Digital Transformation Success Requires Looking Inward First and Never Wearing Blinders

By Gordon Tucker, Managing Director
Technology, Media and Communications Industry Leader

 

 

 

To stay relevant in the digital economy, technology, media and communications companies must evolve on two fronts: externally and internally. The trick is that they must do both in tandem — and many find this difficult.

External evolution relates to the role the company is playing to help propel the digital wave forward. Namely, what new and game-changing digital products, services and business models is the company innovating and bringing to market successfully? This type of evolution is also about how the business positions itself among its competitors in the digital market and responds to new market demands and rapidly changing consumer expectations. Are those approaches effective? How does the company know?

Internal evolution, meanwhile, is about the ability of the organization to strategically transform its business processes, technology infrastructure, workforce culture and more to compete effectively in an increasingly digital age. Evolving internally is vital to supporting the company’s external evolution. Yet business leaders don’t always make that association.

At some companies, external dynamics — shareholders’ views, consumers’ sentiments, market perceptions about the company’s brand or reputation — are the impetus for external evolution. To respond, these businesses are constantly channeling resources into developing new products, services or campaigns, often at the expense of addressing internal issues that could cause the business to falter, or even fail, over time. Siloed business processes and weak cybersecurity practices are examples of such issues.

In other organizations, too much change is undertaken too quickly, both internally and externally. These businesses launch sweeping digital initiatives that aren’t backed by well-thought-out strategies. They also fail to evaluate the competitive landscape thoroughly. They focus on trying to outpace known and well-established rivals, and overlook or underestimate emerging players that have the potential to disrupt the marketplace and erode their market share.

In both examples, these businesses are making digital journeys with blinders on. One group is focused on short-term wins that don’t spark meaningful or lasting change. The other group is barreling toward a finish line in a race without an end, paying little or no attention to emerging threats and changing conditions in the field around them. In either case, the decisions these companies make are unlikely to position them for long-term digital success. I suggest a better approach below.

Look inward first

Using technology to improve operations internally is one way for companies to further their digital transformation and bring it to a broader scale. Evolving internally builds a safe foundation that can support their external evolution. For example, a business that has the right digital processes in place and is not burdened by legacy IT systems undermining its agility can score a number of operational successes — from simplifying or automating repetitive or labor-intensive business processes to implementing new tools to enhance workforce communication and collaboration. These successes can then be translated externally into the ability to innovate quickly, deliver better service to customers and meet the expectations of stakeholders.

I recommend reading Protiviti’s white paper, Catching the Digital Wave of Change, which explains how the way a business embraces technology can, in turn, help to change the way employees and customers perceive the organization. Change from the inside shines to the outside.

Tear off the blinders

When setting the strategy for a digital initiative, businesses must analyze the markets in which they are operating, as well as the competitor landscape. In their quest to achieve digital transformation, they must be careful not to miss what’s happening in the “ecosystem” around them.

Ron Adner, a professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business, explained in a 2016 Harvard Business Review article that the “nature of disruption is changing … [and now] occurring at the level of ecosystems,” rather than at the product or service level. He posited that businesses need to “approach their competitive strategy with a wide lens that captures ecosystem dynamics” if they want to succeed in an Internet of Things world.

Adner pointed specifically to the example of a well-known company that produces imaging products with its historic basis in photography. That company’s long and painful journey to becoming a digital company as an example of what can happen when leadership “does not appreciate the dynamics of the broader ecosystem around it.” The company did not respond fast enough or appropriately to changes in the digital imaging ecosystem, and it cost the company dearly. Adner wrote that the “lesson for today’s leading firms is that risk lies not only in a lack of attentiveness to disruptive change but also in embracing the wrong part of the change.”

I don’t have much more to add to Adner’s insight other than to say that wearing blinders — not looking at the whole picture — in the digital era is likely to cause a company to lose or never find its way. Businesses may miss the right moment to pursue transformation or make the wrong decision about how and what to change. And no matter how innovative the business may be today, if it’s focused only on achieving one type of change or pursuing only one goal blindly, it’s bound to be overtaken or pushed off the track by competitors in the future.

The Power of Small Changes in Pursuing Digital Transformation: A Retail Perspective

By Rick Childs, Managing Director
Consumer Products and Services Industry Leader

 

 

 

Adaptability has always been critical to retail success. But in the digital era, where disruptive change is constant, many retailers find it difficult to evolve fast enough to remain competitive — let alone relevant. That is especially true for companies burdened by the weight of legacy business models, inefficient back-office processes and outdated technology infrastructure. A proof point: The massive wave of brick-and-mortar store closures seen so far in the first half of 2017 involving many well-known retailers that simply didn’t adapt fast or well enough to change.

Most retail executives recognize that their businesses need to embrace digital transformation if they are to survive. These leaders yearn to get ahead of the curve — or at least, ride along with it comfortably — but struggle to create a viable digital strategy. One reason for the struggle is that digital transformation is a nebulous concept. It’s vast and complex and evolving. Discovering and defining what digital transformation means and looks like for the business is a journey for any organization, particularly one encumbered by a legacy business model with longstanding brand promises.

To bring digital transformation into focus and develop viable business strategies around it, it helps to understand the four key drivers for pursuing this type of change:

  • Improving customer engagement
  • Digitizing products and exploring new business models
  • Improving decision-making
  • Driving operational efficiencies

These are major challenges for any business, but retailers are under relentless pressure to deliver consistently on all fronts. Many become fixated on trying to develop and execute a sweeping digital transformation program but end up overwhelmed and falling further behind the curve instead. That’s because a do-everything-at-once approach is not realistic. It places additional stress on an already hectic business and results in the company overlooking the value of achieving substantive change through smaller, value-adding steps.

One example of an incremental step is the move to mobile technology for retail audits. While not one of the flashiest digital transformation initiatives and not necessarily a strategic move by any means, it nevertheless allows technology to be used to create more efficiency in back-office processes. And greater efficiency can increase operational effectiveness for the entire organization.

More than a decade ago, Protiviti forecasted that internal audit functions in retail would expand their use of mobile audit technology to streamline processes, increase analytic capabilities, and supplement traditional store audits with continuous monitoring and standardized store self-audits. In our most recent report on this topic, we note that “… the adoption rate and maturity of mobile audit technology have increased to the point where retailers not actively pursuing mobile store audit technology initiatives risk falling behind regulatory and shareholder expectations.”

Here’s a quick look at some of the ways that this simple but important technology change in the back office aligns fundamentally with the four drivers of digital transformation:

  • Improving customer engagement: Internal audit’s “customers” are business owners. Mobile technology for store audits helps to streamline and accelerate the audit cycle. That helps to improve the experience for auditees and keep them engaged in the process. And by making the audit process more efficient, the business can address risks and make improvements to external customer-facing processes more quickly, ultimately creating value for the retailer’s external customers, too.
  • Digitizing products: An automated mobile solution for store audits can eliminate paperwork, delays and errors. Audit findings also can be analyzed sooner; data is entered only once at the store into a web-based reporting system that delivers real-time results.
  • Improving decision-making: Store audit technology can provide management with instant feedback on current store performance as well as real-time insight into compliance trends. Organizations can use that insight to detect and resolve ongoing problem areas before they become insurmountable issues, and improve the company’s overall performance.
  • Driving operational efficiencies: As we note in our store audit technology report, “Self-assessment, coupled with improved productivity from a mobile reporting solution, not only allows auditors to physically audit more stores, but also effectively increases audit reach to all locations by providing convenient, easy-to-use means of comprehensive store-level data collection and analysis.” This is what operational efficiency is all about.

While the retail industry’s general adoption of mobile technology for store audits has been years in the making, increased regulation and compliance changes over the past 10 years have created more of a pressing need for a digital solution. It’s an important reminder that real change takes time and is brought about by necessity, even in an era of rapid digital disruption. It is also a reminder that each thousand-mile journey begins with a single step.

Strategic back-office technology improvements are one such step. Such changes can add significant and lasting value to retail businesses in multiple ways. They can also help retailers become more agile, creative and adaptable — qualities that are essential to achieving digital transformation on a broader scale.