“Going digital”: is it just hype, or should it mean more?

Today’s businesses, including those in the Caribbean, tend to pride themselves on “going digital”, but what does that mean? And is whatever is done, is it enough?


Without a doubt, today’s businesses and organisations must learn not only navigate, but to thrive, in
today’s environment. Currently, we have unprecedented development and use of technology, which has transformed our societies, including the way businesses and countries operate, along with consumer behaviour, attitudes and expectation. As a result, the terms ‘digital age’ and ‘information age’ are now used to highlight the dramatic shift that has occurred occurred in our economies from industrialisation and the ‘industrial age’, which began in the mid-1800s.

Hence, over the past several years, the term ‘going digital’ has been used by organisations, from small businesses to large corporates, to signify that some digital transformation is occurring. However, ‘going digital’ can mean different things to different organisations, and may include one or more of the following (which itself is not an exhaustive list):

  • going paperless, by digitising key processes
  • Incorporating digital platforms and channels, such as social media, cloud computing, mobile, into operations
  • computerising as many processes as possible
  • Incorporating more analytics and big data into the strategy development and decision making processes
  • creating a digital strategy for the organisation, which speaks to how technology will be used.

For many organisations, especially those in the Caribbean, the above points represents the extent of the transformation that has been occurring in this ‘digital age’, which essentially is focussed almost exclusively on operational adjustments. However, is that enough?

Future-proofing your business

This fact must be re-emphasised: technology is changing the way business is being done: both internal to the organisation in how it operates, and externally, in its relationship with its customers, its competitors and partners, along with how it is seen in its industry. It is thus incumbent on business leaders and decision makers – cognisant of the landscape that exists and is continuing to emerge – to identify and implement strategies to future-proof their businesses that not only ensure their long-term survival, but also their relevance in the ever-evolving marketplace.

However, while many businesses have been focussing on digitising their operations, frequently, it is with the objective of maintaining the existing  business concept and model. They are not paying attention to how the environment is changing, specifically the impact of digital technology on, among other things:

  • how business is being done
  • emerging trends and developments in their industry
  • customer behaviour and expectations.

Hence two questions that ought to be asked are: ‘What impact is digital technology having on my industry?” Second, “does my current business model still work in that emerging/changing space?”

To answer those questions properly, careful research is necessary to understand the developments in the industry of focus. Thereafter, it would be equally important for there to be a rigorous and dispassionate examination of the business within the context of the wider industry to determine the extent it might need to change.

Impact on customer base

As more digital strategies are implemented, the ways in which a business engages its customers can also broaden or change. Further, depending on how the business changes, the customer base may also change, which may not be limited to just customer demographic, but correspondingly customer behaviour and expectations will also change.

For example, if delivery of goods and/or services is moves online, such as a brick-and-mortar book store expands to sell books over the Internet, and include electronic (e-) books, it means that, among other things, those new customers customers must be digitally savvy, comfortable in conducting electronic transactions, and own devices on which to read e-books. Accordingly, the ways in which those customers are engaged and kept, would most likely be different from the tactics used for the a physical store.

Impact on perceived value to customers

Following on the earlier points, depending on the extent to which the product or service offerings change, it could affect the firm’s value proposition to its customers. Accordingly, this is a matter that ought be carefully examined so that the business ensures that it correctly communicate what is value proposition is to it customers. Further, as digital technology continues to transform our lives, it is essential that businesses realise that “customer expectations go beyond ease of use; they’re now expecting proactive experiences”  (Source: Harvard Business Review)

 

Image credit:  Stuart Miles (FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

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