Shaping Digital Future hero1Look around you the next time you catch a plane or wait in a queue at the bank – everyone is on their smartphone, faces buried in a sea of emoticons, 24/7 email and constant notifications from social networking sites. The iPhone has been hailed as an intuitive, fast-fix for the technically challenged amongst us. Buy an iPhone, and your individual ‘digital strategy’ solutions are solved.

In the same way, countless organisations are looking to software vendors to solve their digital woes and the adage “There’s an app for that” is fast becoming synonymous with streamlining core business processes. Sometimes, this equates to being smart about things – but are we relying too heavily on these conglomerates for our digital strategy?

In a world where ‘buying’ an individual digital strategy has become as easy as purchasing an off-the-shelf smartphone – what will it take for organisations to own their digital destiny – and why do they need to?

There’s value in in-house!

To secure the possibility of ‘connecting the dots’ between its projects, and through this the possibility of evolving, a company must take charge of its own digital strategy. Sometimes, this means moving away from vendor solutions to in-house innovations because plainly put, there’s no copy and paste for innovation.

Uber, for instance, made a decision to forego a vendor-owned operating platform. Choosing instead to remain in charge of their destiny, and acutely aware of the value of the commuter data they were collecting, they built their own. This alone has helped secure them a future in which they can choose to evolve. Next level expansion into, say, transportation modelling; dynamic pricing of their services based on demand; and even collaboration with city authorities based on their monopoly is possible. They’ve secured their future.

Likewise, The Economist is calling McLaren a tech company amongst ‘speed merchants’. All carmakers are “in the business of hurtling drivers towards 200mph” (The Economist), but McLaren realised success off the back of selling its cars as the most technically advanced.

It has renamed itself McLaren Technology and Ron Dennis, its boss, is convinced that McLaren’s tech business will be its “biggest and most important part in years to come…”

Using skills honed in analysing the vast quantities of data generated by motor racing, it is developing analytics software for the likes of GlaxoSmithKline and KPMG.

It’s good to look to your vendors, but it’s better to look to your clients

The first rule of product development is understanding, but this is often also the most forgotten.

Large organisations build their success upon providing customers with what they want. They match a product with a need, and they charge for doing so. Nowadays, it’s pretty easy to match an off-the-shelf digital product with a legitimate digital need.

In the world of infrastructure we use Building Information Modelling (BIM) software to conduct Building Information Modelling; we use architectural drawing software to produce architectural drawings. But what happens when there are too many of us doing things in this way? Often times, we’re not peddling the ‘best solution’, just the easiest one, and engineering and architecture services have been rapidly commoditised upon this precept.

Shaping Digital Future 340px1Sometimes, it’s only through truly empathising with not only what a customer wants, but why they want it, that will lead to the creation of innovative experiences and products that together form the basis of new digital services. Professor Clayton M. Christensen, one of the world’s foremost experts on innovation and growth, believes executives fail because they don’t ask the question: What job would consumers want to hire a product to do?

Christensen writes in his book Theory of Jobs to Be Done: “When we buy a product, we essentially ‘hire’ something to get a job done. If it does the job well, when we are confronted with the same job, we hire that same product again. And if the product does a crummy job, we ‘fire’ it and look around for something else we might hire to solve the problem.” A bold digital strategy based on a previously uncovered customer need will lead to new ways of operating and new capabilities.

Organisations need to take the time to stop and think about a client’s brief. They should interrogate it from every angle so that the macro-solution they eventually create is the result of answering the multiple micro-questions that they have unearthed throughout this painstaking, yet purposeful, process.

The benefits of this diligent and future-focused approach will stand the test of time and create long-term value from using sustainable, renewable and flexible models, built with the most up-to-date, physical and digital, tools and applications that are available today.

Beware the speed merchants

If we created a blueprint for digital failure, it would have at the very top of that list a propensity toward haste. Products are slapped with the words ‘plug and play’ and ‘all in one’ and suddenly everyone is in the queue for that ‘something new’…until it fails.

Digital strategy isn’t an overnight recipe and doing ‘the next big thing’ isn’t necessarily the next right thing. Only thinking in the here and now and imagining solutions based only upon your current reality is a sure way to fail. What we need are more solutions that solve not only today’s digital dilemmas, but tomorrow’s as well! Organisations must keep one eye on the here and now, but also look ahead and plan for a future which is only predictable in its uncertainty.

If we want to gain control of our digital destiny, we need to stop allowing vendors to drive our digital strategy.

By Danielle Bond