On the first page of David Rogers book “The Digital Transformation Playbook”, in the second paragraph, he writes “In my own world, teaching and advising business leaders from companies around the world, I repeatedly hear the same urgent question: How do we adapt and transform for the digital age?"
Rogers is a published author, speaker and consultant. Working with companies including Google, GE, Toyota and Visa whilst appearing in Forbes, The Wall Street Journal and The Economist. It’s clear that the man knows what he’s talking about.
What concerns me, is that working throughout the Middle East, I am yet to hear this question. Companies around the world are taking the initiative and starting the process of digital transformation. They are watching the changing business landscape, they are asking questions and looking for opportunities. Here though, leaders are still having to be ’sold’ the idea.
Digital is not an expense. It is an investment. An investment that can secure an organisation's future. Taking a reactive, rather than proactive, approach is going to leave firms in the region scrambling to regain lost ground. That is, if they aren’t pushed out by established competitors who start the process of transformation sooner or new, more agile contenders.
Our region has heavily relied on one major source of income to drive it’s economies for over a hundred years. Oil completely transformed the Middle East. It transformed the landscape, it transformed business and it transformed people.
Digital’s impact will be even more dramatic. It will effect the way we work, where and how we live, how we communicate and even how we think. It will continue to break down barriers, cross borders and create opportunities that none of us can even imagine. The difference for the Middle East this time round, is that we don’t have a geographical advantage.
When we think of digital, many of us will immediately think of Silicon Valley. Or we’ll think of firms like Apple, Google and Samsung. But tech is just one part of digital. Phones and laptops, social media networks, apps and websites are just platforms. Without the right approach, without considering their impact on a strategic level and how they can be used to improve a customer’s experience, they are next to worthless.
This may seem dramatic but let’s take Facebook as an example. Run a quick search of Facebook Pages throughout the region and you’ll notice a trend. 9 out of 10 pages publish content inconsistently and when they do post, it’s likely that it’s an advert or of little interest to the general public. Let’s be honest. No one cares that Suresh from Operations completed his obligatory Health & Safety training apart from Suresh and his immediate family. And they already know. A post like this does nothing to encourage engagement.
Social media platforms reflect a physical shop or location far more than a billboard or magazine advert. They are a place to browse, to ask questions, to get advice and to engage. They offer an opportunity for customers to engage with you, with your brand and each other. Done correctly, this approach creates a sense of ‘buy in’ and brand ownership for your customers. It encourages them to become brand advocates and make word of mouth recommendations.
At it’s core, digital transformation is the process of putting the customer at the centre of a business. Whether that means marketing, operations, HR, finance or any other division.
For many organisations, doing so can seem impossible. It can mean a complete restructure of current heirachies, of staffing, skill sets and company culture. Still, as drastic as this may seem, I’m sure Blockbuster, Woolworths and HMV would have been quite happy to have made these changes if they had known the alternative.
For most companies, the key is to start small. Finding a project to pilot that will demonstrate the effectiveness of digital whilst keeping investment and perceived risk relatively low. Identifying audiences and areas of frustration, KPI’s, goals, data tracking methods and creating an in-house team to drive the campaign forwards can help to secure initial buy in from senior leadership.
At the beginning of the process, it’s unlikely that anyone within the organisation will have the skills, experience or knowledge to direct the project. One choice could be to bite the bullet and employ a specialist in house. Another option is to initially outsource the leadership role bringing experience and an outside perspective to the process.
Both options have their pros and cons. It doesn't matter which approach you take. What matters is getting started. Being proactive and putting people at the centre of everything the organisation does.