For the past years, few things have been discussed as much as (digital) transformation. We can hardly blame the industry for being borderline obsessed with the word: it’s a term that signifies tremendous change, the ability to move with the times; a coveted competence that should be at the heart of every business. With companies like Google, Amazon and Uber leading the way, the future will consist of industries dominated by transformative companies.
Yet the issue of transformation has remained tricky. Being aware of the shift in the way people consume products and services is one thing, but responding adequately to this revolution is another. More often than not, businesses are still organised in old-fashioned ways, finding themselves in uncharted territory when trying to transform.
The truth is that listening to the consumer and transforming along with them is not only essential to the survival of any business, but when it’s done right it will also make a company thrive. In retail, the shining example is Amazon. For a company that started out in 1995 as a highly underestimated alternative to bookstores, it has turned some heads along the way. From allowing second-hand books to be sold on the site to transforming into a multi-seller marketplace handling shipping for smaller companies, Amazon is constantly trying to eliminate any “pains” in the purchasing process in an effort to create added value for its consumers. To that end, the company has been offering exceptional service while harnessing the power of data.
More often than not, businesses are still organised in old-fashioned ways, finding themselves in uncharted territory when trying to transform.
In fact, leveraging data is of vital importance in the transformation trajectory of any business. Doug Gurr, who was at the helm of Amazon’s Chinese branch at the time, argued in an interview for McKinsey: “[…]the transformative technology of the early 21st century will be data informatics, and I think it will happen much faster than most people assume. It’s a classic distinctive capability. I think in ten years’ time, in any business sector, the performance gap between an organization that invests in data informatics and one that doesn’t will be huge.”
Another role model is the New York Times, currently going through the biggest strategic transformation in the paper’s 165-year history. In a market that is seeing print readership dwindle and is anxiously waiting for print media to lose its relevance, a transformative business strategy is not just a competitive advantage – it is essential for the company to survive. So, as part of their new approach, The New York Times is following in the footsteps of other transformative media players like Netflix and Spotify to attract and retain younger readers. The newspaper is successfully turning its subscription plan around to reflect the lives of multi-platform millennials by investing in its core offering (journalism) while continuously expanding with new online services and products tailored to their readers’ needs and wishes – ultimately becoming an integral part of people’s daily lives.
Judging from success stories one might wonder: Why isn’t everyone on board with transformation yet? Let’s face it: future-proofing a business is no easy task. Not only do we see business leaders stuck in pre-WWII thinking, unable to step out of their comfort zone and not adept at enforcing long-lasting change, many companies also lack the bandwidth to deal with everything that accompanies such drastic change. Transformation means strategically aligning a company’s activities, people, culture and structure towards the same goal. Part of that is to put digital and corporate strategies side by side, making sure they work towards the same goal.
Businesses often fall into the trap of navel-gazing while trying to kickstart a transformation strategy, when they actually require an outside-in approach. This is where agencies can provide a solution, helping brands and businesses navigate the slippery slope of politics and stakeholders from an outsider’s perspective. It’s easy to get side-tracked in this process, which is why a strategic transformation roadmap can provide a solution to stay on track. Design-thinking, a creative, human-centered problem-solving approach that generates ideas in a collaborative way while leveraging empathy, can further aid the necessary shift in the way a company thinks and operates.
Skeptics point out that in some companies, talking about transformation often overpowers the actual process. They argue ‘it’s all talk, no action’. And in a way, they’re right. Many businesses approach transformation as a one-off project, when it should be a long-term, deep-diving change, a constant flux in which a company listens to the consumer and fine tunes accordingly. The danger is that transformation gets mixed up with innovation – the rethinking or reimagining of a business process that already exists. Instead, it focuses on forming completely new processes and strategies, changing the foundational components of a business to meet the ever-changing demands of the consumer.
Any company, big or small, should prepare itself to transform in the near future. Step by step. Embracing transformation as a strategy will fundamentally change the makeup of a company, which may sound daunting, but it is necessary to stay ahead of the curve and prepare for the disruptive, digital future that is upon us.