Organizations have been using digital technologies for decades, but the last several years have seen some remarkable leaps in computing capabilities that have led directly to cost reductions and vast increases in processing power, speed, and storage. With constantly connected mobile devices that place the power of prior era supercomputers into our hands, our lives have been transformed by digital technology. New data sources and the constant stream of behavioral and social media data add layers of complexity for enterprise marketers and those responsible for maintaining capabilities, but they also have created new opportunities for understanding customers and their needs.
The rapid transformation in the enterprise technology landscape has exacerbated the challenges that still burden large organizations with siloed departments, functions, and applications. Adding technologies – and lately more advanced AI and machine learning capabilities – has led to even greater complexity and more fragmentation of data sources and applications. Customer engagement is spread across every process and system at each stage of the customer lifecycle, leading to problems with integration, inconsistent data, and slower adoption of new tools at scale.
These limitations hamper effective customer engagement to a striking degree. Customers no longer accept being transferred from department to department. They demand instantaneous access to their information no matter how they are approaching the organization and they expect that every touchpoint will be aware of their profile, preferences, and history.
However, siloed structures are also a natural result of business evolution, and do have some advantages. Specialization and differentiation allow people and departments to do things really well and gain efficiencies over time. Developing efficiencies comes from repetition, ingrained habit, and consistent processes. But inevitably, changes in the marketplace mean that processes within the organization must change. Business conditions also continually change, and typically so fast that neither people nor technical infrastructure are able to keep up. Therein lies the rub. Organizations must balance the efficiencies that can be gained by specialization with the need to integrate across functions, while still maintaining the flexibility to adapt to a changing market.
I recently spent some time speaking with the CIO of a large manufacturer about transformation of processes and supporting technology, and asked how his organization dealt with this. He responded that organizations need to manage change proactively and on a continuous basis. However, many people perceive continuous change to be both more difficult and less interesting than buying and deploying new technology.
“Change management is not the sexy part of the job, “he said, “but you still need to do it. You need to show people that the organization is progressing and succeeding. When people feel that they are making progress and their efforts are turning into something, the momentum keeps them focused. Show how the pieces are working together, and communicate like crazy. As a leader, you have to be an evangelist. Make sure the senior team and stakeholders communicate so that people feel your passion and drive, and they will feed off of it. In two or three years, they will understand how important this change really is.“
It's difficult to maintain energy and focus (not to mention funding) over multi-year initiatives. The organization needs to see progress as the efforts unfold, which is why “quick wins” and metrics are so important. Even if the program is long-range, some payoff needs to be visible in the short term. This can be achieved by building in incremental milestones in which the most acute pain points are alleviated, while moving forward on the path toward the larger goals.
For example, an enterprise knowledge management program could select a high value or high profile process and make the assets that support it more accessible. Metrics are important, to demonstrate progress against baselines. A data governance project could measure data fill, data quality, or data usage as interim measures, on the way to completing a full governance program. Website product hierarchies can start with high-volume or high-profit categories to show improvements in usability or conversions that can then be extrapolated. At the same time, it is essential for these fixes to be built on a foundation that can later support other initiatives.
I had another conversation with the CIO of an insurance company who pointed this out as a key deficiency in many enterprise programs. He said, “Most organizations don’t have the patience to do things correctly from the perspective of foundational capabilities – like enterprise architectures that save time and money down the road. They do things to satisfy the immediate needs of their projects and budget without considering the larger picture across multiple business units and processes.” Or, as a colleague says, “there’s no budget for the common good.”
In digital transformation programs, “budgeting for the common good” has to be the norm. Understanding information flows across the customer lifecycle will reveal opportunities to solve other problems that may not be on the immediate horizon or part of the immediate program. Those projects can tag along with the larger vision.
The question is really how to focus organizational time, attention, and resources at the correct level to achieve meaningful progress so that people don’t lose interest, but not focus entirely on short term objectives and sacrifice the longer term vision in the process.
This delicate balancing act is not easy to achieve. However, some organizations are doing so, and they are seeing significant competitive advantages as a result. Well thought out approaches can provide long-term roadmaps that align with future capabilities while achieving short-term wins along the way. Every digital transformation program has that potential.
The way to build this mix into your program is to take a holistic approach to understanding how silos need to communicate in the future and select some initiatives that meet interim milestones. Base the selection on the customer journey and stay focused on baseline metrics that can guide the organization along the path. One way to get people on board in this way is to sponsor “domain modeling sessions.” These sessions help participants understand how information flows in their part of the organization impact other processes and departments. When this perspective is understood and concrete, it helps everyone achieve a shared vision for moving forward.