Why I was wrong about digital transformation and you might be too

Paul Boag

Digital Transformation has become a buzzword among many executive teams. But when you strip away all the hype, most of what you have left is user experience.

I want to let you into a secret. When I wrote Digital Adaptation I didn’t have a clue what I was talking about. But hey that was over a year ago. That is like ,forever in digital.

The book was me sharing my experiences and stories about companies struggling to come to terms with digital. At the time I saw digital as this new set of technologies that was turning the world upside down. My clients were struggling to come to terms with this and I was doing my best to help. It was like the arrival of electricity or the automobile. Digital was changing the world.

User experience is missing from Digital Adaptation

This was and is true. My book is still relevant and you should definitely still buy it! But it misses a huge part of what digital transformation is about. It is about how digital has changed the customers behaviour. I do not cover that well in Digital Adaptation, despite it being a critical part of the puzzle.

User experience expert Jared Spool tried to tell me this when I asked him to review the book. But I was too focused on the term ‘digital’. I was stuck looking at the technology and how it was impacting organisations. I was too inward looking to consider what it was doing to the behaviour of those organisations customers.

Sure digital technology presents new threats and opportunities for organisations. It allows organisations to reach markets inaccessible before. It lets them offer products or services that were not viable in the past. But that is only half the story. Where things get interesting is how it impacts their customers.

Digital has altered how we behave

Digital has altered our behaviour from the moment we get up to the moment we go to bed. It has changed the way we talk with friends, buy products and take part in politics. In fact there is no aspect of our lives it has failed to touch.

This is the biggest challenge digital presents. This is what organisations need to adapt to. The trouble is like me many organisations are too busy looking at the threats digital presents. Threats from digitally savvy competitors. That or they obsess over how they can leverage digital for themselves. All the while they are missing how much their customers are changing.

Organisations need to focus on the customer, not the technology

Like many, for a long time I was a supporter of seeing digital represented at the board level. But I always had my doubts. I always knew it was a temporary role. That one day digital would be as ubiquitous as electricity and so we wouldn’t need that kind of position.

That said, I could see the need for digitally aware thinking in the executive. People who understand the ramifications of digital. But as time goes by I am coming to believe that is a Chief Experience Officer not a Chief Digital Officer.

It is vital that the top of organisations understand digital and its potential. But what organisations need even more is somebody who can champion todays connected consumer. Somebody who understands how organisations must adapt to meet the changes in customer behaviour.

It is the customer that is redefining company structure

Because here is the interesting thing. As I consider all the changes necessary to be more digitally friendly. As I think about the need to break down silos and change governance. I recommend these things not for the sake of digital. I recommend these things to create a better user experience.

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Customer experience is easier to sell than digital

It makes more business sense to focus on customer experience rather than digital tools. Digital is going to be an expense. A cost that we must justify to management. Improving the customer experience is a revenue stream. A revenue stream built on repeat business, recommendations and customer loyalty.

Digital doesn’t differentiate in the market place. Providing an outstanding customer experience does. Digital just provides us with new opportunities to do things better. Things like doing a better job of customer service. That is where the value of digital transformation really lies.

I have been blinkered about the impact of digital. The question is, has your organisation been blinkered too?