Digital transformation is a phrase that gets bandied around, but the truth is, it’s nothing new. Canon was digitally transforming way back in 1984, when we moved our first analogue copying device to digital. But if it’s nothing new, why has it been the go-to buzzword for business for the last five years… and why is it still a discussion point today?
In reality, whilst everyone is talking about digital transformation, not many organisations are really that far along their transformation journeys. We’ve made good strides, but our own journey is far from over.
At the beginning of our most recent transformation, like many organisations, our digital presence represented the way we saw ourselves, rather than the way our customers viewed us. By focusing solely on product features, we were missing a vital piece of the puzzle – the human benefits of our excellent portfolio. A heatmapping exercise also called to light some important areas of improvement. It gave us an understanding of the crucial role that search plays in taking our customers from awareness to that ‘Zero Moment of Truth’. This is the point at which they go online and do research before entering into a direct conversation with us.
Attempting to fix everything at once is doomed to failure. Instead, begin by asking some high-level questions – “What do we want to be known for?” and at the same time, undertake some capability mapping. Understanding your current digital capabilities will highlight areas of need, raise questions of how they fit into the context of your organisation and force you to assess where it they will take you in the future. Immediately you are looking at the people aspect of your transformation, which is a fine beginning.
Only 8% of enterprises consider themselves digitally transformed
Starting the technology conversation is more challenging. Your business understands a need to do something different and wants change – fast. As tempting as it might be to approach a technology vendor for a solution, we have to realise that we are all often stuck in our own paradigm. Before taking the great leap into the bells and whistles of tech, it’s better to try and understand precisely what’s required. It’s almost too easy to adopt a technology that solves a problem but forces your organisation to work in the way that the technology works – not the way that you want or need to work. Honest conversations need to be had before getting mired in costly tech. Words of warning aside, an early look at tech options can help you to push the boundaries and understand what’s possible.
If you start by investigating your processes, you can build a system that delivers against them. So, when you integrate your technology it can work in the way you want to be working. You can build change into your processes, simply by sitting down with a piece of paper and asking, “what would perfect look like?” However, be warned that these processes may stumble if the organisation’s people context is not considered throughout. Once again, you only know what you know – the way you currently work – and it can be very difficult to move away from.
Good people use their experiences and knowledge to find the best way to work. And they will work with existing teams to develop the context. Together they will find a way to sum up the processes, sum up the technology and make the right changes. However, the ‘people’ aspect of digital transformation can have its own challenges – finding the right people with the right digital skills is really hard. They’re in short supply. Half of Europeans don’t have any digital skills and the incoming graduate workforce won’t have the expected level of digital fluency required by transforming businesses. Equally, transforming businesses are looking for talent which can understand organisational context, combining both digital and commercial skills. Secondly, the market is such that if your processes and technology slow your transformation down, good people will leave you or won’t be working to their full capabilities.
In highly specialist areas, you may need some extra help. Data science is a good example of an area in huge demand but is suffering a severe skill shortage. Upskilling is rarely an option here, so agency partners can help you to start gradually, introduce new capability and reduce risk. You may even find that a continued and increased demand within your business means that your agency partners become a more long-term support to your transformation. However, you should also be simultaneously developing and recruiting the correct skill-sets that will allow you to potentially bring some capabilities in-house at some stage in the future. Be sure to put a plan in place with your agency to this effect, as even if you decide not to take certain services entirely in-house, it will ensure you don’t become over-reliant on external resource.
With investment comes expectation, and there’s a lot around digital. I hear much about digital being highly measurable which it is, and attributable, which is far more challenging. My advice would be to start with something tangible and customer-focused. Something your organisation can see and get on-board with. For us it was our ‘fit for purpose’ website project. It was relatively basic, but much-needed to move us forward. We wanted to take our website from a product-centric space to one of inspiration that drives engagement. We spoke to customers, looked at analysis to understand what people want from our website and what they do while they’re there. We used each learning to build our structure – just a few hundred pages to begin with, but today there are thousands. Both front and back end, structure and content have changed. We’ve made it easier for our customers to find what they need from the point of search, then give them enjoyable, rich content that drives positive intent – be that going to our ecommerce store, filling a lead generation form or clicking through to ‘click to call’. None of this is revolutionary, but it was important. It got us to the next stage incrementally and built upon our existing technology. The results have been great.
In short, start with your people and processes.
Build skills from within (but don’t be afraid to call on partners).
Be inspired by technology – but don’t let it tell you what to do.
Get the business on-board with tangible, customer-focused outcomes.
Remember – only people can make decisions. For now, anyway!
Alex Thurgood is Digital Operations Director, Corporate Communications & Marketing Services for Canon EMEA. His team look after Canon’s online presence across 52 countries and in 30 languages. This approach to digital transformation was first shared at The B2B Marketing EXPO in March 2019.