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Keeping up with digital transformation – where to now?

November 12, 2012

The pace of evolution in business in 2012 is phenomenal. I’ve been on a brief sabbatical of late and in that brief period have observed:

  • A growing consumer dissent towards social commerce, particularly in the way Facebook has approached the problem.
  • The beginnings of a watchdog movement against much beloved brands such as Apple, and a more balanced discussion about their business sustainability and practices.
  • The launch of not 2 but more than 30 digital wallet prototypes, signalling an early attempt to move into the age of mobile payments and identity management.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the last few years speaking with all levels of business and no matter what the level of resource, the challenge is always the same: there’s not enough hours in the day to keep up with the current pace of technological change.

Most people I speak with feel that even if they master one element of the digital arena: social, mobile, or local – that they’re almost certain to get left behind on others. Businesses who capitalised early on the move to social media now find themselves lacking in ecommerce and analytics abilities, and vice versa. That fantastic website you finally built after not having one for too long – is now redundant because it doesn’t work on mobile screens. ‘Responsive design’ is the new catch-cry which so many people missed the first time around, and even I only recently sat down and read properly what HTML5 is all about (it’s a potential replacement for responsive design – keep up!).

There’s still a polarised debate about whether people really need or want a digital wallet – those who feel that their current wallet is ‘just fine thank you, and no I don’t have too many plastic cards’ – are probably the same people who once felt that the stacks of paper on their office desk did not need to be replaced by personal computers.

And on the topic of digital wallets, mind you – how many countless tens of thousands of businesses are just starting to realise how many of their customers are trying to connect with their business on mobile devices – but can’t because the business isn’t ready for it?

If you’ve read this blog before, then you might be aware that I’m an evangelist for near field communication (NFC), a relatively simple technology that when deployed in a mobile device means that consumers will be able to interact with any physical touch point for your business (in-store, outdoor, on a poster, etc) without ever having to look at your website. There are tangible benefits to the consumer to do so as well (ie download files, connect to a page, make a payment, so on and so forth). Early trials by McDonalds in France for example, are allowing consumers with NFC enabled devices to order and pay for their food in store entirely via their mobile, reducing the need to interact with staff and saving time. For the business, there are obvious benefits in terms of staff costs, or for the more astute business – staff could be reallocated to other experience enhancing activities. And let’s face it, how many of us wish we didn’t have to interact with the kids behind the counter trying to take your food order?

And finally, there’s the elephant in the room – social media. I first got involved with understanding how to leverage social media for business about 4 years ago. I loved the idea of a business creating an engaged online community and using these relationships as an advocacy network to ultimately increase sales for the business – hence the evolution of social commerce.  I quickly realised however that this wasn’t going to be well received on ‘traditional’ social media platforms like Facebook, where people gathered to commune with their social network, not their community networks (businesses, groups, clubs, brands etc).

Now, years later, and despite my best efforts to help create an alternative social marketplace, businesses and brands have flocked to Facebook, trailing their audiences’ migration from traditional media. The resulting noise on Facebook has resulted in a growing dissension toward the Facebook brand, as the original friend-to-friend user experience is tainted by high volumes of branded messaging, suggestive advertising, special offers and all of the other noise that we went there to escape in the first place.

Not that you can blame Facebook, of course – valued at US$100 billion at IPO earlier this year and now rather firmly placed at just 40% of that value, it was always going to have to scramble to find every opportunity to raise revenues, quickly. Rupert Murdoch, meanwhile quietly smiles as he recalls his $580 million purchase of the MySpace social network in 2005, which later sold for just US$35 million 6 years later. In this blogger’s opinion, the MySpace network became so focused on extracting immediate revenues from it users that it lost sight of the innovations that had made it so enamored by its users in the first place – who quickly moved to the Facebook platform and now are beginning to look for alternatives to that as well.

And I’ve ventured off onto this tangent for a reason – the problem with MySpace, is that they weren’t watching for the disruption to their business. Facebook focused on users and managed to disrupt and already innovative digital business who had just stopped watching over their shoulder. Having started my career in traditional media, I personally watched senior executives whom I respected who were unable or unwilling to find ways to counteract the disruption to their industry – and the most telling output of all of that can be seen in Fairfax Media’s desperate bid to stay relevant to the digital news era earlier this year by

  • cutting 1900 jobs
  • converting broadsheet papers to tabloid
  • closing multiple print sites and
  • introducing paid digital news content

There’s no easy answers to any of this. To wrap up, if I were in the hot seat, there’s 3 things I would focus on as a business leader, whether it be enterprise, government or SME:

  1. Implement infrastructure for leveraging actionable insights from big data: social, mobile, local.
  2. Develop & implement mobile device strategy within 12 months.
  3. Evaluate ‘disruptive’ threats to your business model and address them via acquisition, innovation or review of existing business structure.

More thoughts on this later. Remember the entire purpose of this blog is to challenge the status quo!

Deliriant Isti Romani – These Romans are Crazy!

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