The Key to Digital Transformation? ‘Disrupt Yourself Before You Become Disrupted’

Digital transformation is about a customer-first approach .

A shopper’s smartphone buzzes as she walks into a Nike store. Her NikePlus app notifies her that the latest running shoe is available at 25 percent off. Her app knows she recently posted questions about shoes in her runners’ group on Facebook. It also knows she’s in the store, so it offers her tips on her purchasing decision.

This type of engagement represents a new era in how retailers interact with customers and conceive of the role of brick-and-mortar stores. It’s part of a companywide digital transformation that Nike has been implementing for years.

“It’s all about personalizing, and it’s all about being present where the consumer is,” says Genaro Lopez, Nike’s director of enterprise records and information management. “Now our stores are much more like experiences. They’re brand storytelling, where someone will come in and they will get inspired by the different elements of the collection that’s being presented to them. They may not make a purchase at that exact moment, but they’ve started down a journey that will ultimately end up with them really becoming a loyal partner with us as we go.”

Customer expectations are higher than ever — they increasingly demand personalized experiences across all channels. And in this environment, the purpose of digital transformation always must be to put the customer first. Companies that tackle digital innovation with a customer-first approach are well-positioned to outperform their competitors. As Genaro says, this innovation will require companies to take calculated risks and be willing to adopt a new mantra: “Disrupt yourself before you become disrupted.”

How to think about digital transformation

Technological change isn’t easy for businesses to keep up with, in part because harnessing it requires turning traditional business wisdom on its head. Digital transformation needs an “outside-in” approach to value creation, where the customers’ needs and experiences are essential to your brand’s success. This approach contrasts to the usual inside-out approach that prioritizes your company’s inner strengths and orientations in making decisions about how to best serve your customers.

“Digital transformation is nothing but business transformation,” says Vishal Sarkar, global lead for digital sales and service at Avanade, a leading provider of innovative digital and cloud services, business solutions, and design-led experiences. “It’s ‘How does the business align to the customer’s needs?’”

Dan Veitch, international IT strategy and innovation director at Aetna International, adds that companies need to be purposeful about how they embrace these changes.

“There needs to be a reason behind digital transformation. The business needs to live up to customer expectations. There needs to be a common purpose across the organization and a key vision,” he says.

Despite the relative simplicity of this concept, many companies are hesitant to dive into digital transformation. For many, the problem lies in not knowing where to begin. It’s essential to think about digital transformation in a way that clarifies your goals and streamlines implementation. If you or your leadership team can’t, transformation becomes a challenge.

Start by taking a mile-high view of how your product or service helps customers on a fundamental level. Then look at how every element of your business can be repositioned to support that process.

“Digital transformation is about cultural change,” says Aneesh Chopra, president of CareJourney and the former chief technology officer for the Obama administration. “It’s about understanding the purpose for which your customers are using your service and what problem you are helping them solve. Digital transformation is to make sure that you’re bringing to bear all the assets within your enterprise — and in combination with information outside of your enterprise — to help people meet their needs where they are.”” frameborder=

Nitesh Aggarwal, head of sales effectiveness at Infosys, offers a three-tiered approach to digital transformation: Identify emotional impact, define the customer journey, and structure organizational change.

  1. Identify emotional impact: Clearly identify what you want your customers to feel as they interact with your brand. Digital experience is centered on creating an emotional connection. It’s essential to agree across the organization what emotions drive customer loyalty and engagement, and then focus on fostering that connection.
  2. Define the customer journey: Work to understand how your customers interact with your brand across a wide range of touchpoints, including your website, apps, physical locations, mail, email, and social media. Successful engagement with your customers will be consistent, well-designed, and personalized.
  3. Structure organizational change: The complex effort of serving customers personalized content at scale can be hamstrung by inefficient internal processes. Once leadership sets and prioritizes the overarching vision, its best to conduct internal audits to find gaps in capability and opportunities for transformation.

“There is an opportunity now to disrupt — in a positive way — the changes which you can offer to the consumer,” Dan says. “Thinking about things in terms of a different approach becomes an easier concept with digital transformation. So try to not think about how the business currently works — look at what the future holds in terms of opportunity that digital transformation actually brings to the market.”” frameborder=

Digital transformation is organizational transformation

Nike’s sports marketing legal team likes to tell the story about signing an endorsement deal with an athlete at the NFL Combine. The athlete is considering signing on, but the clock is running out — the player’s next meeting with Nike’s competitor starts in 15 minutes. The team knows they need that athlete’s signature immediately or the deal’s gone. So they get out an iPad, pull up the pre-prepared signature-ready agreement, and execute it right there on the spot.

The team’s ability to spring into action was the result of a thorough digital transformation process that has touched every aspect of Nike’s business. The legal team adopted Adobe Sign software to automate and digitize the contract execution process. It even built an internal digital dashboard that gives red, yellow, or green guidance to the legal team around the world.

In a world where customers expect constant innovation and are attracted by new products and approaches, getting deals signed quickly is tantamount to serving customers better. Like corporate lawyers everywhere, Nike’s attorneys used to sign deals by shipping hundreds or thousands of pages around the globe to be initialed. With Adobe Sign in place, Nike is now able to move more quickly and decisively, whether in inking a marketing deal with an NFL star or in agreeing on a production process for a new product. Its customers benefit from the agile operations that enable the innovation they desire.

An organization with a digital transformation mindset is focused on possibility, not limitation. Moving an organization toward this mindset means that digital transformation can’t be considered a “project” with an end point after which the company can cease innovating its systems and processes.

“Focusing on your customer means you’re always transforming,” says Fred Faulkner, partner at ICF Next. “The point is to connect with your customer in the most feasible, the most realistic, and the most anticipated way possible to provide value. That is not a project. That’s the reason why your business exists.”

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