Remember paper? There was a time when we all saw paper-dominated businesses, like publishers of books and newspapers, getting clobbered by the transformations required to stay afloat among new digital alternatives. Those of us in other industries were thankful to be spared that pain, and may have assumed we wouldn’t have to worry about digital creeping up on us for a long time to come. Those were simpler times. Today, we know that unless you are a digital-first company, your digital transformation can no longer wait.
For many, this need to transform came sooner than expected. You can blame the acceleration of your non-publishing company’s digital future on the Internet of Things (IoT) and the Cloud. IoT has allowed us to put sensors and wireless connectivity in just about anything, and the Cloud has given us a relatively inexpensive and easily accessible way for all of those “smart” devices to connect to vast amounts of data and computing power. Consumer preferences continue to move towards smart devices, even kind of weird ones, and they expect a quality user experience. This leaves traditionally non-digital companies in a tough spot. They know they need to change, but don’t have the skills or knowledge to make it happen. Often, they aren’t even sure which capabilities they need.
Thankfully, there is good news: in a recent blog post about building digital products, my colleague Lisa Jasper, pointed out that we can learn lessons from the industries that went through digital transitions before us. These lessons can help us to avoid problems that other businesses had to struggle through. Here are a few of the many lessons to keep in mind:
Few businesses are fully digital – most are some kind of mix
The publishing industry has both physical and digital books to sell. The consumer goods company still has physical products, but now they have digital features. The retail company has customers who shop at their brick and mortar stores and on their website. These examples aren’t mid-transition; they have both physical and digital aspects by design.
The teams you have today can’t deliver your digital future – but they still have an essential role to play
Your organization will grow and change through your digital transformation. Your business strategy will change, you’ll add new roles, processes, and technologies, and you’ll engage new vendors and partners. But that doesn’t mean that your existing teams will go away. Think about the brick and mortar store that now has a web store. Their customers patronize both and expect a seamless experience — especially their Millennial customers. The physical and the digital sides of the customer experience need to blend, so teams on both fronts must work together to make sure that happens.
The vision is vital – everyone from your CEO on down needs to live and breathe it
With all aspects of your business changing, your leadership, and every employee, needs to know why the digital transformation is occurring and why it is necessary. It is almost always a matter of survival, so no one can be excused. As with any transformation, thoughtful change management is the key to ensuring your teams stay motivated and work together to reach the target state.
Your company’s ability to experiment and innovate must mature
I’ve written about this before, but it deserves repeating. Companies that have been around for a while have evolved their processes to eliminate as much risk as possible. It is a very comfortable place to be. But when you throw digital into the mix, suddenly what was once predictable becomes dicey, people get nervous, and bad decisions are made. Your company will need to re-learn how to experiment, accept failure, nurture successful ideas, and get them into your product. That may require you to select and fund initiatives differently, and it will likely require an entirely new innovation management process.
Digital transformations are far from simple, but for those who do it well it will lead to a stronger company with better offerings. The key is to learn from those who have gone before you and to make sure you have thoughtful, knowledgeable, and effective people dedicated to the task.