Here's the thing.
I don’t like the term digital strategy.
It’s up near the top of my least favourite jargon list, right behind ‘digital ecosystem’.
It means something different for every business. It doesn't fit in the usual company silos unless you've got a digital team (who often sit somewhere in Marketing land). And the idea of spending time building any strategy, for many executives, sounds like something that's going to cost a bucket of money with no action.
Digital strategy is one of those things that's difficult to assign an owner to. But let’s give it a go.
Digital transformation is business as usual
Some years back, a digital strategy was really important because - in most businesses - when we were looking at a balance of paper-based versus digital systems, paper won. But we didn't call it a 'digital strategy'. We called it 'going paperless' or 'getting computers'.
When tech became part of standard business practice, a 'digital strategy' could be siloed. Each business function had a different piece of software that did a specific thing - we didn't expect them to talk to each other.
With the rise of the internet came great websites. Then social (I'm condensing time a bit here). And 'digital strategy' became synonymous with 'marketing strategy'.
But we wanted to sell things online. We wanted to take bookings or service requests. We needed our systems to talk to each other. Now, any good system worth its annual subscription is cloud-based and open. Our systems are designed to speak to each other, to replicate those real-life interactions and relationships in our businesses.
Where a marketing team may have received a lead and called it through to sales, who would then ring a bell to announce a sale to the whole organisation, this process is now automated.
The digital strategy is the foundation that drives this automation.
Creating frictionless experiences
Without an overriding vision for ‘digital’, we find that businesses experience ‘digital fragmentation’
. Their systems aren’t the best fit, or they aren’t open and flexible. They don’t work together.
This creates friction.
Reducing friction is the easiest way to reduce waste in any business. Friction between customers, teams and systems account for many of the issues we see in client businesses on any given day of the week.
Usually, the friction is exposed when someone sets a new goal or a target.
We need to sell.
We need to grow.
We need to attract.
We need to change.
Or, sometimes, it's just an untested perception.
Surely technology will help us reduce that waste.
We don’t think we’re as productive as we could be.
That process seems to take up a lot of our time.
Digital transformation projects fail when the focus is on the immediate problem or team, and the interconnected nature of businesses is ignored.
Teams within any business are co-dependent. They constantly work together.
Often we're asked to implement a specific solution to a business - they’ve already made the decision on the thing they want built. Let's say it’s an Intranet built on SharePoint. So we start doing the work to build a document library, using a structure defined by the client's project manager. It's all going well.
Then we start training. The marketing team don't use any of the folders on their existing drives, why would they use irrelevant folders in SharePoint? The Operations team have endless forms that need to be printed, completed, scanned and uploaded. How will the intranet solve that problem?
This doesn't look any easier for us
, they say, we won't use it
What happens? No one buys into the new system and it lays dormant. Or, everyone now sees how great the new system could be, and the scope blows out as things are tacked on.
In agency land, we'd call this a 'change' or 'project variation'.
But nothing has changed...expect the information we have access to.
The number one problem with digital transformation is people
A digital strategy is simply a documented pathway to ensuring that all of your systems are as codependent and connected as your people are in your business. And you need to spend time with your people to make this work.
So, when you're looking at a new project, really ask yourself, 'who should own this project' versus 'who should own our biggest digital strategy'?
Then open the floor to your people. Get their feedback. Be curious.
Always ask, what is the impact beyond the immediate use of this system or scope of this transformation?
And then document the ideas.
Often where we come into a business is the point where these ideas need further clarification or research, or where we’re starting to organise those ideas a bit more into a roadmap or plan - forming the digital strategy.
So who should own it?
The easy answer is the person who signs the cheques.
They’re definitely accountable for it being pulled off properly and making sure that it’s not having a negative impact across the business.
The success of the strategy lies with whoever will drive the most the people to work toward a goal. That might mean delegating the responsibility to a change champion or someone who is great at getting people on board. Someone who will really listen and ask those questions that you need to drive the project along.
You need to foster an environment where people aren’t scared of change, and they know they're being heard.
Because beyond that, everyone is responsible for speaking up. Everyone is responsible for contributing to the success of the digital strategy.
And this has to happen early.
Asking questions up front will build your overarching digital strategy. Then, when you do dive into projects, there is a lower chance of scope creep and a greater chance of uptake. Sure, it might cost more in terms of time, resources or actual dollars upfront but I guarantee it will create massive savings down the line.