There are no shortcuts in digital

long straight roadA CEO asked me recently whether I could explain what digital was in a single sentence. I replied that explaining digital is something that usually takes an hour when I am giving a board briefing session on the subject but that I’d see what I could do! After about five minutes of explanation and with the aid of some examples to illustrate what digital is and is not, the CEO in question seemed satisfied that they had a sufficient grip on the subject.

That CEO may now be able to talk briefly and at a high level about digital business but it will take them a lot longer than those five minutes to develop the kind of detailed understanding of digital required to lead a business in the digital era. Digital is different to previous technology-enabled initiatives such as e-commerce where CEOs and indeed most of the rest of the C-suite could observe and oversee changes from a distance and without the need to get too involved or fully understand what needed to be done.

The impact of digital is more fundamental. Whereas e-commerce could be treated as just another sales channel, digital is about transforming the entire business. In most organisations it is likely that a single executive would have been given responsibility for e-commerce but the entire senior team of the organisation has to get digital; they need to understand digital business models, products and services, they have to be focused on the customer and they need to know what it takes to successfully deliver digital initiatives.

And just like there is no quick way of building this level of knowledge and understanding of digital, there is no shortcut to becoming a sustainable digital business. In a previous article I talked about the four stages of digital maturity:

  1. Ignorance: the organisation does not engage with digital; no digital solutions are implemented and no changes are made. The organisation’s business model, products and services remain the same.
  2. Reactive: tactical delivery of digital solutions that are not part of an overall plan. The organisation’s business model, products and services remain unchanged with digital being viewed as an add-on. Changes made have limited impact on the overall business.
  3. Strategic: digital is incorporated at the very beginning of initiatives (e.g. mobile first, analytics, etc). The underlying business model, products and services, however, remain the same but the changes made for digital are more significant and have a longer-lasting impact.
  4. Transformational: the organisation reinvents its business model, products and services – using technology to do things differently and to do different things – to create a sustainable digital business.

To create a sustainable digital business, organisations must reach the final stage of maturity; they must be digitally transformational. This involves reinventing the company’s business model for digital and not simply running digital initiatives within the existing, non-digital business model (i.e. stage 3 – being digitally strategic) or implementing point solutions in response to specific needs (stage 2 – digitally reactive).

Transforming into a digital business is not easy and nor is it something that can be done quickly. And it takes a lot more than investing in mobile and social. It is a multi-year programme that starts with the board defining and communicating a clear and compelling vision for the business in the digital age and then using this vision to guide the design of a new business model, products and services. But to realise the vision and to ensure the new business model can be delivered requires changes throughout the business. Culture, leadership, governance, policies, processes, roles, skills, systems, data, etc all need to be reviewed and revised to meet the needs of digital. Without these business-wide changes organisations will find it increasingly difficult to keep up with competitors that have reinvented themselves for digital.

Every industry and every business will be impacted by digital. It is not a question of if but when. Your industry could be disrupted at any point and if you are not ready then you will find it hard to survive the disruption. There are no shortcuts to becoming a digital business so any organisation that has not started the journey needs to start as soon as possible if they want to survive in the long-term.

If your organisation wants to improve its senior team’s awareness and understanding of digital, develop a vision and strategy for its digital transformation, or reinvent its business model for digital then please contact me or visit my website, axin.co.uk.

Trackbacks

  1. […] be impacted by digital. It is not a question of if but when. But as I explained in my last article, There are no shortcuts in digital, transforming into a digital business is not easy and nor is it something that can be done quickly. […]

  2. […] it something that can be done quickly. And it takes a lot more than investing in mobile and social. There are no shortcuts in digital to becoming a digital business so any organisation that has not started the journey needs to start […]

  3. […] be impacted by digital. It is not a question of if but when. But as I explained in my last article, There are no shortcuts in digital, transforming into a digital business is not easy and nor is it something that can be done quickly. […]

  4. […] be impacted by digital. It is not a question of if but when. But as I explained in my last article, There are no shortcuts in digital, transforming into a digital business is not easy and nor is it something that can be done quickly. […]

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