When is a digital business strategy something else?

A while ago I wrote about Digital Business? Heading beyond the hype, I spoke about how many will proudly tell you their organisations are now digital, but often what they really mean is that their organisations are transforming.

Often an individual taking about digital or social business is describing just one aspect of becoming a more connected, collaborative business, perhaps the organisation’s R&D focus has changed to become solely customer driven, maybe they implemented social analytics across their customer base, or perhaps they just moved their core IT systems to the cloud.

Whatever it is, I’ve noticed that people (myself included) use the word digital to cover a lot of scenarios, But, this isn’t helping.

Recently I spent time with a Head of Collaboration & KM at a large organisation who had been asked by his CIO and CKO to draft the organisation’s “Digital Strategy”. He asked me for some help and to take him through the components of Digital Businesses, we discussed it and agreed that really what he had been asked to do was draft the strategy for his organisation’s Digital Workplace and Workforce Engagement.

So what’s the difference? A digital business strategy needs to cover how your business interacts with four core areas:

  1. inside the organisation (your employees, includes perspective and former employees);
  2. those the organisations interacts with (your suppliers, partners, governments etc.);
  3. those the organisations sells goods or provides services to (your customers and perspective customers)
  4. those with an interest in your organisation (such as your shareholders or the general public)

You’ll notice that from the list above, we could just remove the word digital – indeed I think there is a strong case for saying there is no such thing as a digital strategy, it is just an organisation’s strategy that is fit for the digital age.

This real life example demonstrates how much confusion there is around the term, digital strategy. Creating the organisation-wide strategy, my client couldn’t possibly have written this and hoped to get it adopted (I don’t think the executive would have been too impressed), but he could write the collaboration strategy, which he based upon the organisation’s existing strategy:

  1. Increase Efficiency
  2. Higher Quality Outputs
  3. Make Life Easier for our people

Together we re-cut my original list (see Digital Business? Heading beyond the hype for the original), separating out items of a digital/social business that were outside his remit, focusing on items he had responsibility for, and that he could reasonably expect to influence in his role as Head of Collaboration & KM.

So for those in similar roles, here’s the areas of the digital business that he and I felt individuals in Collab and KM roles should be leading/defining the strategy for:

  • the deployment, education and adoption of a single digital workplace internally
  • the re positioning of knowledge management and sharing as an integral part of just doing work
  • the retirement of both, other and out of date legacy systems (including the intranet)
  • have heavily integrated employee’s work processes into their collaboration space
  • made communities an integral part of doing work and solving problems
  • provisioning of open access to leadership who regularly share their thought process, challenges and experience
  • demanding collaboration from employees, rewarding and penalising those who don’t live by these values
  • building an effective network of digital champions

Several drafts later he took a version back to CIO and CKO, they loved it, but wanted to know why he hadn’t entitled the document “Digital Strategy”…

So whilst the term digital strategy is often in my opinion misused, next time you see a so called digital business strategy, take a look beyond the surface to see what it covers, chances are it’s probably a Collaboration Strategy (or in my experience, an approach to external social media digital listening and engagement).


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