customers for a particular product or services. Stay focused on optimizing and digitizing that process and that process alone. When that process is complete, move to a neighboring, similar task. Eventually this approach will go viral within the organization and make it easier to effect change with each new process. But the core discipline should become part of the culture.

How To Catch Up

Although an industry’s digital transformation pioneers can define terms for a while, there are still opportunities to catch up after a late start. Individual companies and even entire industries can use the groundwork of digital pioneers. Today, a company at the start of a transformation journey benefits from the proven power of a sophisticated, mature public cloud and near-universal adoption of high-speed mobile wireless in consumer and enterprise markets.

That groundwork is making it easier for even cautious industries to take bold, aggressive steps today. “Three years after leaders started publishing papers about using artificial intelligence to run an entire enterprise, you’re seeing banks invest in the idea,” Murphy says. “Those types of ideas used to take 10 years to move from Silicon Valley to the retail banking world.”

How To Differentiate

If everyone’s committed to digital business transformation, is anybody really different? Simply following the template laid down by a competitor might seem like a sure way to be branded a follower. But adopting email, web and mobile technologies didn’t make companies followers. It’s what you go on to do with your new strategy that matters.

“Your initial transformation moves will probably be similar to your competitors, and that will give you expertise and muscle memory for operating in the new world,” Murphy says. “From there, you can differentiate and make bold moves; you can start to create new offers and learn to be much more responsive to, and even anticipate, your customers’ needs and wants.”


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