As the 2001 McKinsey article this quote is pulled from goes on to explain, businesses actively engaged in digital transformation are rapidly gaining significant competitive advantage over those who are lagging behind.
Well thought out and executed investment in digital technologies typically return business value across one or more of:
- Delivering a market advantage
- Increasing revenue (via digital marketing)
- Improving efficiency (thus lowering costs)
- Staff engagement
- Providing real-time insights
Below we’ve summarised each of these along with questions to ask within your business to help identify transformative opportunities.
Delivering a market advantage
We generally think of this as providing something valuable that didn’t previously exist, delivering a significant improvement in customer experience (CX), improving trust, reducing the cost for the customer, or a combination of these.
Uber is a great illustration because it achieved all but the first of these; it provided a much improved ordering and payment experience via their mobile app, increased the customer’s trust because their platform always knows who’s car they’re in, ensured drivers always got paid and it delivered the whole service at a much lower cost than a traditional taxi.
For many established companies’ tech can enable market advantage by putting more control and visibility in the hands of its customers and streamlining order processes. Alternatively, it may be achieved through reducing operating costs so significantly that the business can deliver services at better prices than its competitors. It was satisfying recently to hear that one of our longer standing clients now effectively sets the market price that everyone else has to try and get down to, whilst remaining consistently profitable.
Some key questions that could be asked to unearth opportunities include:
- Has our client journey been mapped and, if so, what frustrations do customers often experience along that journey?
- Are there insights or self-service abilities we could give our clients that our market research suggests people would value?
- What could a start-up invent to disrupt our business using technology?
Beyond these questions you could also consider reading Blue Ocean Strategy for its great insights on creating fresh and compelling offerings in a crowded marketplace.
Obviously one of the biggest transformations in recent times has been the advent of digital marketing. For many organisations it provides a more efficient and targeted marketing spend, ongoing connections for automated lead nurture and valuable data insights.
Digital marketing often also goes hand-in-hand with creating approachable and efficient online ordering processes that reduce barriers to easily obtaining goods and services. It’s a well understood area of digital transformation, nevertheless there are still some questions worth asking, such as:
- Is there an efficient and customer friendly online order process in place for our goods or services (if relevant)?
- Do we capture a lead’s contact details, and permission to contact them, at every point possible in our marketing touch points?
- If so, what follow-up communications or lead nurture process do we have in place to convert these leads?
A sign of pain in the digital marketing process would be a high spend with low or unknown results, so drilling into the measurable effectiveness of specific campaigns may also be of value.
It’s also worth noting here that the cost of pay-per-click advertising seems to be consistently rising, making a strong organic SEO strategy ever more compelling in many cases. Richard Conway’s book, How to get to the Top of Google Search lays out a great deal of what’s involved in achieving this.
Software has long been replacing repetitive processes with automation so this is old news, but there are currently three main areas where big gains continue to be made.
The first is improving the flow of information within organisations, either through data integration between software or by creating custom workflows. The second is mobilizing business processes out to the field so that staff can interact with systems via their smartphones or tablets wherever they are. The third is the rise of AI, which in essence allows us to automate all kinds of things that in the past were considered too complex and variable for automation.
As an example of the first two, a number of years back we were approached by a Firestop company frustrated with the tedious compliance requirements of their profession. On construction sites they were having to hand-write labels to place next to work done, hand-write the same information as notes, take photos, record photo filenames to match up later, then go back to the office and work with various off-the-shelf software to put it all together for council and billing reports. We turned the whole process into a tablet app where plans could be visually marked-up, photos could be added to data points using the tablet camera, product and building specification info could be entered super-fast via smart auto-complete fields, labels could be printed to a Bluetooth printer on the workman’s belt and all the data was synced up to the cloud where reports could then be auto-generated. This immediately saved 80% of people’s documentation and reporting time and dramatically reduced the scope for mistakes.
Some questions to identify opportunities for this kind of break-through improvement include:
- What areas of the business would become excessively cumbersome if we doubled turnover?
- Are there any situations where the same data is being entered in more than one place?
- Do staff out in the field interact with our electronic systems in the flow of their working day, or do they submit information later?
Enhancing staff engagement
This is gold, and often overlooked. How staff feel about the systems they work with can affect the tone across an organisation. Are they commonly frustrated and avoiding systems, or do they think the systems make their life easier?
There’s still a lot of old-school software in use in organisations that’s hard to use, often ugly and tends to block rather than enhance the flow of people’s work. People aren’t usually resistant to change when they find it easy to understand and like using it. UX (user experience) is a huge focus of modern software development, as is some elegant use of graphic design as we increasingly appreciate the link between design and the happiness, morale and health of staff.
From there, if you want to take engagement to the next level, you could also look into the ways ‘gamification’ is being used to motivate people. To reiterate something I wrote in my NZ Business article on Gamification a few years back, “people pay to play games but usually have to be paid to use serious software”. So, if we can do anything to make work more fun, enjoyable, motivating, visual and intuitive, then we’ll definitely find we’ve done some good to both the bottom line and organisational culture.
Questions in this area might be along the lines of:
- Do people complain about the current systems?
- Is there evidence of people avoiding using the systems
- Have we looked into the emotive impact of our current systems?
Providing real-time insights
The most interesting project we’ve worked on in this area was a cloud application providing live dashboards of graphs and word-clouds to present analysis of email and TXT micro-surveys (triggered at various business’s key points of customer engagement). It enabled people at the head of large organisations to see, in very visual ways, what customers were feeling and thinking about the business as a whole, then to drill down into country, area, branch and even to a salesperson level where relevant.
It’s these kinds of insights in a business that allow leaders to keep their finger on the pulse, identify problems quickly, and find out the good and bad of how customers are experiencing their organisation.
Potential questions to find out where needs are include:
- As a leader what do I wish I had real-time visibility into that I currently don’t?
- What are the most critical leading indicators to be keeping an eye on in our organisation?
- Beyond the numbers, what are the qualitative things going on?
Digital solutions can deliver considerable business value, however they shouldn’t be exempt from tried and true evaluation of ROI and problem-solution fit.
Especially in more challenging times it’s important to be clear about the business case, ask the right questions, prioritise projects on business value and ensure vendors selected can deliver quality results.
Done right there is opportunity not only to revolutionise your business, but to experience the excitement of innovating and leading within your market.
At Applicable our mission is to unleash kiwi innovation in the digital space. We specialise in transforming businesses through innovative digital journeys, both at the strategy level and as long-term execution partners building highly intuitive mobile apps, cloud software and custom web experiences.