Want a Smooth Digital Transformation? Ask These Seven Questions

In my role at Adobe, I hear directly and daily about the challenges, opportunities and successes of hundreds of CEOs, CMOs and other digital officers as they navigate the digital transformation of their businesses.

We have a lot of conversations about technology platforms and software, but the most interesting are those around the business and cultural impact technology has on the business.

How is digital transformation affecting your customer’s experience?

This is the first question to ask, and in some ways, the hardest to answer. The soul of digital transformation is not about technology. It’s about creating new experiences for your customers and engaging them more effectively. To be truly successful with digital transformation, you need to place your customer at the center of everything you do.

That starts with being brutally honest about how well they understand their customers, and being diligent about creating the culture, workflows and analytical knowledge necessary to elevate the customer’s voice and experience throughout the organization.

Imagine it’s two years from now, 2020, and your executive team is on the cover of Fortune magazine. Why are you there? What was the pivotal moment that made it all happen?

By focusing on my customer’s key goals and vision in a time period that has enough of a lead time to think beyond the day-to-day obstacles, but not too far away that it loses immediacy, it remains actionable.

Digital moves fast, and businesses need to act on their strategic goals with a sense of urgency. To answer this question well, you should be able to clearly articulate your core business opportunity, and how to leverage your strengths to achieve it. Thinking about the pivotal moment where everything clicks will help you understand your key challenges and problems that are standing in your way.

My customers answer this in many different ways depending on the nature of their business. It often boils down to (a) getting our board and executive team aligned to approve the spend we needed, or (b) changing our culture and previously siloed groups to now work together effectively.

This leads into the next two questions.

How will you measure the success of your business?

Digital transformation often comes with a new set of KPIs, or key performance indicators. It’s more than tracking new customer data, analyzing digital experiences or measuring an increase in conversion — although all these things should be a key part of your analytics strategy.

Businesses need to think deeper about KPI’s. For example, is it more important to track this month’s revenue, or to measure the year-long, or even life-long value of a customer? Should you track and reward how well your internal teams work together? Are you incentivizing your teams for building customer knowledge and expertise?

The most challenging part of managing digital transformation is not technical, but cultural, therefore changing the way you track and reward success across your business is a crucial tool for breaking down siloes and promoting cultural change. It helps the whole business focus on the things that matter

Is your board on board?

Let’s face it, true digital transformation often comes with a big spend and a lot of internal changes. It’s a strategic investment decision, and it’s going to be a hit on cost-savings. It often requires changes to management and reporting structures. The transformation is so intertwined with every aspect of the business that it’s almost impossible to drive from the middle-out. The entire business has to be bought in from the board, to the CEO, and throughout the organization.

For businesses that aren’t born digital, there can be a generational challenge with your board members. They may be experts at business, but novices when it comes to digital. If the answer to this question is anything less than an enthusiastic, “Yes!” then you know you have some education and lobbying work to do.

Where will you find your quick wins?

True digital transformation is a years-long journey for most businesses, but nobody has two years to wait before they show results. I ask my customers to think about where they can show quick wins in a quarter-by-quarter time frame.

Like any big change to your business, there will be doubters and nay-sayers inside the organization. Even your supporters may be anxious. Being able to demonstrate quick wins and results within a 60-90 day timeframe goes a long way towards silencing critics and growing your transformation. Think about the use cases or customers that will be impacted by digital first, and make sure you have a plan for sharing those quick wins.

How is data flowing through your organization?

If the heart of digital transformation is customer experiences, then the life blood of customer experiences is data. Data is the most valuable asset any digital business has, but it’s also the most underutilized.

Data is your insight into the customer — who they are, what they want, how they behave. You can’t create good digital experiences without it. The problem is that most businesses’ data exists across siloed and unconnected systems.

It’s imperative that you understand where your data exists today in every single part of the business, where you have gaps, what new data you’ll have available and what your plan is for getting it all connected and working together in support of the customer.

It also means thinking more broadly than how you can leverage customer data to drive sales and revenue. You need to consider personalization, privacy, and how your data can be used to reward customers and build long-term relationships.

Are you prepared to deal with the challenges of scale?

Going digital takes many of the opportunities and challenges faced by traditional businesses and grows them exponentially. With digital experiences, global brands need to be able to interact with tens of thousands of customers, not every day, but every second. Creating engaging, personalized experiences requires additional customer data, greater attention to detail in managing the customer journey and a huge amount of content — all delivered at just the right time, in just the right way, across hundreds of different devices and channels. When applied to marketing, we call it content velocity. But complete digital transformation is about more than the scale of content velocity. It’s also about managing the scale of operational efficiency inside the business. You can only take advantage of the growth opportunities of digital if you are prepared to scale every part of your business to grow with it.

That means thinking about technology and culture. Content delivery and operational excellence and efficiency. Making those changes — building a customer-oriented culture, integrating workflows across once disparate parts of the business, and rethinking the way you measure success — are as equally important as selecting and implementing the right technology platforms.