We all understand the feverish pace, global reach, and massive scope of the current Digital Economy and the post-pandemic acceleration that we are witnessing. The key focus of most enterprises is to prioritize digital capabilities needed to transform themselves to compete and sustain their advantage. And as they say 100 people will define ‘Digital Transformation’ in 100 different ways. The basic premise of such a change is understanding WHAT people buy (the product itself) and HOW they buy it (distribution). These three principles are a way to keep it simple and focused:
Digital Experience – Consumers and Employees
People have been doing ‘Digital’ for ages – digitizing assets & processes and creating some new value out of the investments. What has changed is the perspective of incorporating these technologies with a true North Star of looking at what final consumers are seeking. Leaders in every industry have recognized that everything must be looked at from the lens of the consumers. As an example, in the initial stages of sales and marketing when digital technology started to provide data integration, companies focused on 360-degree view of customer. Marketing, sales, and service could try to get the same data about their consumers so that they did not replicate redundant offers, etc. But even these customer-centric businesses tried to tailor ‘siloed’ products to the usually a static view of their customers. This is not enough going forward.
Companies need to treat consumers not just as buyers (a nameless face with a shopping cart) but as ever-changing, multi-dimensional people – understanding their dynamic roles and behaviors. Understanding of the external forces that affect their lives: technology, culture, politics, health, environment, and society and then applying power of data, AI, intelligence, etc. This will give them a bigger canvas to add value to the lives of their consumers and create more relevant experiences than ever before. This also requires greater thoughtfulness around consent, privacy, and the responsible use of data. Some key questions companies can ask themselves in this digitally connected world are:
- How will our brand stand out in a sea of good content?
- As we strive for digital engagement, how do we maintain Digital Trust?
- If ecosystems are the future, what is our core strength and which partners matter in this digital ocean?
What has also evolved with digital leaders is that for every CX (customer experience) touchpoint, these companies have started to bolster the much-needed Employee Experience (EX). Digital leaders need to find new techniques for leading and supporting their employees. As an example, a large apparel retailer in USA made investments in Digital Asset Management to ensure that customers saw the same SKUs of dresses on website, mobile app, and in-store when their associates helped customers in person. Customers increasingly expect a seamless omni-experience, where all channels “know” at any moment how that customer engaged in every other channel in the past.
Also, post-pandemic, there’s a big debate of “What is Future of Work?” Dispersed working happened so fast that intangible factors weren’t designed in. Without in-person engagement, we risk losing mentorship, culture, and inclusion. While some types of work can be remote, some frontline work needs physical presence in the factories, stores, etc. Digital leaders need to redesign their workplace solution with clarity of purpose at the core and a life-centric approach to getting employees on board. They need to better imagine work configurations that are uniquely suited to the needs of employees balancing safety, flexibility, workload, mental health, etc.
The key is to have a framework in your digital journey to know how to prioritize the CX and EX capabilities for your company, depending on the industry you play in, your position therein, and the competitors’ strengths/weaknesses.
Establish Digital ‘Telescope, Binoculars, and Microscope’ – Answers belong to the eyes that see them.
Clearly the edge of digital innovation is always evolving as we advance the technologies continuously. It’s a tough battlefield and the battlefront keeps advancing. For folks enabling any business function, there is a concept of “Telescope, Binoculars, and Microscope” lens for technology to enable business. There are futuristic technologies to consider, some that are almost mainstream, and finally others that you already invested in and need to reap benefits from.
To illustrate this, I’ll pick one of the hottest ingredients of your digital dish – Data and AI. We all know that there has been an explosion in the volume, variety, and velocity of data, as most of our interactions have become digital. Everything, from our smartphones (social network, entertainment, news, games, banking, etc.) to our health records, to our shopping habits, generate huge amounts of data. But not all organizations have been able to put these data to better use and drive growth.
Today Data and Artificial Intelligence technology are truly at an inflection point as a new category of mandatory capabilities for any business to survive and thrive. The meteoric rise of ChatGPT has captivated the world’s attention on the power of generative AI to augment human capability. As with any technology, one must see how to strengthen the current core and see which new areas it might enable in terms of markets, geographies, customers, etc. The principles for digital leadership for an organization remain as below:
- Grounded in business-driven strategic mindset: You always need to evaluate the market value and opportunity of this technology. Understanding the ‘WHY’ and look at your company’s UNFAIR ADVANTAGE to leverage this. For instance, AI is typically needed now in all front-end and back-end functions of a company. Understanding the use cases that are really needed for your competitive advantage is key. And then the unfair advantage that you might have is the data collected all through your value chain. In order to leverage the power of AI models and embedding them in the applications used by employees and consumers, foundation models will need domain-specific data, semantics, knowledge, and methodologies. This calls for a strategic and disciplined approach to acquiring, growing, refining, safeguarding and deploying data. This ‘data wrangling’ exercise will then become the foundation for your capabilities. This is where Data Management needs to be under your ‘microscope’, and Generative AI more on ‘binoculars’ lens, and Web 3/Metaverse under your ‘telescopic’ lens.
- Start with People: Behind each one of these capabilities is a need for the right talent. For example, AI is breaking new ground every day and it’s amazing to see that OpenAI had ChatGPT grow into 1M users within 3 days. It is putting creativity in people’s hands and is suddenly accessible to everyone, helping them to create language, images, sound, and even video content. The talent needs for such capabilities goes beyond technical skills – domain experts, who understand how data is applied in the real world will be just as important as data scientists. It is truly at the intersection of domain, data, and AI that companies can materialize economic value. Some digital leaders are hiring Arts and Humanities majors in their analytics organization – to be able to address the human needs of effective, ethical, and explainable AI.
- Shoot! It’s not enough to aim: The time to move is now. Companies can start by experimenting with low-risk use cases while also exploring where the technology can be differentiating and lead to breakthrough innovation. But with all MVPs (minim viable product) that you execute, real customer feedback is key. Seek that and grow the kernel before real scalability.
Digital Leadership is a ‘doing sport’
As always, leadership is getting your teams to row the boat in the same direction. You can’t lead from the side lines – you’ve got to be in the game. But this continuously changing digital market requires continuously adapting leadership – one that is not only tech-savvy but is also able to utilize the potential of digital tools and platforms available. To move the company toward a new mindset, leaders must understand and evangelize digital dexterity and some key traits are as below:
- Real authentic communication is critical, especially when steering a company through a crisis like COVID-19. This requires vulnerability from leaders to be “Human first”. Transforming how we live, learn, and lead will create an environment where people can sustain personal and professional performance, unlocking the company’s full potential.
- Reverse mentorship where senior executives spend time with younger, more digitally savvy employees. This shows that leadership is willing to learn and evolve with the right ‘growth mindset’. For e.g. I’ve seen some senior Six Sigma Black belts spend time with younger Design Think professionals to round up the Human Design principles for a better VOC (Voice of Customer) map.
- Having an almost Event Management mindset for engaging employees. Many leaders are meeting more often with virtual sessions and hosting livestream events for employees. Companies are thinking of how to create “doing nothing” time in the office to enable informal connections.
About the author
Ashu Bhatia is a Partner (MD) with Accenture and leads the Digital & Tech Strategy practice for Southeast Asia. With over two decades of experience in consulting and industry in the USA, Europe, and Asia, he is very passionate about driving high business performance through orchestration of strategy, technology, human capital, and innovation. A Certified Six Sigma Black Belt and an MBA from Carnegie Mellon University (USA), he works in areas of Digital Strategy, Journey to Cloud, and Big Data / Predictive Analytics and has held management positions with companies like Siemens, American Express, etc. He is the author of the Technology Strategy book Value Creation.