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How to start your digital journey off on the right foot

Posted on: 10 September '15
David Shukri
Director - Digital Business

The path to digital transformation can be rocky, so I’m casting an eye over some of the big challenges that businesses face and offer a few pointers on how to counter them.

Digital transformation is a hot topic around many boardroom tables, regardless of company size, sector or country of operation.

It can seem a daunting task. Adapting a firm’s culture, processes and technology to meet the needs of fast changing multichannel customers isn’t the kind of thing you’ll have nailed before lunch!

Add to the mix an array of vendors and agencies pushing the latest buzzwords and hyped-up fads and you have a recipe if not for disaster, certainly for a bit of a muddle.

Little wonder recent research from Gartner found that 51% of CIO’s felt their organisations weren’t ready to respond to the pace of digital change.

Of course digital transformation isn’t just about technology for technology’s sake. It’s about using data to improve the way you engage with customers. It’s about unifying web content so your brand speaks with one consistent voice. It can even involve digitizing your supply chain to improve availability and reduce costs.

Whatever the specifics, people embarking on this journey constantly refer to the same issues. So here are four of the most common I hear about, together with some thoughts on how to overcome them.


1. A solution just for me. Just as your customers today dislike generic messages and untargeted content, businesses too prefer a tailored approach, not a standard template that’s rolled out again and again. Many larger technology service providers favour this route because it works for them, but digital is all about personalization.

Recently a customer of ours decided it was time to rationalise the number of CMS in their business. It had ballooned to more than 30! They were swamped by claims from dozens of vendors, each asserting their solution was the right one for the business. In reality no single answer was capable of meeting the company’s requirements on its own, but with good, impartial advice that focused on their requirements, they were able to establish the right combination of tools for their long-term needs.

A cookie-cutter methodology based on assumptions won’t deliver the differentiation you need to stand out from your competitors. It has to begin with reviewing your business problem, understanding your customer engagement and allowing a customised solution flow from there. Beware the vendor that says they have the perfect solution for you already to hand.

2. Move with speed and agility. A successful digital journey obviously doesn’t mean rebooting your entire operation and starting from scratch. Anyone who’s been in business a while has all sorts of legacy systems and processes that need to be accounted for at the same time as the front end wizzes towards a bright new future. If that means agile, iterative processes are called for, your digital partner should be able to deliver that, rather than dictate a predetermined path.

Optimizing your existing supply chain at the same time as delivering an exciting new customer experience is incredibly important. Think about the last great online experience you had that wasn’t backed up by an equally impressive standard of delivery. Maybe the item you ordered was out of stock or the service fully subscribed. Perhaps something got delivered to the wrong address, or, as happened to me recently, the order never even reached the fulfilment department. Did you give them a second chance? I certainly didn’t!

It’s this dual-speed execution that delivers real value for all. Make sure the vital parts of your value chain aren’t getting left behind.

3. Bring me ideas! Many digital transformations fail to reach their potential because they haven’t pushed the boundaries of what’s possible and looked far enough in to the future. A lot of suitors simply don’t have what it takes to support you with meaningful innovation and imagination. What you’re looking for is one that can call upon a broad mix of skills to create new concepts and models that have genuine potential to add value to your business.

During my time in the food industry, I came across three kinds of supplier: the one-product wonders, the time-wasters, and the innovators. The first two were as bad as each other when it came to innovation. They either relied too heavily on a single product to deliver growth, or threw the kitchen sink at me with endless ‘innovations’ that were neither customer-focused nor insight-driven. The innovators, while few and far between, were worth their weight in gold because of their creativity and their commitment to long-term growth.

When you find an innovative partner that clicks with your team, you’ll start to realise all kinds of new possibilities. That’s when you’ll truly begin to see what your business’s future could look like.

4. A partner I can rely on. When all’s said and done, digital transformation is a complex task. By its nature, reaching your objectives takes a number of partners, all working smoothly together – strategic, creative, technical, large, medium and small. Yet if you don’t have a central linchpin with the expertise and culture to collaborate well, it could lead to problems. Everyone will say they’re collaborative, but dig deeper and see if that’s really written in to their DNA. Your multi-vendor ecosystem deserves an anchor partner with the right attitude and experience to make it work for you.

Nobody likes to waste money and no one likes to fail, so picking a strong partner for your digital transformation is one of the most important decisions you’ll make.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced on your digital transformation journey and how have you overcome it? Please share your experiences in the comments section.

David Shukri

David’s experience as a buyer, analyst and industry commentator makes him the ideal person to turn to on retail trends and shopper behaviour. He’s a passionate speaker, facilitator and moderator who believes every business must eventually embrace digital if they want to succeed in the future.