Why I want to place a ‘D’ notice on the ‘D’ word

At a recent conference – organised by Skillsoft, the world’s leading provider of eLearning solutions – I suggested to the large audience attending my panel session that we should ban the ‘D’ word. And ‘D’ stands for Digital – the most over-exercised word in today’s tech vocabulary.

Judging by the rousing cheer to this suggestion, I am not alone in wanting this ban. So, in an attempt to make the ban stick, I have decided to invoke the ‘D’ Notice – a curiously British institution which The Guardian newspaper describes as: ‘a sort of not quite public yet not quite secret arrangement between government and media in order to ensure that journalists do not endanger national security’.

Joking apart, let me explain why I take this matter seriously.

I fear that we suffer from Digital madness. We have Digital strategies… Digital leaders… Digital journeys… Digital transformations… and leading this unstoppable digital invasion is the Chief Digital Officer. (Not to be confused with the other CDO – the Chief Data Officer).

So, what’s wrong with all this hype around Digital?

Well, the blunt answer is that it deflects attention away from a much greater priority. Digital may be passion but it’s not where we should be focusing our efforts and energies. Instead, we need to concentrate on achieving a better and more sustainable business – albeit one that is supported and empowered by Digital.

Undeniably, we are in a Digital age. Equally clearly, we are also in a very disruptive era where every organisation and industry (whether digitally enabled or not) is under threat. Just the other day this truth was made shockingly real when the mighty British Steel collapsed – as did Jamie Oliver’s chain of restaurants. These two businesses were not the victims of a digital war; they were casualties of a much more profound and fundamental business problem. Disruptive change is probing and pressuring the resilience of every business model. It’s also stress-testing relationships with customers, employees, suppliers and all key stakeholders.

I know this will be contentious but I stand by it: Companies don’t need Digital Strategies. Instead, they need to update their Business Strategies for the digital age (why on earth would anyone want two strategies when getting one right is difficult enough?). Companies need to focus, in the first instance, on which parts of their business to digitise and how best to go about it. And the answer to those critical questions will come from some really honest self-analysis:

  1. Are we offering the right products and services to our customers? To answer this question, look at what competitors are offering and, most importantly of all, ask customers.
  2. Are we approachable and easy to do business with… and, if not, how should we change this scenario? (Incidentally, this is where management really needs to think digital).
  3. Do we enjoy customer loyalty – are customers actively recommending us to the friends and family? If not, what must we do to re-build those vital bridges of confidence?
  4. Have we empowered our workforce to do the best job possible and to derive real satisfaction from what they are doing? Note to reader: I’ve yet to find an unhappy employee who is able to deliver a great customer service!
  5. Are we moving fast enough? Are rivals beating us to the punch? Should we be implementing changes in days or weeks instead of months and years?
  6. Are we open to ideas and ready to listen? Do we actively seek input from enough people and take proper account of their views? And are we running experiments to test the viability, feasibility and desirability of the ideas people recommend?
  7. Have we broken out of our silos… and, above all, have we made sure that ‘Digital’ is not seen as an esoteric ‘IT thing’?

These are the fundamental questions we should be asking – and answering – before we bring the ‘D’ word into the conversation.

Finally, I have one last piece of advice for companies that genuinely want to transform themselves. In a world of increasing complexity, it pays to think of E to the power of three: E³. To make it EEEasy for everyone, focus on improving:

  1. Customer and Employee EXPERIENCE.

Good luck and don’t wait for my ‘D’ notice to surface.

Robert Baldock, MD, Clustre – The Innovation Brokers

Learn more… for more advice on how to move your business forward and embrace digital, simply email innovation@clustre.net

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