The COVID-19 pandemic forced every company, big and small, to think hard about their IT strategy in ways they weren’t 18 months ago. For business owners, it’s an opportunity to rethink your digital strategy from scratch, not just for business continuity purposes, but also to build new capabilities for capitalizing on the future. Once you have taken the steps to build a modern web presence and bring your business online safely and securely, you are ready to think more holistically about your digital strategy.
Here’s an example of a classic conundrum we see business owners face:
Customers love us because we treat them well and provide a high-quality service, yet if we were to grow the business and add new customers I’m not sure we can continue to provide the same level of service. There is no way I can risk biting the hand that feeds me!
An effective digital strategy will identify the opportunities for implementing technology to push on the levers of your business to allow for efficient growth without sacrificing service. In the best case service quality and the customer value proposition actually increase with scale.
“Our judgment is that relentlessly returning efficiency improvements and scale economies to customers in the form of lower prices creates a virtuous cycle that leads over the long term to a much larger dollar amount of free cash flow, and thereby to a much more valuable Amazon.com. “ -- Jeff Bezos, 2005 Amazon Shareholder Letter
No need to start fretting about hiring software engineers -- everything you need exists off-the-shelf. We’ve broken down your digital strategy process into a few simple steps. No fancy strategy consultants required!
Digital strategy steps:
Implement core software
Identify and enable power users
Find the pain
Implement/Upgrade “Core” Software
It may seem enticing to jump to the hot topic of the day such as AI, blockchain, or robotics, but first, let’s focus on the basic blocking and tackling. You may have heard the phrase that “data is the new oil”. Well that doesn’t mean squat if you have no ability to locate the oil, no means for extracting, collecting and refining it, or delivering it to the desired destination. Modern, cloud-based software systems are a prerequisite for collecting data on the core levers of your business –sales pipeline, manufacturing process, working capital requirements, customer service, and logistics. For some companies, core software could simply be CRM (Salesforce.com), Marketing (Hubspot), Financial (Quickbooks), Payroll / HR (Gusto), Collaboration (Slack). If you have systems for these functions today, upgrading to modern, cloud-based systems is a necessary step. They are more secure, up-to-date, user-friendly, easier to provision and manage, but most importantly, easier to integrate with other software systems. We will come back to this later.
Identify and Enable Power Users
It’s easy for organizations to just check-the-box when implementing “Core” software, but software is only as good as the people using it. Crap In, Crap Out. Millennials may be a pain in the ass, but they, along with GenZ, represent a massive influx of digitally native talent entering the workforce. They have come of age with the ubiquity of smartphones and the internet literally at their fingertips and they are bringing their knowledge, digital expectations, and inflated egos to your org. Embrace and empower your digital natives to lead the way implementing and establishing best practices to get the most out of your core software systems. They are likely to be natural power users learning the capabilities of the software, establishing workflows, and training others on how to get the most out of your “Core”.
Find the Pain
Once you have established an effective “Core” system it’s time to hunt for the inefficiencies in your org. You intuitively know the pain points in your business so ask yourself the question — can this pain be cured by technology? The answer, more often than not, is yes! Start asking your team the same questions and you are likely to find opportunities to rethink your business “system” with software at its core. Here are a few real-world examples we have seen:
9 people reconciling physical checks received in the mail to A/R
Invoiced orders need to be manually entered into your fulfillment system
Manual data inputs in your manufacturing facility cause significant man-hours to be wasted on scrubbing the data
Billing and scheduling mistakes creating an unpleasant patient experience and poor online reviews
Just having the systems in place to capture data is obviously not enough. Implementing a data visualization tool like Looker or Tableau is a great best practice. Synthesizing data with visualization tools helps bring the data to life surfacing insights and enabling data-driven decision making. But visualizing the data is more than just pretty charts and graphs. The key performance indicators of your business must remain in constant focus for your team. An effective means for doing this is keeping them in direct line of sight 24/7. Mount a monitor to a wall in a common area in your office to display your KPIs in real time so that there is no excuse for anyone on your team to not know exactly where the business stands every single day. Constant focus = constant improvement
A company is a complex adaptive system that is constantly changing based on its environment -- the economy, customers, employees, vendors, competition etc. Therefore, it’s critical that your digital strategy be adaptive as well. The process of implementing your “Core”, enabling power users, addressing pain points, and driving behavior through visualization must be iterative and ongoing.
Want to level up your digital strategy? The next step means moving from reactive to proactive. Software is no longer just a data repository or backward-looking analytical tools. Modern software systems act as “Invisible Engines” which automatically execute the functions of a business. Data integrations, known as Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), allow software systems to communicate with each other, breaking down siloed systems to create seamless interactions. If this seems too heady -- not to worry! We are going to break down the power and implications of APIs for you in our next two blogs so stay tuned.