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Insights / Blog / Business

No, you don't need a digital strategy

January 27, 2015
Alain VeuveAlain VeuveManaging Director, AOE Switzerland

To clarify it from the outset, of course you need a strategy that is concerned with all things digital. However, instead of declaring a specific digital strategy, you should rather incorporate digital changes into your corporate strategy. The following article explains why.

Far too often “digital” as a topic is treated as a line of business, a channel or a discipline within a company. Accordingly, it is also organized; with its own departments, own personnel and own resources. This sometimes leads to some rather odd situations that leave one a little clueless upon sober reflection. For instance, wouldn't it be better to add E-commerce skills to an existing sales team (through training or hiring) rather than building a separate E-Commerce team? Or teach the existing marketing team online skills instead of creating a standalone online marketing team? The formation of such islands is highly dangerous for the development of an enterprise because it creates “management debt”. One promotes different cultures within teams, a different level of performance for each customer and friction between traditional and future-oriented business models.

Why is that?

Such a development already begins with the strategic deliberations of a company. Usually, the thoughts are long-term in nature and based on old-economy principles. Over time, businesses noticed that customer behavior began to change. Customers wanted to do many things in a digital world. At the same time, they have a lot of information, which makes their consumers lives much, much easier. Instead of resuming the strategic process as quickly as possible and adjusting the corporate strategy enterprises speedily defined (and unfortunately continue to do so) a digital strategy. This strategy was then implemented as an appendix with a budget that was vastly too high or too low and, lo and behold, suddenly it was quite logical to have separate E-Commerce team in the company. Which still doesn't mean it's good.

The terminology issue

“Digital strategy” is a term that actually doesn't even exist. Neither Wikipedia nor the dictionary list it. It is, however, often used in consultancy speak and among CEOs and CMOs. What I occasionally encounter is that what is meant by digital strategy is actually transformation strategy - i.e. a strategic paper that describes how to make up ground in the digital sector.

What to do?

The digital revolution is too extensive as that it would suffice to dismiss it with a secondary strategy. It fundamentally affects nearly all companies and changes the parameters needed for successful business models. Hence, I suggest that you don't develop a digital strategy, but rather revise your business strategy.

The digital aspects of your business belong in a corporate strategy. If the behavior of your customers fundamentally changes then your corporate strategy also needs fundamental revisions. It's actually quite simple. Nevertheless, especially large companies are having a hard time in adapting. This isn't surprising when one considers that strategies, which were heretofore implemented in three- to five-year cycles, and sometimes in cycles as long as seven- to ten years, are now around implemented in 18 months - after which they have to be completely overhauled. It is the end customer, that is, all of us, who determines the cycle, even if some individuals pretend that this is a "phenomenon of our times". We demand more and more because we want to lead an increasingly comfortable life.

I can therefore only recommend that you keep a watchful eye on the digital activities of your customers. Even those details that you consider as insignificant at first glance. Incorporate these changes, not because, as some consultants would make you believe, they threaten the entire business, but because they create enormous opportunities. You owe your enterprise this type of future-oriented attitude. Regardless, the name you give this strategy isn't important, whether you call it corporate strategy, transformation strategy or - if you will - digital strategy. I'm just happy that you are even thinking about the topic in the first place.