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A focus on ‘digital strategy’ blurs the bigger picture

by Robert Duff

Digital strategy and digital transformation are big buzzwords these days in corporate boardrooms. The movement is so common in fact that “Forty-seven percent of CEOs said they are being challenged by the board of directors to make progress in digital business, and this enterprise-wide focus on digital is also being felt by CIOs across industries.” This quote comes from Jan-Martin Lowendahl, research vice president at Gartner, speaking at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2018 in Dubai and it provides an excellent example of the pressure many companies feel to ‘get digital’ and maximize results.

Everyone, it seems, is talking as though digital is going to be the next greatest thing. The problem is that digital is already here and it has been for some time.

Digital is neither new nor exotic

As we reach the end of the decade, the web has been in wide consumer use for 20 years and smartphones have been around for over 10. The general consumerization of technology is already well underway and its presence is being felt across multiple channels. Virtualization, cloud technologies and big data have been around for a decade, giving IT departments powerful tools to manage complex infrastructures and enormous volumes of data. In addition, the sharing economy, crowdsourcing, social platforms, etc. are all well-established, creating new patterns of interaction between companies and businesses.

None of these solutions represent anything that is completely new or cutting edge, they are merely examples of the technology that dictates our life in 2018, a time when digital solutions play a role in every day of our lives.

Drop the word ‘digital’ when discussing strategy

Technology’s role in our everyday lives must impact our company strategies and this truth, by default, makes the term digital strategy, largely erroneous. To remain competitive and truly reach our customers, there can be no other strategy than one that contains a digital aspect. To see digital as a newfound idea or an entirely separate entity risks putting the company behind the times and, as Gen. Eric Shinseki once said, “If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.”

To ward against such irrelevance, a modern, effective strategy must shape the company’s goals and define the direction of their tactics — both digital and beyond — to reach the business’s desired audience. These interactions must meet consumers across all mediums and touch points in their journey while also providing real value to the customer.

Digital solutions are a vital component of this mission. Their vast potential becomes most powerful when multiple systems are connected to create a platform or ecosystem in a disruptive or innovative way. As people are connected to these platforms/ecosystems, the platform can collect data on interactions to understand customer expectations, behaviors, desires. This, in turn, can provide a feedback loop into products and services to serve as a basis for innovation and continuous improvement.

The potential is nearly limitless, provided it is used wisely.

Focus on people, not technology

Segmenting your strategy between digital and non-digital is not only unnecessary, it can be dangerous as well. When we focus on assigning strategies to specific channels, we run the risk of forgetting who we are setting these strategies for — our customers.

Puzzle Pieces of Strategy

Focusing on digital in the context of strategy exposes us to the risk of falling into the trap of technology-dominant thinking as opposed to taking the more valuable customer-centric approach. If the customer can find/connect with your product or service and think that you understand what they want/need/value, then it is highly likely you’ll get their business. And if you can do this consistently over time, you will create a relationship and loyalty which can produce durable long-term returns that grow your business and ultimately allow you to refine your strategy.

A strategy with many pieces

In the modern market, a digital aspect can be a transformative and empowering component of any overall strategy but companies must never lose sight of the fact that it is only one piece of the puzzle, a tool to use in attaining business goals and satisfying customers. Keep sight of the bigger objectives and shelve the buzzwords. It’s the best way to see positive corporate growth, not only in this ‘digital market’ but in whatever future markets we find in the years ahead.

Robert Duff

Robert Duff

Chief Operating Officer

Rob has worked in the consulting industry since 1992. At Coherent he is responsible for the operational management of the company. His prior experiences include management consulting, technical architecture, and program/project management. Rob holds an MBA from the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management and a BA in Economics from the University of Notre Dame

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