Digital Strategy Considerations

We are part of the age of business teams, product groups, and incubators within companies launching digital innovations. (I don’t understand the last part of this sentence, starting with incubators. Maybe reword?) The trend has been arriving for a while now, and I’ve had the privilege of leading many in this area. I have also been part of failed efforts. There is much to gain with insight of the past, and I condense these down here. If you wish to be successful in leading your enterprise, team, or start-up, you need to embrace two ideas — “get digital” and “create exchange points.” Each will be explained below.

Get Digital

It is incredible how much is happening in the digital technology space. The leaps in technology realities in the past 20 years is akin to building a space program and getting to the moon 5x over in the same period of time it took us to do it the first time. I have found that ‘getting digital” depends on a few key attributes you’ll want to nurture internally:

  • Curiosity of your team members (TRY THINGS!!)
  • High iteration and fail often (2, 4, 10 week incubation cycles)
  • Performance metrics that support the discovery, exploration, and potential home run (similar to a venture capital model, in which 1/100 efforts return any value … you need metrics that allow those first 99 “at-bats”)
  • Freedom — you need to remove yourself from the shackles of limits, fear of regulatory security risks, and sensitivity of operations. It IS possible to have freedom and meet these areas, but it is impossible to hit the home run without freedom, period.

Create Exchange Points

Exchange points are created when an incubated ideas (i.e., IoT in hotel rooms, such as Alexa at the Wynn for example; SaaS; and VR in the product demo rooms) are moved into an operational sustainment position within your business, thereby maximizing your competitive advantage.

Operational sustainment

It involves moving beyond the minimum viable product / single business unit success to a layout that sustainable and allows for compatibility within the organization. This will ensure reduced complexity in the organization (technology, roles & responsibilities, and maintenance), compatibility with the broader organization, and scalability to reach critical market scale.

Many organizations have established special product teams, PMO, and similar functions that support the incubation and launch of these digital initiatives. These can remain in these teams long-term, but often push to a product management team. Organizations can run these out of the principle IT team, but there is an additional set of attributes required. Specifically IT teams need at least be armed with the following:

  • capabilities
  • competencies
  • technology
  • resources — $$ and time (the allocation of time and resources needs to be free of the daily demands and immune to fire drills, or innovations will be forever delayed)

In April 2016, the Boston Consulting Group put out a nice graphic showing how some innovative technologies can fit within a classic IT team, as well as the roles they played. I think there is some variability here and more to consider, but it is a nice articulation to build a strategy within your team. The article is available here.

BCG April 2016 article

Maximizing Competitive Advantage

Maximizing your competitive advantage is classic business strategy, but sometimes we lose sight of it. However, it bears repeating loudly. Every business is different, and thus has advantages that others do not. As you incubate ideas and find success, these need to be scaled uniquely and organically that consider your own value to customers.

For example, if you are a business which serves 100M+ people a year (healthcare, hotels, fitness, etc..) and don’t take advantage of this unique data set, unique direct interactions, or length of customer attention, then you are missing out. Beyond that — your advantage against a startup is great because you BOTH have access to the same technology at the same time. The only difference is the enterprise has a pre-existing client base and built-in market.

Too often though, we see start-ups disrupt classic businesses. Now I am not saying this is wrong, I love the constant redevelopment of business and innovation that occurs. I am simply calling out the distinction in this example from a classic business perspective. The argument can be reversed quite easily and is a favorite topic of magazines and TV shows alike.

To Succeed

Businesses and teams that achieve these two concepts will realize a distinct advantage to their customers in both the value perceived and the ability to grow competitively. If there is one takeaway or interpretation that I have found core around these ideas and the enterprise IT team, it is to avoid warnings and halting requirements.

Warnings do not inform or support the discovery process, and they come without information regarding how to proceed safely or how can anyone succeed. Imagine a poster on giving the Heimlich maneuver (done when someone is choking). This poster shows WHAT to DO. Unfortunately I have seen too many businesses lead with what NOT to do. It is very difficult to save a life, a business, and create something amazing without this information to be free.

Halting requirements stem from cybersecurity and regulatory concerns. In every situation I have encountered, these can be easily addressed, but it happens at the beginning. The CISO and team develops a “we’ve never done X before, but here are ways to go forward” mentality. Departments with ideas are embraced.

There is so much potential to bring digital strategy, transformation, and real customer benefits. Let’s build upon these lessons of the past together.

  • James

[Shared originally in 2016, published here to generate greater discussion]


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