In summary, this article provides:
- An 8-point playbook of strategies which leaders can use to focus time and resources to build digital capabilities and navigate business change
- A useful framework to compare or evaluate existing digital investment and innovation initiatives to improve quality and impact
- A useful article to share or use for internal discussions with non-digitally native executives, Board members and cross-functional teams
- A set of practical strategies to guide implementation following on from the key insight and findings in the REIGNITE 2020 Report authored by Andrew Essa
- A playbook to evaluate your digital progress and help plan for the future. Get in touch with any questions, comments or help to implement these perspectives here firstname.lastname@example.org or at ROCKET + COMMERCE
The 8 strategies include:
- Understand current digital usage, productivity, value and benefits
- Diagnose and benchmark digital performance and opportunities
- Scale digital capacity for increasing demand but manage complexity
- Review and upgrade cybersecurity measures
- Move from ‘good’ to ‘great’ across 4 key areas
- Prioritise resource reallocation to digital initiatives (with a crisis mindset)
- Improve the digital acumen of the Board (and workforce)
- Organise to build digital capabilities
8 Strategies For Leaders to Navigate Digital Acceleration
Although some organisations are thriving on the back of tailwinds in this environment, many more are struggling. In many cases, the difference between the former and the latter is an organisation’s ability to rapidly adapt and chart a sustainable and differentiated path forward, especially through maximising Digital opportunities across areas including Customer Experience, Growth Strategy, Workforce Productivity, and Organisational Adaptability (I posted recently here about the 3 Big Digital Opportunities for Organisations)
Below are 8 playbook strategies for leaders to now consider:
#1 Understand productivity, value and benefits
For most organisations, the critical first step has been to safeguard employees by enabling them to work remotely using the full suit of available tools (see below).
As this continues alongside partial or even full reintegrations, firms should continuously engage or ‘pulse check’ with workers, customers and key stakeholders. It is critical to evaluate what is working well (e.g. feedback, analytics, usage), what is missing (e.g. cybersecurity, training, IT hardware), lessons learned, and where low-hanging fruit is for further digitisation opportunities and benefits (e.g. customer service and experience).
A challenge to overcome is that most firms typically fail to realise the full value from their technology investments for a variety of reasons (e.g. budgets, skills, governance, change, training etc). What tends to happen is some efficiency and cost reduction, but limited revenue generation, improved customer experiences and new products/services. The firms who out-perform their peers are the ones who prioritise and maximise the full potential of digital and are laser-focused on benefits realisation across the organisation.
“The crisis has sped up the utilisation of tools such as Microsoft Teams for meetings, e-signature software and other tech which will assist both with internal and external customers moving forward. Typically face to face meetings or travel has been a big part of how we’ve conducted business particularly in my role in the past – Client Director, Private Investment Bank (interviewed in the REIGNITE! 2020 Report)
#2 Diagnose digital performance and opportunities
For some SMEs, the current state of digital maturity involves a combination of accelerated back-end cloud, front-end software tools (e.g. MS 365), and new ways of working. Other larger, established firms however continue to have core (or hybrid) infrastructure set-ups based on outdated tools, processes, and assumptions combined poor digital acumen at leadership level and limited workforce training or up skilling.
This makes it increasingly difficult to adapt to new challenges (e.g. remote work, new services, cybersecurity), manage complexity, and properly reap the benefits of digital technologies. In some cases, the lack of agility will drag down the business which might be fighting to to rescue declining margins, compete, or even survive.
The challenge for leaders is to build on the momentum of change (‘it can be done!’) and increased adoption by leveraging the potential of digital across the entire organisation (not merely in pockets) for improved efficiency, productivity, customer experiences and new products/services.
To get started, leaders need to know what they are dealing with today. If strategic planning around digital opportunities are to be robust and there is leadership intent to focus time and resources on the digital agenda, data and insight about the current digital state of the organisation will be needed.
Diagnostic surveys tools and assessments can help to evaluate an organisation’s digital and analytics maturity to discover digital growth, operational improvement and worker productivity opportunities now, with recommendations on where to focus efforts for longer-term growth, change or productivity.
At ROCKET + COMMERCE our Digital Performance Index (DPI) focuses on areas including Strategy, Customers, Analytics, Technology, Operations, Marketing, Offerings, People, Culture, and Automation. This data-driven, diagnostic approach helps CxOs and functional leadership teams to shape, refresh and align around a common vision and strategy across key digital and innovation dimensions.
We also critically incorporate human-centric approaches (see below) to our diagnostic tools which also provides people-focused data of digital change on users, customers, experiences, productivity, collaboration, skills, behaviours, trust, safety, belonging, health and well-being.
Read these brief case studies on how at ROCKET + COMMERCE we have helped organisations do this and find new ways to go-to-market, become more customer-centric, launch new ventures, or pilot new up skilling programmes.
This exercise also allows leaders to identify gaps between current capabilities and those of digital leaders (or the desired future state of the organisation), and plan a prioritised road map of tactical improvements or new strategic initiatives. This data-driven, diagnostic approach can also help CxOs and functional leadership teams align around a common vision and strategy across key digital dimensions.
#3 Scale digital capacity for increasing demand but manage complexity
Many IT teams are now grappling with providing sufficient capacity to serve the increased (and varying) volumes of traffic flowing through digital channels. One respondent to the survey (a provider of web-based collaboration tools), experienced a surge in demand from all of the newly remote workers and had to rapidly build out new infrastructure capacity to ensure availability.
This transition to digital channels will likely continue beyond the current health crisis as customers and organisations adopt fundamentally different ways of working. Recent research from Gartner indicates that about 41% of employees are likely to work remotely for some of the time post-pandemic.
The accelerated capacity build-out in H1 2020 has taken many forms beyond physical infrastructure deployment. In many cases, it has pushed organisations to adopt different architectural solutions for expansion, such as cloud bursting and augmenting on-premises deployments with virtual appliances and software-based deployments in the public cloud.
According to Mike Pelliccia, head of worldwide financial services technology solutions at Amazon Web Services (AWS), on-premises infrastructure no longer meets the business needs of today:
On-premises data infrastructures do not scale to meet variable and increasing volumes of data. Multiple disconnected data silos with inconsistent formats obscure data lineage and prevent a consolidated view of activity. Rigid data schemas prevent access to source data and limit the use of advanced analytics and machine learning. The high costs of legacy data warehouses also limit access to historical data.
The cloud helps organisations to harness the value of their data and aggregate it at speed and scale so that they can achieve their business goals. Traditional data solutions cannot keep up with the volumes and variety of data that is being collected today by financial players.
Pelliccia adds that a cloud-based data lake allows organisations – from banks to SMEs – to store all data in one central repository where it can be more readily available for the application of other technologies such as machine learning, “to support security and compliance priorities, realise cost efficiencies, perform forecasts, execute risk assessments, improve understanding of customer behaviour, and drive innovation.”
This enables organisations to maintain a holistic view of their business, while identifying risks and opportunities. For instance, analyses can help to detect fraud, surface market trends and mine for deeper customer insights to deliver tailored products and personalised experiences.
#4 Review and upgrade cybersecurity measures
Whilst many organisations will have robust cybersecurity processes and culture, for many others this will represent a new capability and massive learning curve. What was good just a few months or weeks ago may not be adequate today.
The urgency and impact of the shift away from office working will mean most organisations may have introduced new levels and types of cybersecurity risk not previously seen before at this scale (see below for leading causes of cyber risks).
While allowing the workforce to be flexible is only a small part of digital transformation, it carries with it the need to ensure that new hardware (laptops, home printers, smartphones) and services have been, and continue to be, implemented securely (e.g. full disk encryption, enabling strong multi-factor authentication, and using VPN technology).
#5 Move from ‘good’ to ‘great’ across 4 key areas
Once solutions to immediate workforce and business priorities are in-flight, organisations should accelerate the exploring of different ways to use digital to work and operate, deliver innovative customer experiences, and create value in the new normal. For example, restaurants enabling entirely new in-home dining experiences, telemedicine becoming more of a norm, and different ways to shop with ubiquitous curb-side pick-up.
According to McKinsey, whilst many B2B companies have a general sense of what they need to do to become more digitally-enabled, it is the best B2B leaders who move beyond “accepted wisdom” to focus on being ‘great’ at 3 main differentiators of digital success:
- Customer Insights
- Process Improvement
- Capability Building
To this list, I add a critical 4th dimension: Business Models
The below provides further explanation:
- Good: Focus on understanding their customer preferences and demographics.
- Great: Ability to quickly translate into the most relevant value-creation strategies. Pick one or two high-value customer segments, then map decision journeys front-to-back to understand how customers buy, what channels they use, what turns them on—and off. More than 90 percent of B2B buyers use a mobile device at least once during the decision process, yet fewer than 10 percent of the B2B companies in the survey indicated that they have a compelling mobile strategy.
- Good: Relentlessly improve existing processes.
- Great: Use agile development techniques, automation, and design thinking to reengineer or reinvent supporting processes. Effective pre-sales activities—the steps that lead to qualifying, bidding on, winning, and renewing a deal—can help B2B companies achieve consistent win rates of 40 to 50 percent in new business and 80 to 90 percent in renewals. Incorporating agile techniques forces product development, marketing, sales, and IT to come together and use digital design practices, such as launching minimally viable products (MVP). That can ramp up the cultural changes needed as well.
- Good: Build important capabilities for digital initiatives
- Great: Identify and augment the capabilities critical to achieving scale. B2B leaders create an organisational structure that supports their digital transformation. That involves identifying which skills need to be reallocated, what data and analytics resources are needed, and which customer opportunities require capabilities that need to be built, hired, or acquired. Systematic performance tracking needs to be in place to keep the efforts on track and make sure they having the desired impact (only one in five B2B companies systematically tracks digital performance indicators).
- Good: Optimise existing business model by digitising their traditional products, interfaces and distribution channels.
- Great: Take advantage of platform models and thinking leveraging network effects, intelligent AI-powered solutions, developer/API enablement and ecosystems, and customer-centric orchestration. As every sector digitises – accelerated by the COVID crisis – the imperative to incorporate new digital business models becomes more urgent. This underpins the ‘great’ executors.
According to digital platforms expert Simon Torrence:
Platform thinking is about taking advantage of flexible software and digital infrastructure to leverage, at scale, other economic actors (complementary third parties and/or developers) to create new value for customers and markets.Rather than trying to design and build everything yourself – which is the default for most companies today – platform thinking encourages you to act as a coordinator or enabling intermediary between the needs of your customers, your own expertise and the expertise of others.
Simon goes on to say that:
Incumbent leaders admire and fear the big tech giants, and would love to emulate or incorporate some of their ‘secret sauce’ into their own businesses, but don’t know how. They have been happy to invest large sums to digitise their existing business model and fund experiments, pilots and CVC investments in new areas, but have found it difficult to fully embrace the types of digital business models that work best in a hyper-connected world and to take bold steps in re-allocating meaningful levels of capital and resources towards them.
In summary, a commitment to “great” is really what allows companies to reap the rewards from digital and build digital and supporting capabilities. Without it, organisations will find their improvements provide only modest benefits that cannot be scaled.
#6 Prioritise resource reallocation to digital initiatives (with a crisis mindset)
As outlined above, the COVID crisis will accelerate the gap between digital laggards and transforming leaders requiring firms to now evaluate investments, baseline ‘digital maturity’, and in the short-term, secure a stronger, repositioned role for digital investments in 2021.
In fact, in 2019 McKinsey believed a ‘crisis mindset’ was required. And that was before COVID….
This is likely to require an urgent reallocation of resources. Although most senior executives understand the importance of strategically shifting resources (according to McKinsey research, 83 percent identify it as the top management lever for spurring growth— more important than operational excellence or M&A), only a third of companies surveyed reallocate a measly 1 percent of their capital from year to year; the average is 8 percent.
This is a huge missed opportunity because the value-creation gap between dynamic and drowsy reallocators can be staggering. A company that actively reallocates delivers, on average, a 10 percent return to shareholders, versus 6 percent for a sluggish reallocator. Within 20 years, the dynamic reallocator will be worth twice as much as its less agile counterpart—a divide likely to increase as accelerating COVID impacts, digital disruptions, and growing geopolitical uncertainty boost the importance of nimble reallocation.
The disconnect tends to be because managers struggle to figure out (and agree) where they should reallocate, how much they should reallocate, and how to execute successful reallocation. Additionally, disappointment with earlier reallocation efforts can push the issue off top management’s agenda.
Although these challenges can be overcome, feedback and data from employees, customers, and the maturity benchmarking should help to align senior management commitment to prioritising the short-term digital investment requirements, and at the same time laying the foundation for more detailed discussions and analysis for longer-term strategic planning.
#7 Improve the digital acumen of the Board (and workforce)
A UK government report published in 2016 found that the digital skills gap is costing the UK economy £63 billion a year in lost GDP. Similarly, a report from Amrop, a global executive search firm, reveals that just 5% of board members in non-tech organisations have digital competencies, and that the figure has barely moved in the last two years.
In the new COVID world requiring adaptability and digital adoption at a scale never seen before, boards must get to work in reassessing competencies, adopting new ways of working (e.g. continuous strategic planning, collaborating internally and with the wider ecosystem), and being open to hiring diverse backgrounds if needed.
In addition, since many new digital directors may have atypical perspectives (e.g. deep technical vs product vs strategy vs HR), companies must make sure that they have strong on-boarding processes in place, to capture and maximise the impact of their new board members.
A critical first step is to ensure a consistent understanding of what digital and innovation means amongst leaders and boards, what are the best practices of leading tech and non-tech organisations, and what are the big opportunities for digital (and threats) in a COVID world. As part of this, improving the board’s understanding of the external environment and how it is shifting, and how the big trends and signals might impact the immediate and longer-term future.
In many cases, firms will need outside help across recruitment (e.g. diversity), training and education (e.g. research and insight, best practices, benchmarking), advisory, and briefings from experts, entrepreneurs, academics, and other ecosystem players.
Once the above happens (which in theory can happen quickly with committed leadership), this should provide the intent and focus to refresh strategic plans and budgets, and then roll-out or accelerate digital and innovation upskilling throughout the wider workforce as a strategic priority.
#8 Organise to build digital capabilities
Put simply, digital capability can be defined as doing everything it takes to develop an organisation and workforce able to:
- Maximise the potential of technology, data and talent to address business challenges; and
- Ability to respond quickly to continual shifts in consumer behaviour and external environment in a fast-changing connected world.
According to recent study by Deloitte involving interviews with industry leaders, achieving this is not easy as the survey had a multi-faceted response. However, organisations that have successfully adapted to this new environment typically make delighting the customer their #1 priority, set bold goals to achieve factors of 10x impact, and challenge the status quo by looking for new ideas to solve.
3 core critical success factors to building digital capabilities:
In these times of significant change, leaders must understand, collaborate, and champion the exciting potential of technology from the very top of the organisation.
However, understanding the full suite of digital opportunities (e.g. API-based BaaS platforms) are often new and alien to leaders of incumbent firms. Teams and advisers need to help them to understand how digital can work, and the options in terms of where to play and how to win. This is critical to getting commitment to re-allocating sufficient capital and resources from other initiatives to support this market opportunity in a meaningful way.
Organisational Structure and Operating Models:
Organisations need to embed and build the right structures and models that allows them to drive digital change and execute in an agile way. This requires clarity on the firm’s approach to digital strategy (e.g. build vs buy vs partner) as the implementation approaches to build digital capabilities will differ.
For example, many established firms will embark on dual-transformation or innovation portfolio approaches by
(i) executing process improvement and cultural change in the main firm (see ‘A’ below)
(ii) creating separate legal entities, JVs and alliances to tackle new markets, exploit new business models, sometimes at the risk of cannibalising the main business (see ‘B’ above or ‘Exploit’ below)
PingAn has pursued the above approaches to become one of the best-performing transformer of the past decade (and become a much sough-after MBA case study subject). It typically kick-starts new ventures with partners as part of the ‘explore’ portfolio which is one of the most effective approaches to reducing risk and increasing chances of success.
Typically these are best managed away from the core in an ‘explore’ portfolio of businesses within a new organisational structure and P&L.
Talent, Skills, Culture and Data:
Maximising digital opportunities require radically different skills, technologies, ways of working, and metrics. Organisations need to empower people to be creative, test and learn and challenge existing ways of working. They also need to cultivate diversity and a lifelong learning mindset, recognising that many will resist change. This was highlighted in PwC’s recent Skills Report.
In addition, whilst the focus of the ‘future workforce’ tends to focus on the technical and ‘hard’ skills (e.g. engineering, analytics, coding etc) it is the soft skills and humanities expertise which will gain increasing importance.
According to billionaire tech entrepreneur Mark Cuban:
“Twenty years from now, if you are a coder, you might be out of a job,” Cuban predicted. “Because it’s just math and so, whatever we’re defining the A.I. to do, someone’s got to know the topic. If you’re doing an A.I. to emulate Shakespeare, somebody better know Shakespeare.” Cuban acknowledged the importance of coding as a short-term opportunity. Long-term, however, the Shark Tank investor pointed out that A.I. is only as good as the data it’s given–meaning the highest-skilled workers in the future will be the ones who can identify “what is right and what is wrong and where biases are.”
Already today design thinking and human-centred design is a new differentiator in digital which complement technical mobile, cloud, AI, and other more technical digital skills.
“Creativity, collaboration, communication skills: Those things are super important and are going to be the difference between make or break” – Mark Cuban
In terms of data (the new ‘oil’) organisations need to capture, track, protect, analyse and maximise the business value of their data, as along with people, this is the most valuable asset.
Some further tactics might include:
- Senior executive and board training, commitment and refreshed digital strategies
- Centralising digital business expertise (e.g. Centre of Excellence) using hub-and-spoke engagement model
- Hiring a Chief Digital Officer and team/function
- New talent and up skilling (e.g. analytics, user experience)
- Hiring external, flexible talent e.g. freelancers
- Cross-functional governance
- New incentives and behaviours
- Collaborating with wider industry and ecosystem partners
- Training will be integral which will also enable every C-level executive to be their own ‘Chief Digital and Innovation Officer’ for their functions.
Accenture summarise this using an 8 step ‘playbook’ below: