Digital Transformation – Hype or Hope?


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digitization-1755812_1920 Any organizational discussion on improving customer experience (CX) will undoubtedly find that the digital experience, and the overall digital strategy, will quickly find a spot on the agenda. A well designed and thoughtfully timed digital strategy can drive enhanced customer contact across channels, solutions and devices. It can connect both internal and external stakeholders to improve most aspects of business and can positively impact customer experience. But managing customer interactions across an increasing large number of touchpoints, devices and solutions is increasing the pressure on IT decision makers (ITDMs) to ramp up digital activity at the pace that the business wants and expects, and that customers demand.

Against that backdrop, and with organizations falling over themselves in the race to become “digital”, it feels blasphemous to cast aspersions at the concept or to ask “why”. Especially as a recent survey from Mulesoft stated that 88% of ITDMs say they are either executing on digital transformation (DT) now, or will be in the next 3 years. But perhaps the question isn’t “why” but “how”, and possibly “when” and “where.” The latter questions have their provenance in the fact that while there is probably no C-level debate about the validity of a digital agenda, it’s less clear how to establish the priorities and to agree on where to start. Marketing, sales, customer service, eCommerce and others will all state the case for “me first.” Further highlights from the Mulesoft survey articulate this quite succinctly.

    ITDMs are having issues delivering all the projects asked of them; only half say they were able to complete all the projects asked of them last year

    69% say there is a disparity between business and IT about what can be achieved with a digital initiative

And IDC’s recent Digital Transformation report suggests that 70% of digital transformation initiatives will ultimately fail because of insufficient collaboration, integration, sourcing or project management.

These conflicting ambitions and opinions can put the brakes on any digital transformation project before it’s left the station, as organizational turf wars break out and digital hype goes into overdrive. But there is hope on the horizon. There is an approach that can address the needs of various stakeholders and recognize and incorporate the CX benefits, while at the same time establishing a flexible, cross company strategy and a technology framework that is consistent, sustainable and can meet organizational expectations in a timely fashion.

Getting the Digital Initiative on Track – The Fast Train is on Platform One

This approach actually stems from some of the issues that many companies are facing as they begin their digital journey and are referenced in the Mulesoft survey and from the anecdotal evidence that many failed digital projects uncover. A major contributor to the delivery conundrum is that many companies are finding that the integration with myriad back-end legacy system is a pain point that can deprive them of the business value of digital services. Complex multi-solution integration slows time-to-market, burns investment budgets, and often leaves cross-company teams frustrated with the outcomes.

Often the digital journey begins with a desire to smoothly and quickly integrate solution platforms such as CRM, ERP or contact centre and other mission critical business systems. However, the deployment of these solutions alone using point-to-point integration often result in outcomes that don’t meet the requirements of multi-functional business teams, or take far longer and cost more than originally anticipated.

To successfully traverse this potential mine field and keep their constituents happy, organizations must adopt a digital experience framework and integration mind-set and capability closely aligned to the CX strategy and that starts with the customers in mind. The most critical and successful digital deployments all rely heavily on Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) and/or digital experience platforms (DXPs), to deliver the robust and flexible integration they need that can connect content, data, and systems to unify marketing, commerce, and service processes over multiple touchpoints.

A recent report from Forrester Research summarizes this neatly by stating that “APIs are perhaps the most critical technology in digital business design.” Gartner have equally strong feelings and say “It is impossible to provide the platform for any digital strategy without full life cycle API management”.

APIs have been around for some time doing stellar and necessary work to provide integration across a range of applications and enabling companies to embed other solution capabilities into their own applications. As well as providing a more stable and consistent environment for integration they can substantially reduce the time for deployment and the associated costs. These are provided by organizations such as Mulesoft, CA, IBM and Informatica to name but a few

A Digital Experience Platform (DXP) is an emerging category of enterprise software seeking to meet the needs of companies undergoing digital transformation, with the ultimate goal of providing better customer experiences. DXPs can be a single product, but are often a suite of products that work together and can manage, deliver, and optimize experiences consistently across every digital touchpoint including legacy systems, web, mobile, social, email, and connected devices. It provides valuable connectivity that enhances CX for a broad range of constituents especially customers, partners, colleagues, suppliers, and other key stakeholders. Leading vendors include Liferay, Adobe, IBM and Oracle.

But while these solutions can clearly drive Digital Transformation projects in the right direction selecting a DXP, API or business solutions vendor isn’t necessarily the first step in creating the digital framework. Consequently it’s vital that organizations embark on a journey that is guided by CX strategy and cross-functional, organizational participation to develop “what if” scenarios that can clearly identify the economic and commercial drivers of digital transformation for their own business.

Visualize the Destination – Plan the Journey

Anyone with young children or an impatient partner will have heard that immortal phrase “Are we there yet?” during a long journey. Digital Transformation is no different. Once the journey starts everyone will want to get there yesterday. But, as I noted, getting consensus around the digital agenda, aligning it with strategic initiatives and business goals, and, in particular, establishing the route and destination of your initial program is vital. This is where the CX map and framework come into play. It can be overlaid on, or intersect with, the Digital Transformation strategy.

This may be a challenge for traditionalists who may push the technology first agenda. But this must be resisted at all costs. If you let business strategy and an innovative combination of discovery/education techniques and “what if” scenarios set the agenda and drive the dialogue, then you’re likely to arrive at the right place. This is why a cross-functional team, who can articulate new ideas on behalf of their respective domains, while understanding and designing the overall company digital vision, is so important and non-negotiable. While each business will have different priorities and be at different points on the map there are some fundamental questions to pose incorporated into three key steps that will help develop the guidelines and inform the team to keep them heading in the right direction of travel.

There are just Three Steps to Heaven and possibly Digital Salvation

Both Eddie Cochran and Showaddywaddy were clearly not digital pioneers but the song that features large in their back catalogues, and the associated mantra, are worth reconfiguring to provide some basic guidelines for the team to consider when developing their digital road map. And the discovery/education playlists and “what if” scenarios join in the chorus to result in a truly harmonious rendition of Digital Highway revisited.

1. Will the strategy have a clear and measurable impact on CX and potentially reduce costs and drive new revenue, and clearly benefit both customers and colleagues?

This seems like an easy and obvious question to ask, but often; (and especially if the project is technology led) the CX benefits are either not understood, or not taken into consideration. While it’s natural to think that by making every channel available to every customer every time is a guarantee of success, it may not be true. It may be a realistic long term objective, but an unnecessary and expensive choice initially. But by truly understanding customer needs and colleague pain points, we can determine the best places to offer digital capabilities now and where they can wait until more evidence of the value is demonstrated. Being able to gain consensus and make the appropriate decisions quickly, will save much teeth gnashing, soul searching and other biblically inspired reactions.

The good news is that if and when you decide on the appropriate DXP or API that provides deep and broad integration, adding another channel or device type will probably be done far quicker and cost effectively, and at the right time. Articulating and documenting these and aligning them with the CX benefits will ensure that you are doing them for the right reasons – for the customer and colleagues.

2. Will a specific digital initiative accelerate development, cut down on the time to market and reduce the risk associated with an extended or difficult deployment?

This one comes with some more questions, but cannot be addressed without a cross-functional team all of whom are wearing their CX hats.

Can you create experiences and business models on the same platform that can be reused to unify your whole customer journey?

Are you able to connect most, or all, of your various stakeholders and create and manage modular business applications, to quickly align your digital ambition with operational reality?

This again will require some true collaboration and risk profiling to be clear on the prioritization, but will be invaluable in getting the mix right and ensuring that the customers gain the most benefits. It’s unlikely that a total refit of your IT infrastructure will be needed and in fact this is a bad idea as it will once again focus attention on technology not business strategy. The goal here will be to align early adopters with some of the “doubting Thomas’s” in a truly collaborative session to help both bridge the gaps between desire and reality and meet in the middle.

3. Does the digital program increase differentiation, create new routes to market and/or develop business models?

Simply having an app that your competitors don’t have is unlikely to be a significant differentiator for very long as they will probably catch up quite soon. So once again your team needs to be clear on the business benefits of the differentiation, its lifecycle, financial value and customer satisfaction benefits. Monitor changes that are happening in your market segment and territories. Are customer and colleague expectations changing and what are your competitors doing to adapt?

A good way to look at this is to say “Would we do it anyway?”, even if it wasn’t based on a digital element. Clearly looking at new markets that can benefit from “always on” and/or 24/7 capabilities that digital can bring is one way to evaluate the power of that reach. This should allow for a clear financial analysis based on the size and potential of the market. Also by identifying customer activity in terms of type, location and outcome will help you focus on where legacy systems and business processes are damaging the customer experience and present opportunities for improvement.

Digital Transformation at the Speed of Right

However you incorporate the three steps into your process they will most likely develop some additional elements for consideration that the team can assess and manage to identify specific opportunities and initial areas for focus. This will help them develop the guiding principles and uncover a clear connection between the digital framework and the broader customer engagement and CX imperatives that drive them. When these steps have been completed you have a road map that has been plotted on strong multi-departmental and customer experience principles. You will be ready to engage with the appropriate technology vendors with whom you can share this vision. They will appreciate your due diligence and the associated information it has provided, and it will be the best chance to arrive at your destination together.

Once the initial team is together, you need to plan the journey with realistic, achievable milestones. It’s vital to have frequent stopovers at appropriate points on a customer experience map for guidance and direction. Use these reference points to evaluate your current performance through your customer’s eyes. Use your own operational realities and internal road-blocks to define where you are on the digital journey, how you’re doing, how far you have to go and what, if any, detours you may have to make. While making these detours is quite natural, organizationally revitalizing and probably necessary, it’s critical that you have the right map in your hands for your stated destination. Because even the most detailed and comprehensive map of France won’t get you to Cornwall!

(Image downloaded royalty free from Pixabay)

Gerry Brown
Gerry Brown aka The Customer Lifeguard is on a mission to save the world from bad customer service. Gerry takes a unique approach that helps businesses focus on getting back to basics with four fundamental principles that are vital to underpinning a successful customer experience strategy: Culture, Commitment, Communication and Community. Gerry has spent over 35 years in key management roles in the UK and Canada and has worked with some of the largest companies in Canada, the UK and EMEA, including O2, SONY, Sage, Screwfix, TUI, BSkyB, Bell Canada, TELUS, and CP Hotels.Gerry is a member of the Professional Speaking Association (PSA) and the Global Speakers Federation (GSF) and speaks authoritatively and passionately about the practical, proven, customer service strategies that produce lasting, memorable and measurable results.


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