Digital transformation has been on boardroom agendas for years, but many businesses have been slow to change. Now, digital transformation is widely acknowledged as the top priority. The message is clear: it's now or never. Digitise or die.
The bad news is that successful digital transformation is tough and many firms looking to start or speed up rapidly lack the internal skills, knowledge and experience required for successful execution.
The good news is that the pandemic has prepared the ground in terms of behaviour and expectation for change. Lessons from early adopters are plentiful and high-quality digital transformation expertise is available on-demand in the form of freelance consultants and commercial analytical support.
Digital transformation is essential for survival
The pandemic has forced a paradigm shift. Almost overnight we swapped our material world for one where we shopped, worked, learnt and socialised online. In mid-May, a 90 day digital acceleration plan published by McKinsey noted that five years of digital transformation had already been squeezed into just 8 weeks.
Many businesses started from scratch, hastily reconfiguring operations and investing in technology to accommodate remote working. Restaurants reached home-bound customers by plugging into digital platforms like Just Eat and Deliveroo and the UK’s £20 billion conference industry rapidly reshaped their products to engage audiences in the new virtual reality.
Companies ahead of the digital transformation curve were able to respond quickly to the crisis. New York-based commercial and real estate developer RXR Realty had already built their own digital lab and released an app that helped residents with everything from move scheduling to dog-walking and let commercial tenants access real-time data on heating, cooling and floor space optimisation. When the pandemic hit, RXR acted swiftly to introduce a host of tech-enabled health and safety protocols, allowing them to reassure and protect returning office workers on a level inaccessible to most.
McDonalds were blazing the digital trail long before COVID-19 was a headline. Since announcing their digitally-centred Velocity Growth Plan in 2017, McDonalds have released a mobile app, installed self-order kiosks and digital menu boards in restaurants and launched ‘Apply Thru’ which lets people start job applications with an Amazon Alexa or a Google Assistant. In March 2019 McDonalds acquired online personalisation start-up Dynamic Yield – 11,000 drive-thrus now boast a ‘suggestive sell’ experience which makes customised recommendations according to the weather, traffic conditions and time of day – and in September they announced both the acquisition of conversational AI start-up Apprente and the launch of McD Tech Labs in Silicon Valley. In an update on June 2020 McDonalds CEO Chris Kempczinski said:
“Our strong foundation and the unique system advantages, including a high percentage of drive-thru restaurants and investments in delivery and digital, have enabled us to adapt to the changing landscape presented by the Covid-19 outbreak. I am confident in our ability to manage through the immediate challenges and emerge from this pandemic in a position of competitive strength.”
Pre-pandemic digital investment is also paving the road to recovery closer to home. Next’s expansion and enhancement of their online channel has staved off financial ruin offering hope for a brighter future and the long-awaited M&S / Ocado joint venture is set to be a game-changer for one of the UK’s favourite brands. Writing on the launch date, Stuart Machin (MD M&S Food) said that the change in customer behaviour provoked by the pandemic had given the business a laser-sharp focus:
"lt's given us a laser-sharp focus on what we need to do: accelerate our growth through Ocado, unlock the value and efficiencies in our supply chain, and deliver trusted value across a bigger, better, fresher range of food.”
The keys to successful transformation
Whether the pandemic provoked an awakening or an acceleration, the journey ahead is unequivocally digital. It is also notoriously difficult: research indicates that 70% of transformations fail. Organisations may struggle to articulate and communicate a clear vision, discover too late that they don’t have the infrastructure required to scale a project from the pilot stage or lack the mindset, skills and knowledge required to drive implementation through.
Although there's no silver bullet, according to a report published by Deloitte Insights, companies are more likely to achieve digital maturity - and with it, improvements in financial performance, environmental impact and workforce diversity - if they take a balanced approach to building capabilities across a matrix of key ‘digital pivots:’
Technology and Infrastructure: Companies should focus on implementing secure technology infrastructure that supports demand flex, embrace the potential of intelligent automation and harness the power of their data to continually improve products, services and operations. Business models should be adaptable, allowing a continuous process of action and reaction in the context of changing market conditions.
People and Partnerships: Alongside building in-house capability by upskilling staff and developing digitally-focused competency frameworks, companies should open the door to dynamic contingent staffing models that allow rapid injection of capacity and in-demand skill sets. Businesses should also look beyond themselves, creating an external ecosystem of partnerships that will increase capacity for innovation and growth.
Customer Experience: A customer-centric approach is essential - firms should strive for a 360 degree view and seek to maintain a seamless customer experience. DI’s research states that 80% of customers (B2B and B2C) now consider their experience to be just as important as a company’s products and services when making a decision.
Successful digital transformation is about more than technology. It’s about a holistic approach to a new way of doing that is both broad and deep. It’s about coupling investment with a customer-centric, data-driven mindset, applying strong decision-making frameworks and having the right people in place to design and execute change.
Harnessing freelance power
Even before the current race to digitise began, engaging freelance experts has been a go-to solution. The digital landscape is relatively new, constantly evolving and the people who understand the nuanced interplay between technology, customers and data strategy often haven't existed within a business looking to change.
As leaders in the freelance space for 20 years, our digital specialists have worked with organisations across the digital maturity spectrum on projects ranging from big-picture mapping and vision articulation to operational implementation. We’ve helped businesses digitise routes to market for an existing offering or customer base. We’ve worked with organisations looking to reimagine their internal operations, decrease the risks associated with complex global supply chains, and take advantage of AI, robotics and sensor technology. We’ve advised on and implemented customer data strategies, helped businesses explore and expand their partnership landscape and engaged at the pure-play innovation end of the scale to answer the question: what can we do that’s completely new?
Since the start of the pandemic, we have seen a huge spike in demand for commercial analytics specialists and digital transformation consultants across most industries and we’re having conversations about critical digital transformation programmes on a daily basis.
If you’d like to discuss how we can help with upcoming digital projects or challenges with existing programmes, then get in touch today.