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At the risk of sounding redundant, I’d like to unpack the meaning of my assertion that digital is not just an update but rather a completely new beast. I’ve written about it before as it tends to be one of the hardest ideas for new clients to come to terms with. The harsh truth is that the digital economy is becoming increasingly dynamic with its ability to develop new efficiencies and offer new consumer experiences. Digital survival for every business or organization requires a complete rethink and retooling of business processes, business models, business culture, and business thinking.

Simple Digitalization Doesn’t Work
Very often, C-suiters miss the depth of digital transformation and see it purely through the lens of technology. Okay, they say, how can we digitize our product line and become competitive again? Tell us what technology we need to purchase in order to regain market share? These initiatives often fail because products developed before the rise of digital economy cannot serve today’s more complicated customer needs nor can they keep up with the iterative progress model many digital products follow. Simply put, it’s way too late to put an online wrapper on old products or services.

A telling micro example of this small thinking can be seen at many industry trade events. These events often offer an event app which features a booth directory, event times, etc. It’s really just a dressed up digital version of the paper pamphlet you used to get. What’s missing is creative digital thinking, digital technology shaped to offer a completely new experience while providing new value to users. For example, creative digital thinking could have produced a trade event app with a social component which links you to potential partners or a meet-up function which allows impromptu networking at local restaurants or bars. This functionality would provide increased value to members and insure the viability of the event in coming years. Simple digitization of old products denies the transformative potential of digital technology and almost guarantees users will look elsewhere for more digitally savvy solutions.  

Entirely new dynamics require an entirely new strategy
At the heart of every digital transformation project is the acknowledgement that digital technology has transformed the dynamics of the world economy and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. The way in which the majority of industries now do business as well as serve their clients has completely changed. More importantly, customer needs and expectations are constantly in flux. Old strategies, particularly those developed more than a decade ago, must be abandoned and replaced with strategies developed to serve digital needs. In this climate of constant change, the best business strategy rests upon customer centricity. Always keep one eye fixed on customer needs, build strategy up from there while allowing for constant adjustments.

Total transformation necessitates a cultural shift
I work with clients to instill the lessons of agile project planning methodologies and always encourage them to start to adopt it in their own company or organization. It represents the most effective way to continuously add value in the shifting digital economy. Agile represents a lifeline for many legacy companies struggling to navigate disruption. But again, what is difficult for many is the totality of change that digital transformation and agile methodologies represent. It requires a complete cultural change with flat hierarchies, quicker innovation, a rapid diffusion of information, and a focus on customer experience. Your organization or business culture must change to allow for nimbleness.

Despite all the hurdles I’ve mentioned above, there are plenty of reasons for companies and organizations to be optimistic about their digital future. By attacking this new beast in the right way and with the right tools, your organization can become a digital innovator in your space and be as nimble as any startup.

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