Written by Flux7 CEO and Co-Founder, Aater Suleman. This article originally appeared in Forbes.
Whether you think of digital business transformation as enabling worker productivity, managing business performance through data, or exceeding evolving customer expectations, it can be tempting to embrace it by building digital things. Yet, this approach misses a big piece of the puzzle. While digital services might be the mechanism by which you address business and market needs, ultimately, they are not enough in and of themselves. To truly address customer and business needs, a digital business platform — a technology foundation from which to work — is required.
For better or worse, digital business platforms are not available as an off-the-shelf purchase; enterprises must build them for themselves. Building your own digital business platform is the foundation of your digital enterprise — and ultimately your ability to serve the business and your customers. As such, it is too imperative to leave to a third party.
A digital business platform is the key to supporting agility, allowing your business to respond to the market adroitly. It actively supports the innovation that drives business services and products into the marketplace, addressing evolving customer needs at the speed of the market. I’ve seen it help grow productivity, product quality and team cohesion, as well as reduce business risk. Ultimately, a digital business platform is critical, as it is a core underpinning of the vision-to-outcome chain in which the following steps are taken:
- The CEO determines a corporate vision and strategy that combines an increase in revenue and a decrease in cost to achieve that vision.
- Both strategies depend on a digital business platform. With it, enterprises can enable new revenue streams, rapidly react to change and add automation for cost control measures.
- With a vision and a digital business platform to support it, the business can now effectively react to the market with new digital products and services that directly address customer needs and support the company vision.
- It is only at this last link in the chain where the actual technology implementation occurs. Here, technicians execute on the business’s new direction with the appropriate technology tools.
In working with dozens of organizations to guide them through technology transformations that lead toward digital business, I’ve found that small, iterative change that’s focused on business value achieves the best outcomes.
Start With A Bright Spot
While most existing IT systems are not enough to support digital business at scale, it is not the best course of action to just dig in and begin building. When starting this journey, it’s advisable to begin with a “bright spot. Taken from Dan and Chip Heath’s novel, a bright spot in this context is a project that can result in a quick win that delivers business value and illustrates engagement.
While many companies feel the need to boil the ocean, I would instead encourage you to lean toward “good enough.” If it’s good enough to simply execute the bright spot, stop there. Prove the applicability and success of the bright spot — and only then move on. It is through these incremental, iterative steps — where new technologies are introduced and the team learns how to build, manage and extend them for future projects — that your digital business platform will be built.
Continuous Feedback And Improvement Is Key
You won’t get everything exactly right the first time, and that’s OK. The digital business platform is meant to encourage and support innovation, and that includes even the first steps in the platform itself. What’s important here is to build a culture where learning and improvement are embraced by the team. For, the faster the team is able to incorporate feedback, the faster the platform will evolve and be able to support more and more business initiatives.
It’s important to note that a digital business platform is central to delivering on a company’s vision and goals and should, therefore, be considered core IP and remain in-house. While it’s advisable to work with experts who are familiar with the tools, technologies and skills needed to build digital business platforms, seek out guides who will help teach your team along the way, encouraging a culture of learning while addressing internal digital business skills gaps.
Automation Accelerates The Build Cycle
Automation can fuel a self-feeding cycle. For example, I had the opportunity to work with a large hotelier on a digital transformation project where most of the team, during the first bright spot phase, remained focused on “keep the lights on” activities. As automation was added, it freed team members from manual tasks, allowing them to begin contributing more directly to the digital business platform. In this way, automation can create a snowball effect within your organization, growing o the number of internal resources available for digital business initiatives.
While there is no bright spot recipe or formula, I recommend that organizations focus on projects that will have a strong business impact in a short amount of time. Start with a use case that meets a predefined business need, can be measured in tangible ways and results in real business impact.
For example, one retailer I worked with was due for an upgrade to its e-commerce tax calculation tool. The team took it on as its bright spot, replatforming for the cloud at the same time. The project was completed in seven days, and the team was then able to begin taking advantage of cloud cost optimization and automation that decreased human error and increased resources available for business-impacting work.
When embarking on a digital business platform journey, remain focused on small, iterative changes that drive business value. As alluring as it may be to reveal a big final project, small iterations will let your organization peer around the corner and actively anticipate changing business and customer needs, allowing you to build to that goal and ultimately achieving greater customer satisfaction, business intelligence and value for your organization.