Digital success starts with digital health

'Health is wealth' for businesses looking to profit from digital innovation

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In the race to “go digital,” many global corporations and large enterprises are expanding their C-suites. In recent posts, I’ve shared how the addition of CDOs (chief digital officers) and CIOs (chief innovation officers) have some executive teams bulging with new digital leaders -- and new digital initiatives. But what’s a midmarket or small business to do? Not every company can add sought-after and costly C-level talent to architect and oversee digital transformation.

Rather than focus on one or two senior leadership roles, midmarket and smaller companies (in fact businesses of all sizes) can begin their own digital transformations with this important inquiry: How is our digital health and what can we do to improve it? Just as a doctor needs to treat the whole person rather than one ailing body part, maintaining digital health means assessing and aligning the entire business behind digital transformation.  

The digital health check: What to assess

Many businesses first dive into digital by focusing on one tactic, such as building a mobile app or ramping up social engagement. In the many times I have seen this one-off digital approach, the driver is often a business leader who is enamored with an innovative use of technology seen elsewhere. (Think of all the companies looking into the possibilities of augmented reality thanks to the frenzy that is Pokéman Go.) The danger in this approach is that another company’s digital accomplishment is impossible to replicate. Digital success requires a transformation of many processes, operations, tools and even roles across an organization.

To find the right digital direction, a business needs to conduct a health check across several areas of its operations:

  • Customer engagement and experience: How does the business currently engage customers? What are the customers' current and predicted digital behaviors and habits? How does the customer experience need to evolve to address the digital tools and spaces the business's unique customer bases use and frequent?
  • Products and services: How does the business need to incorporate digital technologies to improve and differentiate its products and services?
  • Data analytics: The digitized world is one of complex and substantial data. How will the business harness data to improve forecasting, customer service and product/service development?
  • Infrastructure/technology platforms: Digital engagement requires powerful security and adaptability. Is your technological infrastructure ready for the digital landscape of today and tomorrow?
  • Operations and administration: How can tools of the digital age — from mobile and cloud technologies to data analytics and social media — improve the operations of the business? Digital transformation begins from the inside out, which means understanding how digital can and should touch day-to-day operations and systems.

This comprehensive digital health checklist is necessary because digital transformation affects the entire business. If the departments and managers responsible for each of these areas take a hard look at 1) where they are today with regard to digital competency and capabilities and 2) where they need to go to make digital work, a business of any size can build the initial foundation for comprehensive digital transformation.

The challenge then becomes leading the transformation. For midmarket and small companies that are not expanding their C-suites to include a digital officer (or the equivalent) there are still options.

Blend your own digital leadership solution

One alternative to adding a CDO role is for a company to blend its own leadership solution. Many times within an existing C-suite you find executive talent with the skills and desire to drive digital transformation. Perhaps it’s the CMO, or maybe the CIO. Perhaps both executives share some of the skills and vision for the job. In these cases, midmarket or smaller companies may choose to do some strategic blending of responsibilities to make digital the domain of one senior executive or a responsibility shared between two.

I have met many CIOs and CMOs whose job descriptions mirror those of a CDO as they drive digital transformation across the business. The title matters far less than the fact that the business has made digital a senior and strategic business initiative that is embraced and managed from the top down.

Consider consultants

Another option for identifying, recruiting and hiring a CDO is to leverage a digital consultant or consulting team that can build a strategic road map to digital transformation and sweeping company initiatives. The fact is, “going digital” means taking an entirely new approach 1) to the business, 2) to bringing in revenue and 3) to engaging customers, partners and even employees. A consulting partner offers middle market businesses a range of resources to support digital transformation wherever it is affecting the company. That kind of flexibility and resourcefulness is important for companies that may have experts in some areas of digital but might have skill and leadership gaps in others.

Health is wealth

Any business looking to profit from digital capabilities and trends needs to remember the adage, “Your health is your wealth.” Digital health affects every aspect of the business today, underscoring the importance of a full digital health checkup and leaders who can take the results and convert them into an action plan for transformation. Determine how wealthy you want your business to be and focus on advancing your business to a much higher and more profitable level of digital fitness.  

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