The success and disruptive impact of Amazon, Netflix, Facebook, and other ‘born digital’ companies are well known and documented, but their influence has expanded so that companies in multiple industries are facing unprecedented disruption from traditional and non-traditional competitors. Many leaders may think: ‘Well, that’s great if you are a start-up with no significant infrastructure, but we have invested a great deal of money in our systems’. After all, established companies cannot just hit <delete> and start again from scratch. The truth is that they do not need to turn back time and hope to be re-born as digital natives, they can start transforming themselves today.
As a result, these businesses are increasingly exploring opportunities to be more agile, efficient and intimate with their customers. However, the challenge for most is: how do we use our history and assets while learning from nimbler digital competitors? For many, taking a step back is a good start. There are tangible lessons to be learnt from these companies. These lessons underpin the success of such businesses and reveal truths that you can harness to advance your business (especially if you were founded before the first iPhone).
Placing humans at the centre
The most surprising aspect of the digital economy is that, to be more digital; we need to be more human. There is a lot of excellent technology available to enhance customer experiences and improve productivity across all parts of an organisation. However, it is important to understand that the human needs to be at the centre of the technology, not the other way around.
That is what great digital businesses understand. They do not just throw technology at a problem. They focus on what people are trying to accomplish and then use technology to make that task easier, simpler, and more intuitive by creating frictionless experiences and business processes. You have to understand the person behind the task and then use technology to make it easier, a central tenet of being digital.
Make digital and physical work in harmony
Digital used to be all about being online and working across channels such as tablets or mobile phones; now it is about unifying offline (physical) and online. Customer experience may start with the click of a link in an advert or a tweet. This person then goes online to learn more about the product and explore reviews and testimonials. After this, they may go into a store to see and touch the product and discuss features and functions with a store assistant. A purchase may then happen at an additional stage, perhaps back online on a mobile phone or tablet.
It is now a non-linear, non-continuous process. All through that journey, businesses have the opportunity to really know the customer and their preferences, as well as steps they have taken to get to that point, adding mutual value to the relationship. If an organisation can use that insight to create a personalised experience, then it can benefit from repeat custom. As we have seen from recent research, companies that focus on delivering great experiences simply have better business performance. The customer journey today is more demanding, complex and multi-faceted than ever before, requiring companies to monitor the process closely across both physical and digital, both B2B and B2C.
Connected things are wellsprings of value
The number of connected devices is growing at an incredible rate, with IDC estimating that 80 million devices will be connected to the internet in 2025. It does not matter whether this is accurate, as it will undoubtedly mean that many of the things we use day to day will be deemed 'smart'. From smart buildings to machines and equipment, whatever business you are in, IoT (Internet of Things) will impact your industry.
For example, the IoT is enabling utilities businesses to take advantage of the latest technology and open up new lines of service. In the case of water management, pump manufacturer, Grundfos has developed a ‘pumps-as-a-service’ model, enabled by internet-connected pumps. Using connected systems, remote sensors can safeguard water by monitoring grid patterns, identifying and isolating faulty pipes rerouting water to its intended location and co-ordinating water pressure using a software algorithm. Crucially, the smart pumps can predict, prevent, and react to issues as they arise. For example, if a weather forecast calls for excessive rainfall, the smart pumps can help isolate water and prevent flooding, ultimately helping to improve disaster relief and sanitation and save lives.
Bring analytics to the core
This digital growth is driving dramatic increases in data volumes. Businesses now have access to more and more information upon which to base decisions, whether that is the information on customer journeys from multiple channels to create hyper-personalised experiences, data on product usage to shape and influence product roadmaps, or unstructured external data on weather patterns. The key is to use the most appropriate analytics in a timely way to help make business decisions in an informed way.
These days, data is often combined with applied artificial intelligence to improve insights gleaned and the decision-making process that goes along with them. For example, advancements in analytics are making algorithms increasingly capable of interpreting x-rays and other radiography images, to analyse the data contained within the image to detect the distinct patterns associated with a pathology. This information can then be presented to the radiologist to help them render a more accurate or faster diagnosis. Ultimately, a digital business must live and breathe data and master data analytics to resist being disrupted.
So where do you begin?
Digital can be a major driver for growth and create cost efficiencies. It can, however, be daunting for a business to get started and much time can be lost by embarking on all-encompassing strategies and plans. Everyone knows that they must do something with digital but using several tactics in isolation will not allow them to tap to their full potential. There are no rewards in implementing a variety of emerging technologies without understanding how they fit together and while having a digital strategy is critical, understanding the lessons outlined above can help to kick things off.
The good news is you can get started on Monday. One thing digital has taught us is to start small, try things out quickly, learn from others, and repeat. So, find an area where improving the customer experience can lead to better business results and start there. After all, you do not have to be a ‘born digital’ company to take advantage of the opportunity that technology affords.
Sanjiv Gossain, Head of Europe, Cognizant Digital Business
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