Stop talking about digital when online is the default

The number one problem with digitalization is that many organisations STILL consider digital as an add-on to their operations, when in fact close to everything already have become digitized and connected. Digital should act as the bottom line mindset of (re-)structuring the organization and its value creation. Per default.

At this point this matter is too late to ignore. The smartphone in your pocket serves as good enough evidence of this. In fact, in 2017 the smartphone holds its 10th year anniversary and in 2016 half of the world’s population was connected. It is safe to say online is now the default.

The word “digitalization” brings concern and confusion

We as a design consultancy with a digital heritage operating in all kinds of markets and forms often see our clients’ and others’ management units in panic due to pressure to “digitize everything!”. As consequence employees fight the challenge to “having to digitize all customer touchpoints!”. On top of that we see organizations asking for advice on what channel to prioritize (i.e. their mobile web, phone support etc) and what channel they can leave out. Additionally, deliverables from design studios like ours often have recipients in several parts of the organization as insights regarding online channels and customers of course affects both Marketing, Sales, IT department, Digital channels etc. From a business perspective this is of course an advantage for us as our deliveries spread, however it entails a couple of hinders. One of them being organizations quite often still have their IT department or Digital channels as separate units or silos.

Historically the explanation might be due to organisations adopting digital technology and placing it as a sort of parallel backup system alongside the core operational unit. Either as a way to proactively rethink their business model by inventing new solutions (R&D labs etc) or, more probable, simply because everyone else did and they were forced to keep up by adding digital/mobile/web. Not seldom in an effort to reduce costs by e.g. forcing their customer to self-service. Unfortunately, a lot of them didn’t manage to survive.

And to be fair there are a good part of actors out there who, with pride, has taken the challenges that digitalization brings about in consideration (way to go!) and there are actors on the other side of the spectrum who frankly haven’t even acknowledged them. All perfectly understandable as these are hugely complex matters. There are effective ways to start handling these issues where design can be of great help.

When everything is digital and online, is there still a point of speaking about digital and online as add-ons?

No, it’s not, and from this line forward we stop considering digital as digital.

A shift in mindset to outside and in

What if we had a situation where organizations, instead of viewing products and services as digital vs. physical where digital is viewed as “a thing in itself”, acknowledged digital as “a way of thinking” and “a way of working”. Instead of viewing issues as linear flows from left to right as in more traditional business process management, what if organizations approached complex issues systematically outside and in focusing on the relations of its parts - e.g. core business, teams, resources, activities?

“Linear vs ambient” by Fanny Carlsson

Imagine a situation where organizations were equipped for the reality where everything happens randomly and not for a dreamlike streamlined linear process. Where the operations are flexible for bridging over potential errors that occur in the mesh of products and services instead of supposing to know exactly how a customer will use one’s product or service.

In conclusion — stop viewing the digitalization as a sort of operational deed to the stakeholders and redirect focus to what the organisation is ought to do — the why behind the operations. These tools are good ways to start:

Design thinking and System’s design

“Design-thinking firms stand apart in their willingness to engage in the task of continuously redesigning their business…to create advances in both innovation and efficiency — the combination that produces the most powerful competitive edge.” — Roger Martin, author of the Design of Business

1. Agile and Scrum has become more of foundations for good work rather than ways of developing software. Build -> test -> evaluate and fail fast are mindsets applicable on everything from business acceleration workshops to product prototyping.

2. Focus on how your customers behave in given situations and map out how your marketing activities, products and services — online and offline — mesh and amplify each other in relation to the customer behaviour. This can be achieved visually through for example a Customer Journey Map or a Service blueprint.

3. Verify that your products, services and experiences are compatible with other products and services on the market to create seamless user experiences. These other products and services are not seldom your competitors’, but it’s time to let that go.

Business design

“Business Design applies the principles and practices of design to help organizations create new value and new forms of competitive advantage. At its core, Business Design is the integration of customer empathy, experience design and business strategy”

1. Be your consumer’s best friend. What one too many organizations seems to have blanked out is without users and influencers they are nothing. Zero. What every leader and employee uttermost concern should be is who their consumer really is and what demands she/he has on their market and peripheral markets. What possibilities these needs present today and in a desired future. Use this line of thinking: 
a. Decide on your goal and vision
b. Find what technology or output is most appropriate to use in order to reach the goal

Say you are the managing partner of a local coffee house and you set a goal for the coming years to reshape your business. Instead of a technology-first approach with the business centered around the latest and most expensive barista machine you set a goal to be the one place where customers can get their freshly brewed cup in 30 seconds from entering the store. See what happens here when we shift focus to what values we can deliver in terms of what hinders we can bridge and how to maximize the experience for our customers? 
This is the very essence of (consumer) value based business design.

2. Allocate your resources and build teams based on what the various parts of the operations are ought to perform towards a common goal, in contrast to competence groups or silos of i.e. Marketers, Strategists, Developers etc. Moreover regarding your star competence, rather than distributing it — designate it to the critical core of your business — namely the core teams or groups working with the primary area or activity that your organization is founded on.

3. As the IT-systems are such critical parts of the operations to create the ambient consumer experience naturally they should be structured according to the principle in 2) as well. However in most cases they are not. Tip on further reading is Domain-Driven Design by Eric J. Evans: “A methodology and process prescription for the development of complex systems whose focus is mapping activities, tasks, events, and data within a problem domain into the technology artifacts of a solution domain.”

Do you have any questions or valuable additions to this article? Please make yourself heard.