Digital Transformation will not only force you to do different things, but also to do things differently. A couple of new business mantras need to be introduced and should become part of everyone’s thinking. Anything you do, anything you develop, anything you roll-out toward the market, it should always be driven from a new set of basic rules that determine your view on the world from now on:
1. THE CUSTOMER ALWAYS DECIDES.
As a taxi company you might not like it that Uber is successful, yet if customers decide they go the Uber-way, you are dead meat. The most important driver for any new business idea is whether or not it resonates with customers. It is no longer easy to mass-manipulate a market through traditional media, so we need to earn the attention of our users. The questions of tomorrow should not sound like: “is it something we can do, does it make profit, is it legal, does it cannibalize our legacy business?” From now on the most fundamental questions become: “do customers want it, do they use it?” Every other decision should follow these answers.
2. ALL THINGS YOU DO MUST START FROM A SUPERIOR USER EXPERIENCE.
A system you roll out that looks bad “because this is how it comes out of the back-end” will fail. If your transactional platforms still resemble early-nineties screen design, because your back-office does indeed have a legacy that goes back decades, it will no longer be accepted by people that are used to interfaces from the mobile and tablet era. The things you build should not only work, but also be relevant and beautiful. This is not only valid to what is typically contained in the digital world (think sites, apps, etc), but will also determine how real-world experiences look, how we visit shops, how we use our cars, and so on.
3. FROM NOW ON YOU ARE AN AGILE AND FLEXIBLE COMPANY.
Of course we understand all the reasons why it takes a year to define a business need and translate it into tech-speak, why it takes another year to find someone who can build it, just to wait two more years before you get something live. We understand the reasons, but they are the wrong reasons. Startups do not do it like that. If it takes you years to create a bad-looking, company-centric, outdated application, while they adapt to customer-centric market needs in a matter of weeks or months, you can guess who will win this race. Of course, their solution is not compliant, did not pass legal and risk, nor is it built on IBM, Microsoft, Oracle or SAP technology. But still: it is there, in the market, pulling away your clients, destroying your business. The irony is that the better you are organized today, the harder it will be to become agile and flexible. Operational excellence often stands in the way of everything you need to be in this new digital world to face your disrupters.
4. YOU LIVE IN A WORLD OF UNCERTAINTY.
Nothing is ever finished and by the time you master something, something else is already taking its place. This means that you need to be able to handle different speeds while managing your company: a long-term vision, a strategy that is both long-term and short-term, and the operational capabilities to change course in the shortest possible timespan. Life has become a permanent beta: manage it that way, reward the successes and never punish the failures that are due to change.
5. ALWAYS PLAY ON THE OFFENSE INSTEAD OF ON THE DEFENSE.
Do not wait for the next Uber, Tesla or Airbnb to arrive in your industry to do things differently. As a company you need to go all-in, trying to challenge yourself as much as possible. You have to take your future in your own hands, don’t let it depend on others. Playing on the offense will put you in the drivers seat with a positive, creative mindset. If you are playing the waiting game, you are forced to start catching up when new players enter the market. That is a totally different ballgame. When your business is at stake you will make decisions out of protection, not out of creativity. Do not make it easy for newbies entering your market to hurt your business, scare them away by showing your innovative spirit and eagerness.
6. DON’T BE AFRAID TO CANNIBALIZE YOUR OWN BUSINESS.
If you see that the audience is developing new habits and this leads to new services and products, you should develop and market them yourself. Know that if you fail to do so, others will succeed, and you will lose part of your traditional business. If you decide to become your own competitor, you will still lose part of the old business, but this time you will lose it to yourself, and this is a much more comfortable position to be in. You will get a lot of pressure and resistance from the traditional powers in your company that want to protect their old business for as long as they can. Ignore them.
7. NEVER, EVER DISRESPECT NEW OR SMALL PLAYERS.
No matter how big you are as a company, always stay humble and keep an eye on the ball. Too many people in large companies are making fun of new or small players in their industry, instead of investigating what they are really up to. In many cases, execs are not even aware of their existence. Startups are thriving on this arrogance of traditional companies. Digital has enabled them to bring multinationals to their knees.
Mahatma Gandhi summarized it like this:
“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter, famously tweeted this quote a few months before Twitter went public. Take all new initiatives seriously, and never feel superior because of the size of your company or its position in the market.