Anyone who’s heard me speak at a conference over the last couple of years stands a fair chance of having listened to me talk about the fall of the Berlin Wall. Now, considering I typically talk about agile commerce, digital transformation, and occasionally mobile retail strategies, that might sound odd, but I talk about the fall of the Wall as an icon for revolution and for change.
And change is exactly what’s happening east of the old Iron Curtain now.
One of the most common themes we hear from firms looking to invest in pushing their digital agenda forwards is “show me the money.” It's not that eBusiness professionals don’t believe us when we say that investing in a customer-centric, flexible future vision is a good thing. In fact, most of the time they are absolutely on board and nod sagely, frowning while we describe this bright and shiny vision. They then scratch their heads and ask that trickiest of questions, “how?”
They commemorate the founding of the Royal Marine Commandos in 1942, and these windswept, bronze statues (almost as cold as the poor trainees were at the time) overlook the glens and lochs where the original commandos trained.
So what’s significant about the commandos in the context of eBusiness? Well, it isn’t that they were uber-cool special forces dudes. It isn’t even that they were pioneers of irregular warfare (i.e. innovators). The concept of Commandos pre-dated World War 2. In fact, in commanding the foundation of the commando units, Sir Winston Churchill took inspiration from his experiences in the Boer War and looked to the raiding tactics of the Boers for a model. So it's not even like us Brits invented the term.
What’s important about the commandos is that they were cross-functional. They were expert at collaborating across organizational boundaries. And in this they were pioneers.
Traditionally, the Army, Royal Navy and RAF were silos. Massive, traditional, centuries old silos who went further than just having incompatible processes and disjointed command structures. In many cases there was outright rivalry between service arms of the kind that would be intolerable in business. Troops fighting in bars. Intelligence actively hoarded by officers. Functional rivalry like nothing you have to deal with in eBusiness (hopefully).
We’ve seen significant investment from US retailers in this space. Lowes, Home Depot, Nordstrom, and others have all been spending heavily on developing the underlying infrastructures that they can then leverage to create in-store digital experiences. Store Wi-Fi, associate devices like tablets or smartphones, kiosk technology, and even more emerging technologies like ePaper signage and electronic shelf-edge labels are on some agendas. Even Amtrak is getting in on the act with its eTicketing initiative.
Chief Digital Officer (or CDO) is the latest in a long line of snazzy C-level titles to emerge over the last few years. At Forrester we’ve been watching this trend for a while now and have made a few comments, but I think it’s time to put a firm stake in the ground.
Don’t hire a Chief Digital Officer!
There. I said it.
Now, why might I say this when a number of high profile firms are in fact hiring CDOs? Well, to put things in perspective I want to look at a tale of three brands, all of which I’ve spoken about in the past:
2013 is going to be a fascinating year for retail in Europe.
When I look at what’s to come this year, I can paint a picture of what Forrester predicts by looking at a tale of two brands. Both are iconic, heritage British brands that have responded to their increasingly digitally enabled consumers in two very different ways. Naturally, this has resulted in two very different levels of success.
...but I’ve spoken to a number of eBusiness executives in luxury retail companies over the last 12 months or so, and by and large they share a similar frustration. For the most part, their senior management remain resolutely defiant in the face of the opportunity that digital brings.
Which is arrogantly short-sighted, when you consider that luxury shoppers are:
Young. Shoppers who buy luxury products online in the US are almost ten years younger on average than regular online shoppers. Globally, online luxury shoppers are more likely to be tech-savvy thirty-somethings rather than brandy-swilling boardroom bumblers.
I’ve been called upon to present on agile commerce many times over the last year, and when I do I most commonly start with this quote:
"Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future."
It’s from John F. Kennedy, a man that I admittedly don’t know that much about, but the sentiment in this message rings true for me. I am a passionate reader of history and taken too literally, JFK’s quote could seem to tell us not to look back for answers. But my take away from it is rather that you must learn how to build the future from lessons of the past. Don’t dwell only in tradition and “how it’s always been.” Far too many businesses have driven themselves to the wall over the last few years (Borders, Blockbuster, HMV, etc.) because they clung to the belief that what had made them successful in the past would remain their source of competitive advantage in the future.
One thing that history does tell us is that not only is change the law of life, but the pace of change is only getting faster. And that’s where the concept of agility comes in. I’ve written before about why agile commerce is more than just “multichannel done right.” Absolutely, the imperative of putting the customer at the heart of everything you do and serving them coherently and consistently across touchpoints is critical. But agile commerce builds on this by focusing on the need to achieve organizational agility.