How to Design Digital Transformation

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” -Lao Tzu

In a business landscape of constant change, design has proven to be a lasting differentiator. Over the last decade, design-driven companies have outperformed the S&P index by 228%.

Design thinking — a framework for solving complex problems through observation and iteration — is a first step toward digital transformation.  

Suppose you say to yourself “I want to foolproof my organization to make sure we are not disrupted. What technologies do I need to purchase?”

Before you go about doing that, you need an organizational methodology in place to help you integrate new technologies and get your team educated and onboard.

Design thinking takes big problems which it then compartmentalizes and simplifies them into smaller pieces. Digital transformation is a long-term outcome but by applying the pillars of design thinking (such as cross functional collaboration, empathy, and rapid iteration) across departments you can breakdown digital transformation into smaller buckets.

A good place to start is with a design sprint. Hire an outside group of strategists, technologists, and designers to come in that specialize in identifying problems and goals and creating cross functional teams. You’ll end with more than a wall full of post-its. You’ll have taken the first step in planning your digital transformation, by discovering your pain points, pain relievers, and areas where you need to innovate.

Steps You Need to Take: People, Process, and Platforms

To achieve a long-term digital transformation, you’ll have to focus on what you can do in the immediate future. These can be boiled down to three P’s: people, process, and platforms.

First, you’ll need people who are digitally savvy. Today’s pool of digital natives are largely millennials and plurals. You’ll need to attract and empower them since the workforce of the future will increasingly rely on knowledge workers. The digitally connected workplace (e.g., Slack, future VR boardrooms) will require that your organization knows how to effectively leverage the talent and skillsets of a digital native workforce.

To attract and retain them on your team, you’ll need policies that speak to their values. For instance, in 2014 Google sought to expose hidden bias at the company by implementing company-wide workshops to eliminate unconscious bias and create a culture where it’s safe to express new ideas.

Second, you must institute processes that accelerate the integration of emerging technologies into your company. But how do you develop processes that are more agile and can adapt to rapidly evolving conditions? Part of the solution is to incorporate cross functional teams within your organization. You don’t know tomorrow’s problem (who does?). But when you combine different people, you get less overlap and the chances of producing innovative solutions skyrockets. Furthermore, big brands can draw on lean startup growth tactics and gamestorming to improve their ability to adopt and adapt new technologies.

Third, start thinking about platforms if you want to go digital. If you don’t know who your customers are, it is tough to do business with them. Some of the platforms you’ll need are direct sales and marketing channels that build relationships with your customers.

To give a recent example, the startup Dollar Shave Club disrupted an industry dominated by Gillette and Schick with a direct-to-consumer, e-commerce business model that delivered blades for cheap right to their consumers’ doorsteps. In July, 2016, Unilever purchased Dollar Shave Club for $1 billion.

A good CRM (Customer Relationship Management) strategy will directly connect you with your customer. A DMP (Data Management Platform) is a great tool for aggregating information from first and third party sources about your customer personas. It allows you to understand how, when, and where your customers are buying. Data is the currency of the future — understanding how to mine and use it to create better brand experiences with your consumers will be the difference between the Titanics that appear ready but meet their demise, and the Teslas who become darlings of industry.

Think about creating an in-house center of excellence or a contracted innovation lab to create processes and platforms customized for your business. This will help your organization understand “what good looks like,” and demonstrate results that help stakeholders buy-in.

No one tactic will deliver a digital transformation. However, a business philosophy that focuses on using design thinking principles to transform your people, process, and platforms will eventually add up to one.  

Let’s speak about how design thinking will assist in digitally transforming your organization.