There’s a huge gap between digital strategy and digital execution in large organisations

We are in the middle of the digital disruption era. The vast majority of business leaders and marketing teams are talking publicly about their digital transformation efforts and how digital is now a central part of their corporate strategies. But does all this hype reflect the reality of how these organisations are really operating today?

The distance from clever thinking around a conference room table during planning meetings to producing results through effective delivery is often overlooked – yet it’s only in execution where companies can ever see true results.

So are brands delivering on their digital promises? Are they living up to the hype and executing their well-thought-out strategies appropriately? Or do digital professionals need a wake-up call?

‘Our digital strategies are fit for purpose’…

The good news is that brands believe digital is given the importance it deserves. Acquia recently spoke to 450 business leaders to find out whether their experiences match the positive outlook so often seen in the media. More than 80 per cent of chief digital officers and chief information officers in large organisations claim digital is essential to their organisation’s operations and performance.

Having a strong strategy in place is critically significant, and some 83 per cent of large organisations believe that their strategy is fit for purpose. What’s more, 81 per cent have made digital part of the overall business strategy and better still, more than three quarters are adopting a continuous development attitude — regularly gaining feedback from external stakeholders and customers on how they can improve.

… But what about execution?

But while this positivity is encouraging, the reality is that a well-thought-through strategy is worthless without execution. The fact is that effective digital execution is now core to business success. Senior management want to see tangible results, not just technical plans and vanity metrics.

And Acquia has found that although organisational confidence in digital strategies is high, the reality on execution is less rosy.

Despite the 83 per cent of digital professionals saying their strategy is fit for purpose, 65 per cent also see implementing digital across the business as their number one strategic challenge. This clear, and perhaps surprising, contradiction shows that what has been written down in strategy documents may not necessarily be finding its way through into business reality quite as easily as you might imagine.

More than half (53 per cent) of CDOs and CIOs claim that the problem is a lack of support from other team members and other departments in the business, as well as the lack of board support. Additionally, over a third (36 per cent) also point to a lack of skills, a major hurdle when the business needs to execute effectively on the plans being made by company leaders. It doesn’t stop there. Many companies battle with competing priorities, but when it comes to digital this can hinder an organisation’s sense of urgency — potentially even leading to failures in delivery. 

How to explain these incongruous statements? Are marketers’ perceptions of digital alignment in their organisations that far removed from reality? Or is the earlier confidence simply based on blind optimism? Whichever way you look at it, ultimately we see that while there is a high degree of confidence at the top (over-confidence perhaps?), this begins to diminish sharply the closer the business gets to delivery.

It is clear that embracing the importance of digital in theory doesn’t automatically translate into taking the appropriate action.

Today’s industry must-haves; a ‘multi’ disconnect

The crucial challenge is that this execution ‘lag’ is having a tangible impact on organisations — particularly when it comes to adopting new technologies and delivering the compelling digital experiences that their customers demand.

For example, 92 per cent of digital leaders agree that delivering sophisticated personalised experiences is important, but 89 per cent admit to struggling with the delivery of personalisation technologies. Even on a more basic level 47 per cent of organisations admit they struggle to keep content consistently up to date across all their digital properties and brands — crucial to keeping consumers engaged. A further 45 per cent say the quality of their digital properties is variable, which is damaging to their brand. 33 per cent even say that they have lost direct control over the design and content of their digital properties.

Now it’s worth remembering that the vast majority of these companies share these beliefs: their digital strategies are fit for purpose, those same strategies are in line with their corporate objectives, and they fully understand what it means to be a digital organisation today.

Yet if being a digital organisation today means delivering great digital experiences across a multi-everything world, their results are frankly contrary to their beliefs.

Moving beyond the hype

This disconnect between the high degree of confidence at the strategic level and the complete lack of confidence when it comes to execution is startling. It is clear that there are many barriers to delivering on the strategic ambition that most organisations evidently have that remain unacknowledged by the brands and thought leaders stoking up hype in the market, which is blocking success.

Whether this is down to a lack of internal support, things taking longer than expected, or the sheer complexity of operating in a multi-everything environment, these barriers risk limiting the performance of businesses in an ever more digital world.

Each of these factors highlight that planning alone is not enough. Companies must ensure that the systems are in place — from fundamentals such as the CMS and technology frameworks through to the executional aspects of people and workflows — to deliver real-world results.

The reality is, companies need to fulfil on the promise of the strategies they develop. If they don’t, they will never bridge the gap between the hype they see trumpeted all around them and the real-world expectations of senior management. More importantly, they’ll fail to meaningfully connect with the fickle and demanding customers who enjoy unprecedented amounts of choice in the market.

This article is based on findings from a new Acquia report ‘Beyond the Hype’, which is available as a free download.

Sarah Knight, Senior Marketing Manager UK, Acquia
Image source: Shutterstock/everything possible