What can a WW2 veteran teach us about digital transformation?

As companies convince themselves that they’re undergoing a digital transformation process, they’re often just creating a software version of a paper system. Is that enough? Is it truly transformational? The answer has to be: NO.

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In 2003, I entered the world of CRM. My grandfather, Allen Slade, was excited to hear about my career change and asked me to explain what this ‘CRM thing’ was all about.

After serving in the African and Italian campaigns of World War 2, Allen returned to his wife in South Africa and fathered twin boys. He named them after two soldiers that saved his life during perilous combat. Joining the Shell company as a clerk, he spent the next 37 years serving his customers in a variety of roles and ultimately managed the aviation and farming divisions for Shell.

As I told Allen about CRM, the software that would transform how companies managed relationships with customers, he listened intently. Once I finished, he took a long and thoughtful pause and finally said: “It sounds exactly like what my reps used to do on our call sheets and in our paper diaries. The only difference is that you’re doing it with computer software.”

I’ll never forget his comment nor the way it took the wind out of my sails.

Digital transformation – a better understanding

Allen was right. At the time, CRM was simply a software version of a paper-based system that had existed for decades. In recent years, the rise of ‘Digital Transformation’ has brought Allen’s comments to my mind once again. As companies convince themselves that they’re undergoing a digital transformation process, they’re often just creating a software version of a paper system. Is that enough? Is it truly transformational? The answer has to be: NO.

Here are the five things that will put you on the path to true digital transformation:

1. Honest self-assessment

Start with an honest self-assessment of your business. The areas to consider are your leadership (who own strategy), your teams, your technology platform, your products/ services and most importantly, your customers. Which areas require attention? Trace the root cause of the concern and attempt to quantify what would happen if that particular area transformed.

Create a prioritised list based on the impact this would have on the business.

Ask yourself: “Are we generating 4x industry best profits and doing it without drama?” If the answer is no, you have an opportunity.

2. It’s all about customers

Take a look at your strategy. Is it built around your customers? It should be. Putting your customer at the centre of the business changes the way that the teams engage, and defines how you create new products and services.

Map out the customer journey and you’ll see each of the touchpoints that influence customer experience. Each touchpoint is an opportunity for data collection and digital transformation. Compare this to the prioritised list created during the self-assessment and you might be surprised with the opportunities uncovered.

3. Choose wisely and be agile

Choose your technology platform wisely. Then iterate, learn and adapt fast. This is hard. Outdated technology solutions are woven into the fabric of your business. To maintain these systems requires substantial investment both in cash and human resources. Enabling digital transformation within your business needs a modern technology platform. This platform needs to be secure, integrated, rapidly extensible and one that supports the automation of your standard operating procedures.

Choose wisely and avoid lengthy implementations. Instead, make small adjustments that allow you to iterate, learn and adapt based on that learning. Microsoft, under the leadership of CEO Satya Nadella, has transformed their own business to deliver a platform that enables companies to transform themselves digitally.

4. Actionable insight

Data and reports are worthless unless they enable you to take action based on the insight. Build trust in your data quality by improving validation at the point of entry and then ensure that reports aren’t delayed. If this is not in place, reports and the data they represent won’t be trusted – ultimately rendering them useless. When our Data Intelligence Team works with customers, they typically ask these questions:

•Where is this data coming from?

•How often is it updated?

•Why is it being captured?

•What is the best way to represent this data?

•Who needs access to this information?

• What is this chart/piece of data telling us?

• What action can be taken based on the insight?

• How do we measure the impact of that action?

5. Data-driven machine learning and AI

As your volume of data grows, it easily becomes disconnected, disparate and duplicated. It’s impossible to solve this challenge with human intervention alone. Using Machine Learning and A.I. your platform should map, match and then intelligently merge your data. You should have overall control of the merging, but your platform should inform you of the confidence level of the match and you can then set thresholds. At a certain threshold, the match can be completed automatically, but less certain matches will be flagged for human review. In following this approach to your data, you will truly maintain a single view of your customer and all of their related data.

Digital Transformation can feel like a massive task. At my business, The CRM Team, we’ve helped companies from around the globe to tackle their digital transformation journey. We apply the principles above while remembering a piece of wisdom from my grandfather, Allen Slade: “For goodness sake, keep it simple buddy.”

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About the Author
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Paul Slade

Founder and CEO, The CRM Team

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