Ten Ways To Become A Digital Master Without Ever Setting Foot In Silicon Valley

Author

Joe McKendrick, Contributor

September 30, 2014

By now, you’ve probably read or heard all the same stories over and over and over again — how the Googles, Facebooks, eBays and Amazons of the world, or funky startups with funky names working out of some funky converted loft, have taken the digital bull by the horns and are doing all these incredible feats with all their algorithms, big data, and huge teams of Stanford/MIT-educated programmers and data scientists.

But what about the other 90 percent — the manufacturers, service companies, and government agencies cranking away every day to keep the economy moving? Digital mastery is within their grasp as well. That’s the word from George Westerman, Didier Bonnet and Andrew McAfee, who spoke to many of these mainstream companies for their forthcoming book, Leading Digital: Turning Technology into Business Transformation. In this work, they offer advice on how this other 90 percent — you know, miles away from Silicon Valley — can embrace the digital revolution as their own. (Westerman and McAfee are with MIT, Bonnet is with Capgemini Consulting.)

Such companies have their own share of what the authors call “Digital Masters” — those successfully harnessing the many recent waves of innovation in information and communication technology to deliver more revenues and greater profitability. The good news, they state, is that “achieving digital mastery is not an impossible task or an arcane art. It doesn’t require you to hire away Google’s top talent or spend 20 percent of revenue on technology every year. It does require some level of human capital and investment, of course, but the main requirements are time, tenacity, and leadership.”

There are some steps — some fundamental, some disruptive, executives can take to achieve digital mastery. Here are 10 key points culled from Westerman, Bonnet and McAfee’s book:

  • Put customer experience at the heart of digital transformation. This includes blurring the line between digital and physical customer experiences, the authors advise. “A Digital Master figures what customers do and why, where and how they do it. The company then works out where and how the experience can be digitally enhanced across channels.”
  • Constantly challenge your business model; consider how you might transform your industry before others do it. “Not paying attention is even a bigger risk. Executives in music, newspapers, and equity trading have already seen the radical upheavals that digital business model reinvention can bring to their industries.”
  • Get familiar with new digital practices that can be an opportunity or a threat to your industry and company.
  • Identify bottlenecks or headaches — in your company and in your customers — that resulted from the limits of old technologies, and consider how you might resolve these problems digitally.
  • Craft a compelling digital vision, one that specifies both intent and outcome. “There is no single best way to express a vision for digital transformation. It’s not a formulaic process,” the authors state. “You need to craft a vision that builds on your strengths, engages employees, and evolves over time.”
  • Make your digital vision specific enough to give employees a clear direction, while giving them the flexibility to build on it.
  • Open up the conversations to give everyone a role in digital transformation, and deal with resistance by being open and transparent about the goals.
  • Consider which digital decisions must be governed at the highest levels of the company, and which will be delegated to lower levels.
  • Focus your initial investments on getting a clean, well-structured digital platform; it’s the foundation for everything else.
  • Challenge yourself continually to find new things you can do with your IT-business relationships, digital skills, and digital platform.

Buying and adopting the latest digital solutions is easy, the authors acknowledge. But “the siren song of digital technologies is a powerful one and can lead many companies astray,” they caution. “But Digital Masters know their own direction and they stay the course. They focus on the initiatives that will advance their vision and on which they can build on existing skills and assets.”  In other words, they don’t dive into digital for the sake of going digital — they identify and tackle clear business needs.

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