Digital Paralysis Kills

20 August 2014
Cleve Gibbon
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Last month McKinsey reported that the flow of goods and services in 2012 reached $26 trillion; that’s 36 percent of the global GDP.  We were forewarned that global flows revenue would triple by 2025 with digital playing a lead role in that increase.  Are you forearmed with the digital platforms you need to capitalise on that? Or are you suffering from digital paralysis?

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Global Flows

Digitisation has transformed the way we operate forever.  We are continually reducing production and distribution costs in order to scale goods and services for wider consumption.  Digital is a world without borders, with increasing global reach, and engaging with customers at break neck speeds.  Look at Skype.  A pure online business that creates and distributes its subscription based calling services with over 663 million registered users.  Netflix ships movies.  Spotify music. In all cases, digital plays a critical role improving the global flow of goods and services. There are no borders.

Let’s bring physical goods into play here.  Digital augments the physical with sensor and tagging technology.  Corporate case studies abound here, my favourite being a sensor pill that when ingested runs on the electrical power generated by your stomach acid, transmits its location and your bio-related to your wearable, which uploads data via a Wi-Fi connection to the cloud for further analysis.  This is not sci-fi.  That’s sci-fact.  It’s happening today to mitigate the countless secondary risks the medical profession have to deal with patients failing to take their prescribed medication.

In another example, consider how manufacturers create/collect goods centrally and then ship them out via global distribution hubs.  But what if goods could be produced anywhere, distributed via digital channels and formats, for creation by 3-D printing technology in the local market.  Again, moving faster and further in our borderless digital world.

Digitisation is disrupting global flows.  We are using digital to accelerate and scale the production, distribution and consumption of everyday goods and services.  So if digital is just a toolbox, how exactly do we do digital?

Digital Platforms

“Without a platform to manage and nurture every interaction with its consumer, a company has no spine.” - Ajaz Ahmed and Stefan Olander

Over the last five years we have got a lot better at solving single channel, single software problems, and by single channel we mean the ‘browser’.  The browser channel refers to any device that can render web content that includes desktop, mobile, tablet, display signage, kiosks and so on, with new devices being added by the day.

However, we need to consider other channels.  We can’t ignore offline.  Mobile apps are on the rise.  Call centres remain key customer contact points. And with consumer homes, cars and white goods getting smarter, we need to step up to deliver omnichannel experiences that are truly connected (digital), continuous (consistent across channel), and contextual (relevant).  Expectations are high.

And that’s why technology departments are busy today.  They are busy shifting from single channel, software applications to stronger cross channel, complex digital platforms.  The business must offer seamless, personalised, omnichannel experiences to engage with its global customer base.  Business agility relies upon technology agility. The future growth and global flow of goods and services depend upon digital platforms capable to collecting, analysing, understanding, and proactively engaging holistically with consumers at every interaction in their digital journey.  Without a spine, or integrated digital platforms, we will not be able to stand tall and stay ahead of our competitors.

Game of Integration

With so many application choices, marketing cloud platforms, mergers and acquisitions, niche digital disruptors, technology selection and validation has never been so challenging.  Greenfield initiatives in today’s digital landscape are a double edge sword with the stakes so high and the board on your back.  This has resulted in digital paralysis, a slow death from fear of making the wrong decision.  Some outsource the risk to a single platform vendor, whilst others build from scratch to take charge of their own digital destiny.  The reality is that answer lies somewhere between these two extremes.  What’s important is how you approach the problem.

Companies need to stop thinking about the one strategy, one platform, and one solution to solve their digital problems.  Instead, by thinking big, but starting small, you can always make tangible progress towards something. That’s requires big picture thinking.  Then chunking up the problem to apply lean and agile principles in order to continuously pivot and persevere as you go.  That’s the small steps approach. Cross channel, complex digital platforms are complex.  There are an insane number of platform stakeholders and sponsors to consider, with their own set of journeys and interactions to satisfy, through a network of marketing technology integrations.  It’s a Game of Integration.

That brings us to integration.  It goes beyond technology.  Every interaction with a consumer means getting your entire organisation behind it; that’s integration across business and technology at the deepest level.  You are not going to design and build something upfront that will cater for that level of change amidst that much digital transformation without pain and learnings.  So pick something small, grow and nurture it, make it take root, then move on. Whether that’s a quick win in the web channel, or an in-store trial to engage with retail consumers, or setting up the foundation digital measurement.  Whatever it is, scope it small, scale it wide, seed it well.

Summary

Digitisation is key to supporting the rise in global flows.  Instead of single channel, software stacks, there is a strong case to shift towards cross channel, complex digital platforms.  In order to achieve this, businesses have to think strategically about their technology, but more importantly approach the challenge in a way that promotes constant change in small doses.  That means not thinking of transformation as one-time activity.

We need to adapt to a new culture of continuous thinking, planning, designing, delivery, measurement, and learning. Transformation is not a solution but lauchpad for long-term competitve advantage.  We need to get comfortable with continuous everything because change is not going away, and digital paralysis kills.

Resources

Global flows in a digital age, McKinsey, April 2014.