Few, if any, businesses in the UK can operate without digital technology, but turning digital tools into business growth is not straightforward. Raconteur asked the experts to find some of the best ways to take advantage of the digital economy
1. Know why you’re going digital
Sometimes the need for digital strategy is clear. But even when it seems obvious, it is worth spending time to understand what the drivers are for any digital project.
“It’s crucial to have a clear purpose or objective before embarking on any digital initiative,” says Stephen Dann, a growth coach at GrowthAccelerator, part of the government’s Business Growth Service.
“Many businesses don’t really know why they are setting up a Facebook page or developing an app – they just feel they should have one. Only by defining a clear set of requirements can you decide on the best approach to reach those goals.”
2. Put customers first
Again, this may seem obvious. But the experts warn that the need to put customers first is all too often overlooked – and a key reason some digital projects fail.
“Place the customer at the centre of your digital strategy. Simply digitising content and blasting it out to social networks and apps is a sure-fire way to waste your investment,” cautions Laurence Buchanan, an advisory partner and digital leader at EY, the professional services firm.
“Building customer attention, let alone engagement, is difficult. It’s essential to maintain a razor-sharp focus on customer needs and the journeys they go through.”
3. Be ruthless about customer experience
Digital technology is incredibly flexible, but sometimes that very flexibility is its downfall as firms try to do too much.
The best digital companies are stripping away complexity and stressing simple efficiency. This means emphasising function rather than form. According to Jiten Kachhela, of consulting firm North Highland, successful apps and websites often now have just “one action per screen” and little in the way of options or embellishment.
“It is about being ruthlessly user-centric in design; no one else gets a look in except the designer and the user,” says Mark Raskino, a vice president and fellow at research firm Gartner.
4. Use data well
Companies have built up vast treasure troves of data, about customers, suppliers and trends, but data is only valuable if it converts into business decisions.
“You have to be able to understand customer data and be able to act on it,” says Rob Mettler at PA Consulting Group. But this means more than smart analytics.
“It is easy to buy a lot of technology or get analysts in and discover amazing things in the data, but you need to know where you are heading with it,” says Jason Lark, managing director of Celerity Information Services. This means knowing the questions the business wants to answer and measuring results.
5. Make sure you measure
Data gives businesses insights into their operations as never before. But managers still need to test whether digital initiatives have performed as expected. Whatever your goals – audience building, awareness, clicks, engagement or purchases – ask yourself do you know how to measure these things?
“It’s vital to measure your strategy’s performance and analyse its impact, constantly figuring out what the data is telling you and then experimenting to improve performance,” says Stephen Dann at GrowthAccelerator.
“Don’t do anything, unless you can measure it,” says Celerity Information Services’ Jason Lark. “You need to understand the value of what you are doing.”
6. Make sure the board is on board
Not all companies have embraced digital. So it is up to the digital advocates in a business, whatever their background, to convince a sceptical board to invest. Perhaps you should even consider recruiting digital executives who will contribute effectively to the company’s leadership.
“You have to have a hard look at your organisational culture. A culture driven by change is very different to a hierarchical management style,” says Krishnan Chatterjee, global head of the digital business taskforce at technology consultants HCL.
“If your organisation is going to kill change, you are better off doing digital as a new venture.”
7. Think about people and skills
When it comes to the unique assets that help businesses thrive, there’s arguably nothing more important than the right human capital. Yet for so many companies, finding the right talent, specifically digital talent, is a perpetual challenge.
No amount of digital technology will help a firm, without the people to make it work.
“Find, hire and keep the right people,” says Laurence Buchanan at EY. “Digital has crept into almost every aspect of life with astonishing speed, but knowledge and skills are yet to catch up.” Firms that fail to nurture their digital talent will be at a real disadvantage to those that do.
8. Be ready for change
“Don’t think in end-states. You have to be comfortable making progress through continuous change,” says HCL’s Krishnan Chatterjee.
“Digital is important to all companies, particularly those that trade around the world. We’ve always moved with the times,” says Alan Hughes, managing director of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, the UK’s oldest manufacturing business. Moving with the times includes using a 4G data connection from mobile provider EE to stream the sound of bells to clients during meetings.
9. Revisit your founding principles
The best businesses are those that are true to their founding principles, according to Gartner’s Mark Raskino. Ford, for example, faces a world of electric vehicles and driveless cars, but chief executive Mark Fields looks back to Henry Ford’s ideas for guidance.
“Going digital will test the foundations of what you are as a company,” says Mr Raskino. “Go back to the founder of your corporation and ask what would they have done?”
More times than not, the answer will be stay true to customer service through creativity, innovation and thought leadership, ensuring the business is fit for the future.
10. Make digital mainstream
Digital is now part of every business and having a separate digital department, or even a digital director, can slow growth. Sometimes a separate digital department or even subsidiary may be the best way to go, but plan to bring this back in-house later.
“Our advice for business is you can create digital teams to accelerate growth, but at some point they need to merge back into the business – and those digital titles will disappear,” says Jiten Kachhela of North Highland.
Your organisation needs to be imbued with digital, your staff need to be digitally skilled and enthusiastic about it, and they need to pass on both the enthusiasm and the skills.