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Insights / Blog / Business

Digital transformation: Where to begin?

January 19, 2015
Alain VeuveAlain VeuveManaging Director, AOE Switzerland

These days I often encounter the following: Business executive “xyz” has realized that something in the business must change. Even though the business figures are “ok”, it is obvious that the market is becoming digital and the company's offerings are slowly but surely losing traction with the customer. This is the classic initial situation for a conscious digital transformation of the business. But where to begin? The following tips are intended for managing directors. 

Step 1: Begin with yourself

Why don't you try this simple personal exercise? Isolate yourself for half a day and thoroughly consider whether you are willing to fundamentally and extensively change your business. What is your personal attitude? Do you want to take advantage of opportunities and invest in them? Are you ready to lead your employees into new areas, take them out of their comfort zone? Do you have the energy needed to drive change? These questions gain weight with age. If you can't answer these questions for yourself in the positive then you should not continue along the path. As tough as it sounds: You're standing in the way of your company – and you are placing your own interests before those of the business. As you can't delegate digital transformation, it is time to fundamentally rethink your role and act accordingly. If you answer the questions with “yes”, then proceed to step 2. 

Step 2: Corporate culture

How is your management team structured? Is digital know-how and entrepreneurship anchored in the hearts and minds of your employees? Is your personnel flexible with a sense of commitment to your customers? If yes, then your management is just waiting for you to initiate change. If you answer negatively then it's time to adjust your leadership team. Only an innovative, ready-for-change management can establish the necessary future-oriented culture within the company. Forego “feel-me-touch-me” seminars and simply practice what you preach. In communications, in the way you take action and in the speed in which you do so. In most mid-sized enterprises a lot can be accomplished within just three months. Create an optimistic, can-do atmosphere. Though most employees are afraid of change, they will meet it head-on with hope for improvement if that change is imbued with positive connotations. It's important to make use of this innovative spirit. Another option is hiring a Chief Digital Officer or the retention of such in a mandate.

Step 3: Resist temptations

Resist the following knee-jerk temptations:

  • We need to begin selling online immediately
  • We must relaunch our website as quickly as possible
  • Facebook page & Twitter account, NOW!
  • We don't need printed brochures anymore
  • Responsive Web Version for the win!
  • Multi-, oh wait, omni-channel
  • I've heard of this web agency, they can do all of this for us and they can do everything (and the big brother of that statement: “My colleague's son can program really cool things in the Web”)

So much is written and so much is “trendy”. The insidious thing is that not everything is completely wrong. However, these are all just elements in the digital toolbox. But, before you choose and use a tool you need to know exactly what you want to build. And a structured idea regarding the solution would also be helpful. Your budget is probably limited and you must invest your money in a targeted manner – at least I hope so for your sake.

Step 4: Listen to the customer

The key to digital transformation is that the adaptation of the technology by the users. You must find out how your customers utilize digital services; it's not that important for them to be able to use everything that is technologically available. So, go to your customers and talk to them. Specifically, what can be improved? Where can digital channels and tools be used? Which things already provided are good? Most customers are open and willing to help, especially those with which you have a long-term business relationship. Evaluate the answers and create a priority list.

Step 5: Put these priorities on a timeline

Put these priorities on as short a timeline as possible. To this timeline and the various items you should add the dimensions “goals”, “resources” and “processes”. Try to keep the length down to ten pages max.

Step 6: Start with priority number one

Now you can start with priority number one. Depending on the specifics of this first task, you might need an agency, an external process adjustment, a new product, etc. Try to implement this item quickly and with high quality, but consciously avoid trying to complete everything before going back to the customer. It's better to launch early, be accommodating when things don't work and optimize continuously. Make small steps, stay agile and flexible, have the courage to fail and permanently learn from it.

Many efforts for transformation fail because these six steps aren't followed. Instead, projects are implemented halfheartedly and/or haphazardly without goals or the wrong priorities set. Sometimes, completely wrong things are implemented with passion and commitment. And the buzz wording of the digital sector also contributes to the situation. Don't pay much attention to it - listen to your customers. You can't go wrong if you follow this simple principle.