When it comes to digital, we are at a pivot point. Digitizing your business isn’t about technology: it’s about customer obsession - and in 2016, it will be among your ten critical business success factors helping position your firm for success in the Age of the Customer. In fact, next year will be a year of consequence: those firms that “get digital” will begin to pull ahead, and those firms that don’t will begin to look increasingly archaic, facing the risk of extinction.
The preliminary results from our recent digital business survey are telling. An increasing number of firms are reporting that they have a coherent and comprehensive digital strategy. While this is good news, these firms are still the minority. The vast majority of firms report that their approach to digital is limited at best, and non-existent at worst. But the consistently bleak picture is that most executives think the wrong people are in charge of their digital activities and few (very few) think they have the capabilities to deliver.
But there are some shining lights.
Leading firms like John Deere are pathing the path to digital mastery, demonstrating revenue and share price growth that outpaces less digitally savvy competitors. Executive committees are taking note. Innovation spend is on the rise, digital skills are in hot demand, and a new breed of digitally savvy senior leaders is finally emerging.
In the coming weeks Forrester will publish its annual set of predictions for our major roles, industries, and research themes — more than 35 in total. These predictions for 2016 will feature our calls on how firms will execute in the Age of the Customer, a 20-year business cycle in which the most successful enterprises will reinvent themselves to systematically understand and serve increasingly powerful customers.
In 2016, the gap between customer-obsessed leaders and laggards will widen. Leaders will tackle the hard work of shifting to a customer-obsessed operating model; laggards will aimlessly push forward with flawed digital priorities and disjointed operations. It will require strong leadership to win, and we believe that in 2016 CMOs will step up to lead customer experience efforts. They face a massive challenge: Years of uncoordinated technology adoption across call centers, marketing teams, and product lines make a single view of the customer an expensive and near-impossible endeavor. As a result, in 2016 companies will be limited to fixing their customer journeys.
CMOs will have good partners, though. As they continue to break free of IT gravity and invest in business technology, CIOs will be at their sides. 2016 is the year that a new breed of customer-obsessed CIOs will become the norm. Fast-cycle strategy and governance will be more common throughout technology management and CIOs will push hard on departmental leaders to let go of their confined systems to make room for a simpler, unified, agile portfolio.
Retail CIOs have always had a tough job, but digital makes it tougher. Emerging digital technologies threaten to transform retail experiences both in stores and at home. Without a good business case, CIOs at large retailers will find it hard to prepare their business to compete with small, nimble startups. My latest report highlights the potential of today's digital technologies to radically disrupt the retail industry once more. It serves as a call to CIOs to begin shaping their strategy to digitize the end-to-end customer experience and start proving the business case in time to make the investments needed.
Specialty fashion retailer Rebecca Minkoff is creating a truly differentiated in-store customer experience by combining RFID tags with new technologies like digital mirrors in the changing room connected to employee mobile devices. At the NYC Rebecca Minkoff store, customers can select products from racks or a digital fashion wall and head to the dressing room, where they meet their personal fashion consultant. Once in the dressing room, a digital mirror displays all the products and sizes the customer has in the room. The customer can easily request a new size by selecting it on the mirror. The consultant delivers the new sizes to the dressing room without the customer having to redress or wander the store half-undressed. By extending what Rebecca Minkoff has already achieved, we get a glimpse of a future in-store experience that helps each customer quickly find more products that satisfy their desires.
I’d like to capture your perspectives in this year’s study on digital business.
Last year we started a detailed research study into digital business and published numerous reports on our findings and insights for business executives. This year we have partnered with Odgers Berndtson to help field our digital business survey to business executives. And as we did last year, we’re also extending the survey to our clients and social media followers.
The survey only takes 10 to 15 minutes to complete … the perfect accompaniment to a cup of coffee or tea! (OK that may be a stretch … but you can easily complete it while enjoying a cuppa.)
It’s the Tools and technology chapter, which has been an absolute beast of a research project. After all, where do you start outlining all of the tools and technologies you need to transform your business to become truly digital? To digitize your business strategy?
The short answer is you don’t.
In most of our research for the Digital Business Transformation Playbook we’ve concentrated on finding and outlining best practice examples of traditional firms that are transforming to embed digital into the heart of their business strategy. As one of our Research Directors so rightly pointed out early in this research, “horses don’t like stories about unicorns”. It’s not so helpful for us to tell you “hey, just copy Amazon” when you run a retail bank with a chain of a thousand branches around the world.
But in this instance we do need to hunt for unicorns.
Because the unicorns are nailing it.
Firms like Amazon, eBay or Spotify manage digital technology on the massive scale, yet retain a high level of innovation and agility. So what sets them and other digital masters, apart from digital dinosaurs in their relationship to technology? What can we learn from how they plan, manage and invest in technology? What we found was:
It’s no great shocker that digital skills are in short supply.
In our annual organizational and staffing survey of eBusiness and channel strategy professionals, we found that while eBusiness budgets have grown by more than 10%, finding the skills and capabilities to execute on a digital strategy is becoming harder and harder.
What’s the difference between a digital bolt-on and transformative digital disruption?
In the two years I’ve been on the road talking with executives around the world about digital business and delivering keynotes on digital transformation, I’ve been most frequently asked about bolt-on vs. transformation; what’s the difference?
A digital bolt-on is a digital project that is added to the existing business model that might improve the customer experience in a small way, but doesn’t fundamentally change how value is created for, and/or delivered to, the customer. For example, when a company updates a website and provides customers an electronic ordering platform, they are not changing the existing business model; they are simply providing an alternative channel through which the customer can buy products. The value proposition remains the same: buy and experience our product and you’ll gain value from the experience. Digital (in this case an online sales channel) has been bolted to the existing business model in much the same way a teenager bolts a spoiler onto an old car to make it "go faster".
Empowering a central team to set digital strategy, provide common platforms, and provide specialist resources can help business units develop their digital maturity by embracing a set of common standards while still tailoring their customer experience to their specific market needs. Yet many central teams run into difficulty. They fail to clearly communicate their purpose and remit, they struggle to navigate the realities of corporate politics, and they forget to demonstrate their successes through clear metrics. CIOs looking to accelerate their firm's digital journey by building a digital acceleration team should first assess their organization's readiness and appetite (see Figure).
In the age of the customer, your company must exploit digital assets in order to deliver world-class customer experiences and compete effectively. But moving the business from its traditional roots toward digital mastery requires the executive team to paint a compelling digital business vision.
1. Illustrate what customers will value in the future. The way your customers derive value from your products and services today will not be the same in the future. Your business will need to use digital technology to create new sources of value. Instead of simply designing a physical product or service to be used by a customer to satisfy a need, your firm must reimagine your products and services as digital services enhanced by physical products and people. Customer perceptions of value will be shaped by the digital experiences you create to help them achieve their desires. Your digital vision must help employees understand this shift.
What’s the top imperative at your company? If it’s not a transformation to make the company more customer-focused, you’re making a mistake. Technology and economic forces have changed the world so much that an obsession with winning, serving, and retaining customers is the only possible response.
We’re in an era of persistent economic imbalances defined by erratic economic growth, deflationary fears, an oversupply of labor, and surplus capital hunting returns in a sea of record-low interest rates. This abundance of capital and labor means that the path from good idea to customer-ready product has never been easier, and seamless access to all of the off-the-shelf components needed for a startup fuels the rise of weightless companies, which further intensify competition.
Chastened by a weak economy, presented with copious options, and empowered with technology, consumers have more market muscle than ever before. The information advantage tips to consumers with ratings and review sites. They claim pricing power by showrooming. And the only location that matters is the mobile phone in their hand from which they can buy anything from anyone and have it delivered anywhere.
This customer-driven change is remaking every industry. Cable and satellite operators lost almost 400,000 video subscribers in 2013 and 2014 as customers dropped them for the likes of Netflix. Lending Club, an alternative to commercial banks, has facilitated more than $6 billion in peer-to-peer loans. Now that most B2B buyers would rather buy from a website than a salesperson, we estimate that 1 million B2B sales jobs will disappear in the coming years.