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2017 - the year of digital transformation

Change happens whether we pursue it or not. A quick look at the total disruption that’s occurred within sectors such as hospitality, travel, retail and banking over the recent years should serve as a wake-up call to big businesses that they need to be ready, to adapt, in order to survive.  Change is often driven by technology-focused, digital-first start-ups and challenger brands, such as Airbnb, Uber, Spotify, Netflix and Amazon.  

They provide smooth, frictionless experiences for people’s private lives and as a result, employees bring these expectations to their business dealings and workplace interactions.  The mantra ‘make it easy to do business’ has never been more important’, but the biggest barriers to digital change are often cited as lack of resources, company culture, lack of digital skills and a resistance to change at board level.  

Well in 2017, this will need to change. We’ll need to see more UK businesses break down these barriers and place digital transformation at the heart of their company strategy in order to compete on the global stage.

Digital transformation

By digital transformation, I don’t just mean technology advancements either. It’s about bringing together the power of technology with a culture that embraces change and the positive impact it can have on any organisation.  These benefits will be business defining. Organisations will be able to identify more efficiencies, find savings at scale, add rocket fuel to research and development, discover new markets and hone the customer experience.  

The best framework for digital transformation within big business is to focus on the three pillars of success - technology, operations and culture. Managing transformation across these three pillars will unlock value, and drive growth in a number of ways. However it will also test the resilience and capabilities of a business. Many organisations become paralysed when introducing new technology, create unworkable organisational operational structures and cannot drive cultural change because they fail to engage people on a granular level.  It is vital therefore that those charged with driving change through an organisation understand the importance of the three pillars of technology, operations and culture. And once overhauled, these pillars must not be allowed to ossify.

Imperative of evolution

Businesses need to be constantly evolving, improving, listening, scanning the horizon and sharpening their competitive edge. The road ahead is one of continual readiness and continual transformation. But how to start? Organisations should initially focus their efforts on those areas where there is a more immediate payback, and these will vary from company to company. A census-wide poll of 200 business-to-business senior digital, IT, technology and marketing managers, carried out in September 2016, reveals that customer experience, operations, innovation and marketing are the areas identified as having the greatest potential to deliver an early payback for any organisation following a period of digital transformation.  

The customer experience includes employees. Transforming it to provide a consistent and positive user experience that can be engaged with by anyone, at any time, and in any place should be the ultimate goal. To achieve this, big business needs a deeper understanding of analytics and how to use digital to resolve friction points all the way along the customer journey.  Operationally, big business should look to destroy silos so that transformation doesn’t just impact the technology of a company, but leads to positive change across the whole organisation.  

For transformation to run smoothly, it’s important that business teams and IT communicate with each other and set shared aims before buying into any technology.

Realistic expectations

Business units also need to have realistic expectations in regard to the capabilities of technology and the intended outcomes. Plus, it is vital to have agreed targets and KPIs for new technology in place. In order to optimise the opportunities to improve customer services, find efficiencies and drive innovation, businesses need to integrate systems, unlock data and make as much use of automated tools as possible. At the same time, companies have to perform the balancing act of introducing employees to new systems and platforms, while demonstrating how new technology can improve productivity. Innovation must happen at speed. Failing fast to succeed faster is one of the best ways to stay competitive in an evolving marketplace. 

Technology innovation needs to be assessed, tested, analysed and adapted more quickly than ever.  

The faster an organisation can go from idea to implementation, the more it can embrace opportunities to transform and even disrupt markets and internal business models. If a company has an adaptive culture, where new technology can be seamlessly integrated quickly and efficiently, that organisation has more chance of success than a company, which takes forever to change.  The key technologies that will drive growth in big business in 2017 will be those focused on data analytics, integrated platforms, machine learning and artificial intelligence.  

The importance of big data in the business world can’t be overstated. We know that there’s mountains of valuable data in the world, but few companies are using it effectively.

Putting trust in the Government

Analytics drive business by showing how customers think, what they want, and how the market views a brand. In the age of digital transformation, almost everything can and should be measured. Machine learning and artificial intelligence may one-day replace low-skilled jobs but big business needs to understand how it will transform company insights today. It is already being used to solve intensely complicated problems and stands to be one of the most disruptive forces in the corporate world.  

Finally, big business can’t rely on government to do more to help them digitise their services.  Yes, there’s a plan to make the UK more connected with faster broadband and more expert advice on hand. But the wheels of government move too slowly and businesses need to react now.  

If digital transformation isn’t on your agenda for 2017, you need to seriously weigh up what your sector will look like when your business has been left behind. 

Peter Veash, CEO, The BIO Agency
Image source: Shutterstock/Wichy

Peter Veash
Peter champions creating innovative solutions for both consumer and B2B brands.