The Digital Transformation Journey

31 Aug 2015
An open, mobile platform environment and a cultural shift can help you deliver a seamless digital customer experience across every brand touchpoint, writes Priyadarshi Mohapatra.
 
Digital and mobile technologies have fundamentally changed how everyone does business. Whether it's a Silicon Valley startup, a global manufacturing company or a local retail chain, thanks to the Internet and mobile devices, every company is becoming a technology company.
 
The expectations of customers have fundamentally changed. Customers today expect to engage with vendors and retail brands seamlessly across a variety of touchpoints, including social media, mobile applications, websites, traditional telephone, and face-to-face, on their terms. They expect that every touchpoint will be fully functional, whereby they can search for products, scan reviews, get support, provide feedback, and complete their purchase regardless of where they are in the buying process.
 
Few companies, however, have mastered the art of delivering this effortless and coherent customer experience across multiple channels. Indeed, a 2014 Economist Intelligence Unit survey shows that only about one-fifth of small-business leaders believe their company delivers a seamless omni-channel experience to their customers.
 
A 2015 report from Aberdeen shows that 96 percent of companies struggle to make effective use of customer data in their engagements. Digital transformation is complex, requiring massive change in underlying technology and business processes, along with a shift in corporate culture.
 
"A lot of people define the digital transformation as being about technology alone," says Ray Wang, principal analyst at Constellation Research, a research and advisory firm focused on the transformative power of disruptive technology. "But what it is really about is the business model shift that allows you to change the way you engage with customers."
 
Wang points to Uber as an excellent example. The peer-to-peer company changed the business model around ride services by integrating mobile apps, automated processes, and data analytics to more rapidly connect drivers with customers, track usage rates and align pricing with demand.  "They didn't just add on a mobile tracker to schedule drivers more efficiently, they used a technology-enabled business model to disrupt the industry," he says.
 
Of course, Uber had the benefit of starting fresh with no legacy systems, which gave them the opportunity to build an entirely cloud-based service leveraging customers' mobile devices as their storefront. For companies with millions of dollars invested in legacy systems and those with rigid business processes, the transformation is a lot more complicated.
 
Open your minds
So, what do established companies using older technologies do to adapt? A good first step would be to deploy an open, mobile platform as a cloud service to help orchestrate existing on-premises systems and extend their services into a mobile paradigm. One of the biggest challenges companies face in the digital transformation journey is that their data lives in multiple isolated systems that are not readily integrated. An open, mobile platform provides the freedom to develop orchestration across channels without worrying about integration issues, even if you are working with multiple vendors. As a result, data will become more easily accessible regardless of how it was collected and stored.
 
"The open-source model is the plumbing that enables the digital transformation," says Jim Zemlin, director of the Linux Foundation, a nonprofit consortium supporting Linux developers and users. "It allows people to get the benefit of integrated capability faster and to connect all of your data sets underneath." He encourages business leaders to look at modern computing architecture to determine how it can support the goal of transforming the business model and creating continuity across the user experience.
 
Another key component of that transformation is the integration of mobility into the customer experience. Mobile access has become the most important digital connection customers make with a brand as more of them do their brand assessment, shopping, purchase, and reviews via mobile devices.
 
According to a March 2014 Nielsen survey, more than 40 percent of consumers consider their mobile device to be the most important resource they have for making purchase decisions, with more than one-third of mobile shoppers turning to mobile exclusively.
 
That trend is only going to increase, according to Goldman Sachs, which estimates that m-commerce sales (sales made entirely via mobile devices) will hit $626 billion by 2018-roughly equivalent to all sales made via computer in 2013. This should be a wake-up call for companies that have not yet invested the time or resources into building out their mobile customer experience. This includes apps that let customers engage with the brand, and mobile-enabled websites that make shopping a quick, easy, and branded experience. In addition, the customer experience becomes more contextual as companies can leverage information from the mobile device, such as securely identifying the customer and their location.
 
No more silos
In addition to investing in technology and open, mobile platforms, business leaders also need to address the cultural obstacles that stand in the way of digital transformation, says Alan Fuller, director of Full Works, a London-based cloud consultancy. In most organizations, different departments "own" different customer touchpoints and the related data and are often unwilling to give up control. "Fuller suggests building a road map for your digital transformation that includes where you are today, where you want to go and how aggressively you want to pursue getting there. Then identify which transitions are the highest priority to the business and what technology and process changes are necessary to make that happen. "Customer relationship management and social media monitoring are the obvious places to start," he says, though he notes that every company is different.
 
Regardless of the projects you choose, be sure you understand the goals and who is responsible for implementing them, then set performance measures for success-e.g., improving customer engagement scores, lowering costs or increasing sales. You have to be able to measure the impact of the transformation to know whether it worked.

This article appeared in Business World(BW) on 31 August 2015