Think about an average day in the digital age.

 

We wake up and grab our phones to check the weather. Or we ask our smart speaker to read us the morning news. We’re able to confirm appointments and get useful reminders through SMS or push notifications. If we have questions about products or services, we have instant access to chatbots. And we have 24/7 customer service lines. You can place your Starbucks order as you get in the car so your latte is ready and waiting when you swing through. After work, you can pick up a grocery order without having to walk down a single aisle. In some cities,  you can even get your groceries delivered. If you forget something? Amazon Prime can have it to your door in as little as 2 hours. Now, more than ever, a digital transformation strategy is not an option; it’s a necessity.

Today’s consumers are more plugged in, engaged, and informed than ever. It’s obvious that digital technologies are changing the way customers and companies interact. Consider Amazon’s disruption of traditional retail shopping, how rideshare technology impacted the taxi industry, or the meteoric rise of Netflix over brick-and-mortar video rentals, and you’ll see just how high the stakes are. According to a 2016 Deloitte report, 87% of business execs expected digital innovation to disrupt their industry, while only 44% felt adequately prepared for the upcoming challenges.

 

So what is a digital transformation strategy, and why is it so crucial to your company’s continued growth?

 

Definitions vary, but at its heart, digital transformation is about integrating digital technology to fundamentally change how businesses operate and deliver customer value. Because digital transformation strategies vary from industry to industry, it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what they entail. The solutions for one group may not suit another. From retailers and media companies to government organizations and even the American Medical Association, the methods change. But the goal stays the same: creating a unified customer experience (CX).

A successful digital transformation strategy is about more than new systems and software. It’s a top-down, bottom-to-top cultural transformation that focuses on optimizing the CX. That means understanding how your target audience uses digital tools, and embracing strategies that will make it easier for those audiences to interact with you. It requires business executives to reimagine how they deliver value to customers. According to the Digital Marketing Institute, digital transformation facilitates “a whole new level of engagement that requires a lot of new expertise as well as energy.”

With digital transformation budgets expected to reach $2 trillion by 2022, it’s apparent that CIOs recognize the importance of digital strategies to stay competitive in the modern market. Still, a recent survey by Celonis found that 82% of business executives fail to review internal processes before setting transformation goals. According to Forbes, this means there’s plenty of digital transformation taking place, but not nearly enough strategy. And it may be why, according to a 2013 McKinsey study, 70% of transformation programs fail.

So how can you avoid the lost time and expense of an unsuccessful digital transformation? There are a few key things to consider.

 

Center your strategy on delivering value and improving the customer experience.

 

When using technology for technology’s sake, there are plenty of ways things can go wrong. Consider poorly-scripted chatbots that don’t communicate with automated phone trees, or client contact forms that fire off into oblivion. Brent Dykes, a Forbes contributor and Domo’s Director of Strategy writes, “Automation won’t typically create value on its own—it simply amplifies the value that’s already present.”

Your digital transformation strategy should always attempt to answer the question: What business outcomes do you want to achieve for your customers? Instead of jumping on the latest tech bandwagon, take the time to consider your customers’ particular needs. Invest in technologies that are supported by customer-data research, and support your short and long team goals to provide greater value.

And keep in mind, your strategy shouldn’t only focus on customer-facing processes. A strong digital transformation strategy will impact every aspect of your business, from purchasing and finance to HR and marketing. When every aspect is aligned to support a stronger CX, internal transformations will be visible to your consumer audience.

 

Successful digital transformation strategies have strong leadership and agile teams.

 

Tech is no longer merely the domain of IT teams. In the digital age, it’s up to CEOs to “future proof” their companies. Whether you’re a digital “native” startup, or an established company looking to stay competitive, successful digital transformation requires strong leadership and innovative, agile teams. This means proactively looking for technologies, across industries, that could benefit your customers. Even more importantly, CEOs need to reward innovation throughout the company. According to Forbes, the most successful transformations are company-wide efforts achieved by getting people on board at every level, from the C-suite to the legal team.

Consider the LEGO Group. With children spending more time on tablets, smartphones, and gaming devices, the toy company found themselves on the brink of bankruptcy in 2004. They needed to modernize, and fast. So how does a company innovate a digital presence for their plastic building bricks? LEGO developed a social network app to crowdsource design ideas. They also designed LEGO Boost to teach automation coding to kids and launched a film and video game franchise. By embracing the digital opportunities and thinking (literally) outside the box, LEGO was able to thrive. Chief executive turned chairman, Jørgen Vig Knudstorp, hoped to position LEGO as the “Apple of Toys” a title many industry experts find fitting.

LEGO’s transformation started with Knudstorp’s vision for the company, but it relied on the innovation and engagement of LEGO’s employees. Knudstorp claims honesty, transparency, and passion are keys to creating a culture geared for digital transformation. Teams need to know that thinking big is a daily process—it should be part of every meeting and action, every day of the week.

 

Understand that digital transformation is a long-term investment, and failure is part of the process.

 

It’s tempting to think of digital transformation as uploading your information to the cloud or implementing some new automation and continuing on with business as usual. You modernized, right? Isn’t that what it’s all about? Not necessarily. While digital transformation certainly involves integrating technology into all areas of your business, it goes beyond that. It requires a spirit of curiosity and innovation that challenges the status quo, constantly asking “What if…?” According to a collaborative discussion by the Enterprisers Project, “this sometimes means walking away from long-standing business processes that companies were built upon in favor of relatively new practices that are still being defined.”

This means that the biggest challenge many executives face is their own expectations or mindset. Digital transformation is not necessarily a process with a beginning, middle, and end. It’s a journey with no destination. Successful strategies will continue to respond to technological advances, and find ways to adapt and integrate for years to come. Again, the Enterprisers Project says, it’s all about creating a cultural change that requires organizations to challenge the status quo, experiment often, and get comfortable with failure.

 

Customer expectations are high. And with digital disruptions across industries, a sound digital transformation strategy is key to staying competitive.

  

Customer expectations are higher than ever. And the future of business, sales, and marketing need to continually be about delivering relevant, useful, and assistive experiences. Still, technology is not the heart of digital innovation; creativity and curiosity are. In 2019, improving CX and empowering innovation are key to continued growth. What steps are you and your teams taking to ensure a unified digital experience for your consumers?

 

Christina Brown is a 25-year industry veteran and founder and creative director at Savy Agency. Christina’s role is to push the agency to create new experiences that influence market behavior. She often writes about topics surrounding innovation, transformation, and agility, as a certified AS9100 lead auditor having taken tier-one aerospace providers through AS9100 certification. 

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