Marketers are increasingly finding themselves with an expanded mandate to contribute greater value and measurable results, deliver exceptional customer experiences and drive a customer-centric corporate culture shift across the enterprise. No surprise that the key themes that keep most business leaders at night include transformation, technology, innovation and adaptive approach. In a video interview between IBM iX digital strategy and iX lead, UKI VP, Debbie Vavangas tells The Drum associate editor Sonoo Singh why all this means the future is now.
In association with The Drum, IBM iX is launching Tomorrow is too late initiative as a response to these challenges and to help drive a conversation about the key pillars of transformation – creativity, strategy, data and technology.
Following are some of the highlights from the Tomorrow is too late video interview.
Sonoo Singh: What is the tomorrow is too late initiative all about?
Debbie Vagangas: It was created in response to the challenge and disruption that's facing all industries today. There isn't a single industry out there that isn't being affected by huge changes. Most of the clients and companies that I work with understand that massive change is happening, but most of them think they can leave it to tomorrow to sort out.
Tomorrow is too late is about bringing the conversation to the table and understanding that it’s imperative to act now. If you wait too long, someone will come along and eat your lunch or the industry will fundamentally change and you won't know the game you’re playing any more. What we are doing is highlighting the changes that are happening now and how all of the needs around that change and to encourage people to speak about it and be prepared rather than wait for it to happen to them.
SS: There’s so much going on at the moment with changing consumer behaviour, new technologies, government regulation. How do you cut through the noise?
DV: Those are all the driving forces behind the initiative.
Consumer expectation is higher and more demanding than it’s ever been before, while technology is moving and merging at an increasingly rapid pace. All of that drives a need for legislation and more regulation. It's about recognising that these things are all linked and making sure people are ready to predict change or prepared to face it. They should be thinking about where their customer is, what their challenge is and what they’re trying to do. But in reality, there’s a myriad of industries that we have today that won't exist tomorrow; they'll just turn into macro industries. The automotive industry for example will turn into a journey industry while the hotel industry will turn into entertainment. Our job is to help our clients understand that journey.
SS: Where does digital transformation fit into all this?
DV: From an IBM iX perspective, we think digital transformation deals specifically with experience-led transformation including how you engage your customers and employees, providing services that are different and moving forward as a company.
However to define digital transformation, there are many ways to put it into practice. Whether you do top down, adopt a more holistic approach or change it all - digital transformation is about taking a whole new way of doing things or a new set of products and propositions to market. While for some, it will be about being brave, for others, it’s about being prepared to fail.
Either way, marketers should watch the market to see how it develops. They have to adapt the conversation and the level of change to suit the client they’re working with.
SS: Is there a certain kind of skillset that’s required to adapt to these changes?
DV: Definitely. The biggest thing is to be open to the fact that the world is different to where it previously was and to realise that it’s constantly changing. For instance, being comfortable with failure is very different to saying that you’re comfortable with it. If you’re not scared of failing, then you’re not being brave [enough]. Because then you won't necessarily think about the environment you’re in and the organisation you need to cultivate.
So, how do you ensure that when you do fail you’ll learn from that failure and take the lessons and insight into the next iteration of whatever you're trying to do? You can't just embrace failure, you have to do it with purpose.
SS: How important is innovation today and is it something we should be spending a lot of time talking about? How is that different from creativity?
DV: Digital transformation, reinvention, innovation, creativity; they’re just words we use. Creativity is about working with an undefined problem where you get to stretch your legs and think about how to tackle it completely differently. Innovation is about having a defined problem where you’re probably going to follow a more structured method to innovate and come up with some ideas or solutions to the problem.
One is much more about being ambitious and working with a blank sheet of paper. Innovation is about knowing the problem you’re trying to solve, then innovating to solve it.
SS: Once you realise the distinction between creativity and being innovative, the next big challenge is how do you scale all of this?
DV: There are not many companies that have been successful at driving innovation and creativity across their entire enterprise. It requires a need for change typically, for the organisation itself, either internally or through market pressures. It requires a real appetite from the company’s senior executives to want to make this change. But it also requires an enormous effort to make people passionate about it. That’s the only way to make the business grow organically.
SS: You have always said it’s not STEM, but STEAM. what do you mean by that?
DV: Industries have been focused on STEM for a long time, driving science, technology, engineering and maths. But if we look at machine systems, we think about them intellectually and consider how the technology can be used to solve incredibly difficult problems. Yet ultimately, there’s a person at the other end of whatever that process is designed to do, and we should remember the art, creativity and innovation.
SS: What are your ambitions for the Tomorrow is too late initiative?
DV: I want to give the people at IBM IX and the wider IBM, the opportunity to engage in dialogue on this topic and to allow some of those opinions and deep thought leadership to be brought to the table. I want to create discussion; a new dialogue with clients across the industry. It’s no use waiting until tomorrow.