Digital transformation: A buzz phrase that should be banned

Digital Transformation, seemingly our industry’s buzzword of the moment, is a term that should be banned.

Chris Mellish

There are many more I could pick out, but this particular phrase is currently ever-present in my daily working life. I read about it in the press, I go to conferences dedicated to it, I discuss it with clients and get presented with candidates for hire who are apparently experts in it.

But I’ve come to the conclusion that it is, in fact, starting to hinder the very progress it was designed to instigate and I believe we would all benefit if we stopped referring to it and started to focus our efforts instead on a much simpler and clearer filter, namely customer experience.

I recently attended a 'Digital Transformation' day; it was designed to match brands that needed digital transformation with partners who could help them deliver it. The first thing that became apparent was that many of the brands were confused by the term. I suspect that many of them had been told that they needed to “get on with digital transformation” and were simply there to work out what it was.

Briefs ranged from “how would you drive more traffic to my site?” to “How can we be like Uber?” One individual had recently been renamed as 'Digital Transformation Manager', perhaps to ensure their bosses could tick the box when asked by their CEO “are we doing Digital Transformation?” All of this misses the point and creates a world of noise and distraction that takes away from the progress that brands could be making in this increasingly digitally enabled world.

A big part of the problem is the silos within which organisations operate. Organisations feel they need to drop into a neat bucket the challenge of transforming their business in a digital world, and preferably a bucket that already exists: “How about Marketing? They do digital, let's put the Digital Transformation team there”.

But by maintaining these silos, transformation is unlikely to take place – marketing will keep on marketing, those in charge of product will keep on defining what the brand goes to market with, but no real change is likely to occur.

Where I see real change taking place is when businesses are brave enough to start combining the worlds of product, marketing and technology together with the sole aim of providing a significantly enhanced experience for the customer.

Take easyJet, a business that in recent years has reported significant improvements in business performance. These improvements have been achieved through a series of fundamental and transformational changes to the way it operates.

It has, for example, implemented the allocation of seats, moving away from the scrum/free-for-all that previously decided who sat where. This was a fundamental change to its product, it was facilitated by digital technology, it created new revenue streams, became a core part of its advertising communications and has, as a result, radically transformed not only the business itself but also, and perhaps most importantly, the consumer’s perception of the brand.

EasyJet was able to make such a fundamental change because the silos that could easily have stymied such change were broken down. How? By asking a very simple question: “Will this change give easyJet customers a fundamentally better experience with our brand?”

For me the secret sauce to transforming your business in this new digital age is, in reality, an old trick, a very simple focus on customer experience and satisfaction. There is no doubt that the digital world within which we now all operate has in many ways made this more complicated to unpick and tricky to plan for. But it has also opened up a world of opportunities that enable us to tackle old problems in new and innovative ways.

So, rather than focus on the creation of digital transformation programmes and teams, brands might be best off taking a breath, going back to their customers and considering the following: How have customer expectations changed? What might surprise and delight them in today’s world? How can we, as a brand, make their lives easier?

Digital is a critical component to the answers but only part of the bigger picture. It can enable and facilitate transformation but has to be part of a wider cross-organisational effort.

Brands should start by applying a filter of customer experience and satisfaction across the entire consumer journey then look for opportunities to excel within it. Once a brand has uncovered these opportunities they will only be realised if they are delivered in a way that is unencumbered by organisational silos.

If brands can achieve this, then they are likely to start the journey of transforming the way they do business in today’s digitally enabled world.

Chris Mellish is a partner at Black Book London and former CEO of Razorfish

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