Only Tech Companies Will Survive in a Digital World


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What do today’s car manufacturers, pizza chains, accounting firms, hospitals and government agencies all have in common? Despite products and services that span industry sectors, if they are going to be successful in today’s new digital economy, each of these organizations must think, act and operate like a tech company.

By this point, every business – regardless of the industry in which it operates, the number of people it employs or the geography that it serves – is either embarking on or is in the midst of a digital transformation. No longer is the idea of “digital transformation” a strategy to gain a competitive advantage. Rather, it is a necessity to survive. But what does a digital transformation entail? Is it moving core applications to the cloud, or leveraging machine learning to identify customer interaction patterns, or creating collaborative digital workspaces? Or is it developing digital commerce solutions or creating an Amazon Alexa skill to interact with your customer? Yes. The answer is yes, digital transformation is all of this.

Recognizing that some form of digital transformation is mission critical to nearly every business is a first step. However, like the examples above, the successful creation and execution of a digital transformation strategy ties directly to the ability and willingness of a business to think, act and operate like a tech company. While this may seem like an arduous task, adopting three simple principles can set any company on the path to becoming a tech company.

1. Start with a Blank Canvas

For a painter, a blank canvas is a symbol of possibility. The image that the artist creates is limited only by its borders. When it comes to modernizing or innovating, many businesses get too caught up in the painting that is already on the wall – unwilling to use a fresh approach or look at their business in a new way. This does not mean that a business needs to erase its heritage or the values that have shaped its success. For example, drugstore giant Walgreens has been innovating its industry since its first store opened in 1901. More recently, the company saw higher demand for collaboration and cross-company recognition had prompted the need to update its intranet. By redesigning its online employee experience to include social elements that foster innovation and collaboration, Walgreens has taken big steps in improving employee engagement.

2. Be an Intrapreneur

No, this is not a typo. One of the key components to operating like a tech company is fostering an INTRApreneurial culture – one that encourages innovative product development and marketing at all levels. For example, when Pet Supplies Plus decided to develop a new business intelligence system as part of its digital transformation, it looked inward. By collecting insight and feedback from knowledge leaders across the business including managers, veteran employees, and even the head of its supply chain, Pet Supplies Plus now has a system in place that captures important data and informs critical business decisions. Approaching this endeavor with an intrapreneurial mindset, Pet Supplies Plus has created a solution that provides useful features, functionality and data intelligence for both operational executives and franchisees.

3. Insist on innovation (but be practical)

While promoting intrapreneurship can help to set the tone for innovation and advancement, the idea of executing an all-encompassing digital transformation strategy can seem as daunting as trying to boil the ocean.

Fear not. For those companies that do not have massive budgets or massive amounts of time, the key to digital transformation lies in their ability to think big, but start small. This notion of “practical innovation” can provide incremental, yet visible results in the context of a broader digital transformation endeavor. It should be noted that in this context “practical” does not equate to “small,” “limited” or “unsophisticated.” On the contrary, practical innovations are thoughtful, bold, forward-thinking ideas that push a digital experience forward while contending with real budgets and real timelines.

Consider this analogy. A homeowner buys a “fixer upper” with the intent to complete all of the repairs, updates and renovations on his own. The homeowner may attempt to tackle the entire house at once, forcing himself to live in a construction zone for months (or let’s face it, years), having little to show for his work until the entire home is completed. Conversely, with a bigger picture vision and blueprint in mind, the homeowner can tackle one project or one room at a time, making incremental progress in shorter time periods while gaining use of the home’s features and rooms as they are completed.

This example shows that while a “macro” innovation approach to digital transformation can serve as a springboard to executing an end-to-end implementation strategy, it can often be unpredictable, unsustainable and impractical. On the flipside, by implementing small changes that affect larger goals, the practical innovation approach, garners faster results at a lower cost.

So, whether your product is steel or stout, accounting or design, architecture or farming – in order to anticipate, adapt and innovate in a constantly changing digital world, every company must adopt and execute a digital transformation strategy. In other words, turn your company into a tech company.

Ross Freedman
Ross Freedman is co-founder of Rightpoint, the largest independent customer experience agency in the U.S. He is a passionate entrepreneur, driven to marry creativity and technology in order to solve business problems and transform brands, and an established thought leader who examines innovation in business. In 2015, Ross was named the Midwest winner of the prestigious EY "Entrepreneur of the Year" with his Rightpoint co-founder Brad Schneider.


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