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Digital transformation: The obstacles prohibiting progress

cloud digital transformation
(Image credit: Shutterstock / issaro prakalung)

Digital transformation. It’s a hot topic in the world of business with countless articles praising its benefits, but the path toward its achievement is somewhat elusive. At its core, digital transformation is the strategic adoption of digital technologies to create a connected digital ecosystem. It’s used to improve internal processes and productivity, manage business risk, control costs, and above all else, deliver better customer experiences. With a definition like that, you’d think every business would be eager to get started. A change of this magnitude, however, is not without its challenges.

For one, in order to change a business’s value delivery model, the first step is understanding the value each customer is looking to receive — something that is easier said than done when there is no formal way for two companies to come together to document and collaborate around goals and objectives.

For another, to digitally transform means a company has created a digital experience that seamlessly moves their customers through all phases of the customer lifecycle. One of the most misunderstood assumptions about digital transformation is that just because a company has a digital product, it has digitally transformed its customer experience. This is not the case for the vast majority of businesses.

The buying experience for most B2B customers, especially at the enterprise level, is characterized by a series of disconnected steps not supported by a digital experience. At the beginning of any B2B relationship, the customer has specific outcomes in mind that the supplier promises to help the customer achieve. But without a system in place that prioritizes value delivery, these expectations are often forgotten as soon as the contract is signed.

Worse still, nothing about using a digital product helps the customer navigate a supplier’s process or procedure they require from a customer. Most of the supplier’s customer processes are separate from the digital product, and the tools suppliers use to manage their customers are internal facing and offer little to no direct value to the customer.

Through digital transformation, virtually every product, physical or digital, has the potential to be instrumented as a data source. Yet, regardless of tech stack, many businesses find the volume, velocity and variety of data generated from these endpoints difficult to turn into actionable insights. The problem is not due to an absence of data but rather an inability to gather data from multiple sources in a single location to establish understanding.

This is especially true when it comes to proof of value. Measurable outcomes are the only thing customers care about, yet most companies can’t prove they’re making an impact. Organizing the billions of interactions and data points generated from a complex B2B environment is extremely difficult but necessary in order to prove value delivery.

So how, you may ask, can you make digital transformation work in your favor?

Co-creating value with customers

To ensure value alignment, suppliers must work with their customers to define, document and collaborate around desired business outcomes. Trust in any business relationship comes from shared understanding and transparency that demonstrates that each party is aligned toward the achievement of mutual success. For companies to align on value, all stakeholders must be on equal footing in the relationship with respect to data privacy, transparency and control.

Your customers’ desired outcomes are what give your partnership focus and purpose — and what your digital transformation should be built around.

Building a connected customer experience

Instead of accepting a disconnected customer experience as the norm, consider an end-to-end digital experience that ensures consistency and alignment from the first interaction with prospects all the way through renewal. This experience should give sales teams the opportunity to collaborate with prospects to create success plans and define desired outcomes, streamline the handoffs post-sales to ensure other teams are aligned around the outcomes promised, and then instrument these outcomes to measure progress against the delivery of value.

A company offering such an experience would stand out from the rest. This is what it means to compete on the basis of customer experience — which has become an imperative for any company to survive, let alone thrive.

Turning data into actionable insights

Digital transformation means that you can instrument any application, system, or digital endpoint as a data source. But for such a transformation to be impactful, you have to surface insights from these sources not just as data but also as indicators of health and progress of the relationship and proof of performance against target outcomes.

To do this successfully, a real-time data integration layer is needed that allows you to build performance metrics with inputs from multiple sources.

As a first step, you need to be able to measure your company’s own value creation efforts by normalizing your company’s data into time series-based signals that can be used to track performance against expected value.

Then, to track the exchange of value between you and your customers, you need a trusted, neutral space where both organizations can share data with one another. With access to insights from both sides of the partnership, you are able to create a dynamic, comprehensive view of performance toward the achievement of customer outcomes. A data foundation such as this gives stakeholders a real-time view into shared success with early warning when things aren’t going as planned.

It may seem difficult, but using data as a way to track and prove value delivery should be your ultimate goal when digitally transforming your business.

The age of digital transformation has heightened customer expectations, and even the most innovative organizations have trouble keeping up. It is time for B2B suppliers to take control of their entire value stream — all by co-creating value; building a connected customer experience; and capturing, processing and contextualizing the billions of signals and events within their ecosystems.

Every industry and every organization will have to transform itself in the next few years. What is coming at us is bigger than the original internet, and you need to understand it, get on board with it, and figure out how to transform your business.” — Tim O’Reilly, Founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media

Jake Miller, co-founder and chief architect, MetaCX

Jake Miller is co-founder and chief architect of MetaCX, the pioneer in building a Business Value Network that brings suppliers and buyers together to align on expected value and track value realization over time. For over 15 years, Jake has been a product and engineering leader. A self-described futurist, Jake is passionate about applying research and collective experience to manifest transformational products. In his former role, Jake was director of engineering at Salesforce and led the development of the industry-leading product Journey Builder. An Indianapolis native, Jake is a husband, father of one, and dog dad of two giant Saint Bernards.