Three Things That are Keeping You From Becoming a Digital Business

Tim Goggin - CEO, Sappington

Some years ago, a client of ours, Microsoft, told us they were about to undertake a massive business transformation in the way they deliver their products and align their teams. When a company that large makes a decision of this magnitude—in essence, moving away from their conventional business model of distributing software on discs every 24 to 36 months—you can imagine the impact. The ways in which different divisions operated were going to radically change. Product release cycles went from years to months to days. This was one of those transformational moments when the enterprise must rethink everything in order to adapt to changing customer and market conditions.

Understandably, people were a little nervous, and there was the potential for confusion. Microsoft asked us to help create an internal campaign that would inspire employees to embrace the new vision. We humanized the situation, focusing on what it meant to everyone involved on a personal level. Our approach? It wasn’t about the technology, it was about the people.

It was no big surprise when a software giant like Microsoft made the leap to the cloud early on—we expect traditional technology companies to embrace this sort of change before other types of organizations. What we’ve learned in the years since this engagement is that every company is a software company, no matter the product or service it provides. All companies must become digital businesses in the age of the customer or risk being pushed out of their market by more agile competitors.

While there are many things that have to be done to get you there, we believe there are THREE critical elements you need to keep in mind on your journey to becoming a digital business.

1.  Vision Quest

If every company’s success depends on how it utilizes technology to meet the customer, then taking an end-game perspective is critical from the beginning. This means developing a crystal-clear digital vision because this is where a viable digital business really begins.

Not long ago, it was the CEO who established the overall company vision and tasked IT with using conventional technology systems to support it. But the digital vision is different from the general company vision. In the age of the customer, the digital vision specifically addresses how the company will aspire to use technology to drive positive business outcomes and powerful customer experiences.

And it’s the CIO that needs to own it.

According to Forrester, “As CEOs begin to understand the impact of the age of the customer, they will expect their CIOs to work side by side with the other business leaders in leading the transformation to digital business and customer obsession.”

This is not a small undertaking. How do you begin to move from what has been viewed as a traditional cost center to a critical trendsetter in the business?

We’ve found that this effort has to begin at the executive level. It doesn’t work when mid-management is handed an unclear vision to implement. CIOs have to take a top-down approach to make real waves, and that means setting the digital vision with other senior-most leaders. It’s about creating a vision and mission statement that everyone can get behind, and corresponding messaging that everyone can share. This is not a one-time event; it’s an ongoing labor that requires check-ins, accountabilities, workshops, off-sites, and messaging refinements where needed.

To complement and support their digital vision aspirations, companies like Zappos, General Electric, and GameStop are completely overhauling their IT departments. They are creating cross-functional teams that work together on business imperatives like customer engagement, developing new business models, and product and service development.

Where are you in the process of creating your own digital vision and restructuring your IT efforts around the business?

2.  Straight Talk

We’ve also learned that once the digital vision is established, consistent communication is the critical strategy to success. You need authentic communication and engagement within the company before it can extend outward to the end consumer. For us, this has always meant replacing tech and business jargon with warm, human language. Business and technology acronyms are either explained in human terms, or thrown out to make way for overall value and customer impact. 

Communication must become more human. You have to start with the fundamental questions, and then capture that essence in an easy-to-disseminate way. Value propositions can’t be esoteric manuscripts that only one group embraces, and they can’t be trapped in a marketing silo. The product or service should be introduced with a simple, one-page narrative that clearly illuminates the reason for being. Right away, it must answer questions such as: “Why are we doing this?” “Who are we doing it for?” and “How is it going to benefit real human beings?” Once all departments are in agreement on these things, only then can the message flow through marketing content.

When it gets to the level of mass communications across the organization, and then outside the business to the world, the tools have to reinforce the narrative as well as employ the same essentials like value prop, benefits, and customer successes. It’s extremely important to not lean on features or abilities to achieve success, but to rely on customer experience, human impact, and genuine storytelling.

In other words, start with an internal human-centered point of view from the beginning, and it will translate to authenticity once it leaves the building.

3.  Meet Your Mentor

Many of us are familiar with the story of Peter Drucker and General Motors. Following the success of his groundbreaking book, The Future of Industrial Man (1942), he was invited by GM—the largest corporation in the world at the time—to analyze their business. For two years, he attended every board meeting, interviewed every level of employee, and analyzed every process. The result was his Concept of the Corporation, which went on to serve as the foundation of modern management.

GM’s approach was refreshingly humble. They knew that a trusted third party could cut through the partiality, opinions, and egos of their workers. They were aware of the value that could come from relying on an external partner to look at the enterprise from the outside in. They believed that the benefits of this engagement far outweighed the costs. Those benefits were increased revenue, improved productivity, and happier employees and customers, to name a few.

Today, many enterprises resist outside assistance, attempting to change from within. This is a lot like surgeons attempting to operate on themselves. You might be good at what you do, but sometimes it’s best to let others help you in matters of self-improvement. Outside mentors keep you honest and once your vision and direction are set, they can regularly check in to ensure you’re making progress on your vision while you’re busy doing your day job. This kind of objective guidance can also give you a fresh perspective on your important communications, especially when you’re trying to establish a new relationship with the executive committee or the board.

At the end of the day, you have to work ON the business as much as you work IN the business. In most cases, working IN the business comes down to muscle memory, while working ON the business requires a lot more. It demands honesty, humility, and neutrality in how you view your current vision and day-to-day activities. You can’t achieve this without an unbiased coach that gets you involved and holds you accountable.

Benjamin Franklin might have said it best: “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”

Click here to learn more about how our services can help you in your digital business transformation journey. 


Tim Goggin
Visionary and Strategist

I’m proud to say that I’m a gainfully employed English major, which is my proof that a strong liberal arts background pays off. I believe in the transformative benefits the humanities play in the enterprise business world, especially the new business world where every company is a technology company. My mantra is that effective communication and understanding will separate the successful businesses from the rest. I have the great honor of working with the brightest minds in technology, business, communications, marketing, design and storytelling.