Skip to main content

Navigating the Digital Transformation Process

By April 27, 2015Article

Rising competition and fading customer loyalty are compelling a growing number of companies to launch new digital initiatives, adopt the latest “omnichannel” marketing capabilities and become more “customer centric.” Making this move requires new technologies and new thinking, a combination that poses significant organizational problems for most businesses. 

A great deal of today’s digital challenge is driven by the advent of mobile technologies and social applications, which enable customers to access information regarding competing products and services in new ways. In response, companies must develop new tactics to engage customers via multiple “channels.” This means companies must adjust the way they convey information about their products and services to fit a variety of mobile devices and use various methods to prompt customers to try or buy their offerings. 

Although the biggest enterprises and most established brand companies may have the greatest resources to respond to the digital imperative, they also face the toughest challenges crossing the “digital divide.” They are often burdened by legacy software and systems, lack staff skilled in the latest social applications and analytic techniques and are structured in silos, which makes it difficult to respond holistically to their customers’ increasingly dynamic needs. 

Compounding these issues is the rapidly evolving Internet of Things (IoT), which is creating a world of connected products and services that can capture valuable insights into customer behavior but also raises the bar to satisfy customers’ rising expectations. 

Adopting the right technologies and strategies to achieve digital success was the theme of Photon Infotech’s annual customer forum, which I recently attended in New York City. (Disclosure: Photon paid my travel expenses to attend this event.) 

Photon brought together an impressive group of approximately 100 CIOs, Chief Digital Officers (CDOs) and other senior executives tasked with crafting their corporate digital strategies and deploying the systems and software to meet their particular needs. The executives came from a cross-section of big-name companies from various industries including L’Oreal, American Eagle Outfitters, Walgreens, JCPenney, KeyBank, KPMG, Lincoln Financial, MasterCard, McGraw Hill Financial, MDLIVE, RBC and Tesco HSC. 

What made this event particularly enlightening and unique was the willingness of the executives who spoke to describe their digital experiences in very open and honest terms, candidly sharing their shortcomings as well as their success stories. 

Although they came from differing industries, they had plenty in common and offered a number of valuable tips regarding digital, omnichannel best practices. Here are a few of the key takeaways I collected from their presentations: 

1. Becoming a digital, omnichannel company requires a multidisciplinary approach. Successful initiatives depend on a combination of technological, organizational, marketing and operational skills and resources. For instance, using social techniques to stimulate customer demand will impact inventory and supply-chain operations. So, be sure representatives from each of these areas are involved in the digital transformation process. It might also require a designated leader, or CDO, to bring together the necessary resources and coordinate the process across the organizational units. 

2. Start small and build on your success. While becoming digital ultimately requires a total reorientation of a company’s go-to-market strategies and support systems, it won’t gain any momentum until it can generate tangible results. Therefore, take a targeted approach so the outcomes of the early initiatives can be monitored and the tactics can be replicated across other offerings and market segments. 

3. Measuring success is still more art than science. The executives who spoke at the forum admitted it is still a challenge to effectively employ today’s analytic tools to predict customer behavior and calculate a return on investment (ROI). However, measuring customer satisfaction, targeted sales and other key performance indicators (KPIs) should provide a barometer of the impact of the digital initiative. 

4. Digital success requires a combination of internal leadership and external resources/skills. Because “going digital” is still a relatively new idea, most organizations lack in-house expertise and experience to fully appreciate the market opportunities and comprehend the organizational and technology challenges entailed. Therefore, it is essential to enlist third-party help to set realistic goals and provide guidance in implementing the right systems and software. 

The willingness of the senior executives participating in the Photon forum to freely discuss their experiences and offer pragmatic advice to their peers about navigating the digital transformation process was refreshing and a testament to the trust built between the company and its customers. 

Jeff Kaplan is the managing director of THINKstrategies, founder of the Cloud Computing Showplace and host of the Cloud Innovators Summit executive forum series. He can be reached at