Digital transformation is a concept that‘s on everyone’s minds these days, and rightfully so. The role that technology plays in both business, and in the lives of consumers, has never been deeper or more omnipresent; the pandemic accelerated that role even more so. People were forced to lean into technology like never before, and, to the surprise of many, people willfully embraced this new pandemic-driven paradigm, which, in turn, forced companies to react and adapt to a new level of technological acceptance. At its core, that’s what digital transformation is about: the ability for a business to swiftly adapt to shifts in the marketplace, consumer behavior, and, technology itself.
When I speak to clients, they all easily grasp the need to digitally transform their companies; how it’s vital to the success of their companies in both the short and long term. However, it’s not uncommon for them to look at the act of digital transformation as having a beginning and an end, at which point I have to break the news that digital transformation does not, in fact, have an end. The reason for this is simple.
Digital transformation is both a reflection on and a reaction to change, and since change never ends, neither does digital transformation. So, not only is digital transformation a marathon and not a sprint, it’s a marathon where you don’t ever get to cross the finish line. The reality is that, if you want your business to be part of today’s global economy, digital transformation is a marathon that you have no choice but to run.
Commencing Your Digital Transformation Journey
As with most processes, how to begin your journey towards digital transformation is often the hardest part to figure out. After having partnered with hundreds of clients on their own digital transformation, I believe that there are five steps you need to take in order to set your business on a solid path toward digital transformation.
You have to approach digital transformation as a multi-step process, and the first step in that process is determining your long-term objective. In what ways do you want your business to transform? What do you want your business to be known for? What do you want your organization to look like from a structural perspective? For example, maybe you’re a B2B company that doesn’t sell directly to consumers today, but you want to be able to do that within 3-5 years. Clearly fleshing out the future state of your business provides you with a strategic north star, which will help guide you toward making the kinds of decisions that will increase the likelihood of achieving your overarching goal.
While you’re formulating your long-term plan, you still need to run and grow your business. PeakActivity will help you accomplish this by leveraging our Dream. Deliver. Elevate. methodology. For example, one of our clients in the home furnishings industry faced a business problem: The disjointed connection between their dated in-store technology and their online systems made for a frustrating customer experience. We applied our methodology in the following way:
Dream - We spent the first three months collaborating with the client on a rapid assessment to identify and document the core business opportunities that would position the client for long-term success. Essentially, we wanted to learn everything there was to know about their business: how the organization was structured, the people they had in place, what they were currently spending their money on, and, perhaps of greatest importance, who their customers were and how they wanted to engage with them. The results of this discovery phase included an eCommerce strategic plan, a prioritized action roadmap, and the findings from both customer acquisition and analytics audits.
Deliver - In this phase, we started executing the first wave of initiatives against the action roadmap, as well as identified the resources needed to execute these initiatives and determined key data measurements. Over the first year of the engagement, our goal was simply to take existing technologies and make them work better. For example, while our long-term plan included replacing the client’s existing eCommerce platform with a headless version—in the short term—we made improvements to the existing platform that would help overall performance. We also made changes to the client’s search engine optimization (SEO) and email efforts.
Elevate - We began executing long-term action items, including moving the client over to the aforementioned headless eCommerce system, giving them the flexibility to easily swap out different components as their needs change. We developed a store-associate mobile app that runs on the same system, so a store associate can enter the items that the customer is interested in into a tablet, and the customer can purchase the saved products from home, if they want to. In addition, we implemented a data and analytics tool that’s helping us connect customer information offline and online so that we can incorporate greater customer personalization in the near future.
2. Mind Over Matter
Many business owners still think that creating a website qualifies them to consider themselves a “digital” company, or worse, fully prepares them to be a digital seller. It doesn’t. To enable digital selling, you can’t just set up an online store and simply expect revenue to start rolling in. In some cases, before you can make a digital shift you must first make a cultural one.
You might need to make significant foundational changes in your company first, such as restructuring your entire organization, hiring different types and levels of talent, and changing or creating from scratch different internal processes. Perhaps of greatest importance though, is building a cultural mindset that enables and encourages failure. While that might sound counterintuitive, there’s a tremendous value to “fail fast,” in that it allows you to learn just as fast, which, in turn, enables you to pivot and course-correct as needed.
Here’s an example of how PeakActivity not only helped a retail client foster a more digital mindset culturally, but created a physical manifestation of that mindset, as well. The client didn’t have the engineering talent they needed to keep their in-store and online experience innovative and current (an issue made even more challenging today due to a severe lack of qualified candidates, prohibitive recruiting costs, and rising compensation rates). So we created an “Innovation Center” where we not only hired the client’s technical talent but trained them using a hybrid model where they were embedded on the client team but overseen by PeakActivity. The Innovation Center became a digital crucible where ideas were forged, shared, tested, implemented, and optimized, helping our client maintain an innovative, digital-first mindset.
3. Use Technology to Enable Connectivity
Technology, in and of itself, does not equal digital transformation. Sure, it’s part of the equation but it’s not really what makes digital transformation possible. Simply going out and purchasing the best customer relationship management (CRM) tool, content management system (CMS), or enterprise resource planning (ERP) system is not going to transform your company the way you might think. What is going to make the most significant difference is enabling the connectivity between these kinds of technologies. That’s what will power your operational processes, customer data, and user experience. Connectivity is what’s going to give you the ability to keep improving, innovating, and providing your end users with the best experience.
At a minimum, we recommend your user experience platform, back-office operations or enterprise resource planning system, and data management systems are integrated so they can talk to each other. This is going to ensure that you’re processing and collecting of customer data will continue to help deliver the best customer experiences at every consumer/brand interaction touchpoint.
“At its core, digital transformation is about the ability for a business to swiftly adapt to shifts in the marketplace, consumer behavior, and technology itself. ”
MANISH B. HIRAPARA
4. Pick Technologies That Allow You to Be Agile
By definition, “transformation” means you are going to be changing, so the last thing you want is to choose technologies that you’re going to be handcuffed to for the foreseeable future. You want to choose technologies that will allow you to be agile and adapt to the needs of the market, as well as your customers, employees, and organization.
Some older, more traditional technology platforms are certainly well-known and extremely powerful, but they don’t necessarily give you the flexibility to easily swap out a single component that might not be working for you anymore down the road, or bolt-on new enterprise systems that you‘ll need as you expand into new markets or service offerings. Technology changes quickly, as do company systems (sometimes without the knowledge or input from all departments), so the ability to adapt is crucial.
Another home furnishings client was using a traditional, but powerful eCommerce platform. However, because the platform wasn’t implemented with a long-term view in mind, it was posing obstacles that hindered the client from effectively adapting as they needed. We ended up migrating the client to a much more flexible headless eCommerce platform. When the client needed to upgrade their order management tool, we built integration into Kibo Order Management, which helped streamline both inventory and delivery processes. We also built an integration with a more powerful search tool, and are currently working on developing visual search, as well. Large, lumbering platforms simply don’t offer the flexibility and nimbleness required to participate in today’s digital world.
5. Think of Technology as a Continuum
As ironic as it might sound, digital transformation isn’t always about needing the most sophisticated, shiniest new tool or technology, especially not in the short term. Remember, digital transformation is a constant progression, not a single project with a clearly defined timeframe. Technology should be viewed as a continuum that becomes more necessary and more powerful as your company becomes more complex (and more successful). It might help to think of it as you would buying a home:
Level 1 - You buy a home where you move right in, don’t change a thing, and live with the choices the previous owner made (no matter how much you hate the wallpaper). Approach your technology in the same way: buy an out-of-the-box platform, install some basic plug-ins, and have it operate independently from your back-office operations.
Level 2 - You buy a home and decide to renovate but only certain rooms. Maybe you update the kitchen because that’s going to be where everyone will be spending the most time. In terms of your technology, identify an area or two where you’re willing to make an investment, perhaps add A/B testing to improve conversions or an email marketing tool.
Level 3 - We’re not talking about buying here. At this level, we’re talking about building your home from the ground up. You get to pick everything from the number of rooms and technical systems to the color of the walls and the landscaping. This is where you customize every aspect of your technology to meet your specific needs with scalable solutions.
Don't Focus on Speed. Focus on Starting.
When I’m on a long car ride with my kids, it’s not uncommon to hear “are we there yet?” emanating from the back seat with regular frequency. It’s understandable. When you’re solely focused on the destination, a long journey can test even the most patient passenger. I mention this because the journey towards digital transformation is a long one with no final destination to arrive at. It might test you and your organization at multiple points. However, I am convinced that digital transformation is the single most important journey that you and your business can undertake.
A journey that will put your organization in a position to handle any changes that come your way, whether driven by changes in consumer behavior or the marketplace. Digital transformation will make you agile and adaptable, enabling you to turn on a dime when immediate challenges are staring you in the face and better plan for unforeseen challenges on the distant horizon. Digital transformation is an unending journey and it’s one you must commence, sooner rather than later.
PeakActivity is a global consultancy that provides the expert leadership, skilled resources, and growth services necessary to elevate eCommerce and technology outcomes in today’s digital-first marketplace.