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2014 has been a major year for digital transformation, we’ve seen a slew of investment into digital and some innovative digital business models hit the market. So, what lessons has this year taught us? What did we learn from digital transformation in 2014? How has digital innovation affected the world? Here are three key insights from a fruitful and progressive year...

What’s your plan?

A few surveys in 2014 all showed that the vast majority of companies are undergoing some form of digital transformation. I’ve seen that number reported as high as 88%, clearly executives are waking up to the new digital world and new digital opportunities. This should be great news but it might not be. In the same surveys, few companies report having done research into understanding their customer’s digital experience or the future of that digital experience. That is to say, most companies know they must change but lack a clear vision of where they’re going or what to work towards.

Success in digital transformation comes from the marriage of social anthropology and technology. With ever increasing raw technical capability it takes research, vision, and great judgment to best utilize technology in improving your business. It also takes creative innovation, specifically in using digital technology to develop new and more efficient business models. The big digital winners in digital transformation are businesses like Uber, who use digital technology to power innovative new business models. It is very alarming that many companies are flying blind, a lack of customer understanding and creativity will lead many businesses down a digital transformation dead end.

Here is what’s necessary before any company should embark on a digital transformation:

  1. A clear understanding of how your current customer interacts with you.
  2. An honest evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of that digital experience.
  3. A clear view of how your digital transformation will optimize the customer experience.
  4. A clear roadmap on how to get there.

Technology Companies are investing in digital...you should too.

The folks investing in digital are going to be the big winners in the next decade or two. IBM’s investments in cloud computing are a fantastic and telling example. Over the past decade, IBM has made large investments into cloud computing particularly since the trend towards subscription models for software has forced them to shift their business model. IBM is now doing a complete rework of their enterprise software to fit the contemporary cloud design. Thanks to twenty years of intelligent digital investment, IBM is extremely well positioned to make this pivot. Intelligent digital investments like their work on point-to-point integration in the 1990s, their work on Service-Oriented Architecture in the 2000s, and the last 10 years of code work beneath their core systems means this 100+ year old company will be at the forefront of another digital revolution.

Obviously, not everyone is IBM but the lesson here is to invest in digital now. The next decade of digital transformation is going to be turbulent, we might see some big businesses tumble. What is certain is those who invested in their digital transformation early are going to be the ones in the best position to win big. The future is digital.

Data is useless without interpretation

Lastly, I think the most important insight from 2014 is that data always requires a human touch. There is a very good reason why quantitative analysts are in such high demand, the huge amount of data we are able to review is useless unless it is properly interpreted. The actions we take based upon this data require creative problem solving and initiative...a human touch.

This is well illustrated by the now famous example of the US Spanish-language Television network Univision and their use of social analytics. Univision has the challenge of producing content which must appeal to a diverse audience with varied cultural backgrounds. Univision successfully uses social analytics to gain major insights into how sub-sections of their audience react and then how to best encourage engagement. The big example being spikes of engagement when Univision television characters or personalities refer to their Mexican heritage, their Chilean heritage, etc. Engagement spikes came from those with a similar cultural heritage.

The social media team have used analytics to gain a deep understanding of the subtleties of what this varied engagement means. They now are able to react extremely quickly with digital content designed to appeal to specific sections of their audience. They use the data to find what is working and to develop variants. Famously, Univision achieved at 13% engagement rate on a Facebook post ... that’s 13% of their nearly 3 million Facebook followers. That’s a huge percentage and it happened because of consistent and intelligent human interpretation of analytics which informs action.

It takes a human touch. You must remember that beneath all the data is a beehive of real life human activity in all its variations. Like Univision, if you are able to intelligently interpret and quickly react you will achieve successes.

Conclusions

There is a plenty to juggle during a digital transformation. The ground is shifting quickly but it is revealing powerful opportunities. This year has taught us about the future shape of digital transformation, about the link between humans and technology, the necessity of creative innovation and vision, and the need for prompt investment.

See you all in 2015!

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