Digital transformation? Let’s make no bones about it, we’re just talking about change

It’s easy to get caught up with buzzword-y, zeitgeist-y trends in any industry. And tech is no exception. With the term ‘digital transformation’ seemingly being bounced around in an endless feedback loop, Joe Knops, Head of IT/Digital at Denholm Associates, helpfully points out the turn of phrase simply means ‘business change’. Inevitably, that change is being led by technology, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that for anyone seeking a career in digital marketing that the technology itself is just a means to an end.

 

BY JOE KNOPS

Digital transformation – what’s it all about and what does it mean for careers in digital and marketing?

It’s hard to avoid all the talk about transformation – specifically digital transformation – it seems as though everybody’s doing it, or at least talking about doing it. It can be difficult to find out any detail – what does it mean? What does it mean for any company? What are the key skills that I need to hire? I talk to people from all sorts of companies, who work at a variety of different levels, and I have drawn some insight as to what it’s all about.

I talk to people from all sorts of companies, who work at a variety of different levels, and I have drawn some insight as to what it’s all about.

What is it all about?

Transformation is just change – it used to just be called business change. But to really understand the significance of digital transformation and how it has come about you have to understand the evolution of digital (a.k.a. webbased technologies). In a nutshell, what digital gives is an increased number of connections (channels) and allows those connections to happen faster. A number of factors have driven companies to be more customer focused: the gradual homogenisation of products driven, ironically, by the rise of the global economy, along with the means to better understand customer behaviour (analytics, big data etc.) and the number of options customers have to communicate with companies – or, as it transpires, vent their views on a public platform. As alluded to at the start, digital transformation is business change – business change that utilises the new technology, but more importantly a change that requires the business to be customer led – this is the crucial part as it demands a new way of thinking and Digital transformation? Let’s make no bones about it, we’re just talking about change a new way of doing business.

A new way?

So what is this new way? Well, taking a customer-focused approach tends to turn the usual way of business thinking on its head. Previously, many companies used a product-led approach – start with market research (or not), develop products that you think will be useful, test them with focus groups and then devise a way to inform your potential customers about the product. All very methodical but is it necessary and, more importantly, effective?

The digital way still uses this as a basis but it works off a much tighter iterative cycle. Less research and testing is done upfront – the drive is to get the product to market a quickly as possible and then to evolve it based on real-time customer data and feedback. This way gives a greater understanding of customer behaviour: why they might like your products, what decisions they make in purchasing your products and what would make them decide to make a repeat purchase. This is where the data recording (customer and web analytics – “big data”) and direct channels to your customers come in – all facilitate a better understanding. Data is fed back into the product and marketing teams allowing them to evolve or develop new products that will be more attractive to customers.

In reality digital transformation takes many forms depending on the type of business you are. The general features of a digitally-enabled organisation is the use of technology to enable more efficient communications and decisions to be made between teams, combined with a method of working that enables efficiencies to be made. For software teams this would be a combination of version control software such as SVN or Git, combined with task trackers such as JIRA or Trello along with comms tools such as Basecamp or Slack giving visibility to any decision making.

Sounds easy…what’s the big deal?

It does sound easy but there are many big deals to achieving a successful transformation. The primary one is getting buy in. For most businesses there is likely to be a total change of internal structures – teams are unlikely to remain siloed and more likely work across disciplines – this can be a huge change, requiring new processes, training and a transition period that will affect production. Decisions have to be made on what technology to invest in and that will support the new way of working. New resources may be required; either as direct employees or as third party services – we have seen a rise in data analysts. Even for the smallest of companies this is no mean feat and for the largest companies it will require significant investment – time and cost.

How to do it

Any change requires vision and naturally you need people who can provide that vision. It also requires planning so you need someone who understands business change. It involves technology so you need someone who understands technology – how to procure it and how to implement it. These may or may not be one person – for instance you may require a Head of Digital tasked with making the changes and also ensuring that the company evolves correctly. Denholm have worked extensively with companies to either strengthen existing teams or bring in resources who are able to facilitate change. With the right vision and resources you will have a more responsive, flexible organisation that is well positioned to adapt quickly to new challenges.