Being a Digital Business? Heading beyond the hype

Becoming a digital business, a current mega-trend yes, but as the term is very loosely defined, one that has given rise to a heap of confusion.

Many C-suite Executives will proudly tell you their organisations are going digital (and you’ll probably have seen lots of presentations, strategy documents and commentators all using the phrase) but often what they really mean is that they are on a journey to, or describing aspects of becoming a more connected, collaborative business or a ‘social business’. Likewise just because your marketing department has a digital strategy, doesn’t make your entire business digital.

So what does being a digital business really mean for the majority of traditional organisations? (i.e those that aren’t digital by default, companies such as Amazon). Generally speaking, digital businesses go far beyond being a collaborative business, they offer their customers a world class experience, leveraging the traditional and digital, and do so using a collaborative, well informed workforce, which is both agile and extremely efficient. They have genuinely transformed the way that work gets done, the way that products are brought to market (which in themselves are often unique or groundbreaking in their sector) and the way the organisation operates, communicates and uses knowledge. 

Reading the definition above, you’re probably thinking hang on, if the foundations of a digital business are all about increasing profits through customer service and building brand loyalty with customers, and inside the organisation being agile and collaborative then fundamentally aren’t these the same business principles most organisations always had?

So what has changed? We as consumers have – we enjoy a connected experience unlike no working generation before us. In our personal lives we are constantly connected and through the power of search engines, can be well informed on any subject in a matter of moments. We trust the recommendations of our networks (and even perfect strangers) far more the corporate marketing and we’re able to make decisions about acceptable pricepoints, similar competitors’ products and purchase locations in seconds. Likewise when something goes wrong, we’re expect to be able to reach out to the company concerned (and also tell many others simultaneously) about the problem or bad experience and we expect companies to make good on their failings. 

In a similar way when we go to work, we have a good idea of what good collaboration is, we know how easy it is to share, find and discuss things online and we expect the same connected experience when we go to work. Likewise if we have something to contribute we’re happy to share this and we want to contribute to the success of the organisation we’re working for and we want to interact with the organisation’s leaders and understand the direction, challenges and goals of the company so that we can play our own part in the company’s success.

Being a ‘Digital Business’ is not easy, nor is it quick and very few traditional businesses in the FTSE100 have made the transition, why? Because it’s about much more than becoming a social business, it’s extremely hard, and often it’s just easier for individuals to take the latest buzz phrase and hope that no-one actually asks you what it means.


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