StrategyOct 10, 2016

What Is Digital Today?

Justin Bell and Kyle Wahlquist

As business leaders, all of our challenges are digital in nature. The term digital has come to mean many things to many people, so what is digital today?

In all of the digital conferences and conversations we have participated in, it always seems that people are talking about the pieces that make up digital, but they are rarely talking about (or defining) what digital is.

You will hear people talk about email marketing, PPC, SEO, e-commerce, omnichannel, and the long list of other internet/marketing technologies that companies are working with today. You may hear about the inclusion of user experience, strategic approaches, or the need for more mobile apps, but what you don’t hear is a conversation on “What is digital?” In other words, everyone is describing the trees, but they are having trouble describing the forest.

To understand what digital is and where it is headed, it is important to understand how it began.

The History of Digital:

The term digital isn’t new. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, mathematicians and engineers created a new type of computer. These new machines operated on data that was represented as a series of numerical digits. For example, in such a system the letter A might be represented as the sequence ‘01000001’. Any machine that used that approach was therefore known as digital.

Later, starting in the 1970s and 80s, many types of information gained a digital equivalent: a laser disc could store a film as digital video and digital sound, digital music could be purchased on a CD, and filmless cameras could be used to produce a digital photograph.

Digital has come to be applied to pretty much anything involving computer technology or the internet—its association with numerical digits is almost entirely forgotten.

The more modern definition of digital typically involves the activities and technologies that emerged at the intersection (and pain points) between marketing and IT. As consumer technology (e.g., computers, smart phones, etc.) became mainstream, marketers needed to leverage technology in a much heavier way to reach their customers. And those technologies continue to change dramatically—creating the need to move fast and adapt constantly. This was often in conflict with the traditional approaches to IT that were more focused on stability, predictability, and cost control.

Digital point solutions and approaches began to emerge, including e-commerce, email marketing, social marketing, etc.

But digital now means something more than that. It now represents a way of doing things more than the actual things themselves. Success in digital requires looking at business challenges from different angles and perspectives, finding efficiencies and the unlocking value across the business, and in embracing disruption and innovation.

The Growing Impact of Digital

Many organizations are focusing on the impact of their marketing channels and improving the customer experience. Companies are also looking to have a more comprehensive view of their data. They are adding new products to their portfolio, where they can add touchpoints to the user and also collect more insights through added data.

However, only viewing digital as a solution for customers is an incomplete model. Many companies are also finding that to stay competitive and keep the top talent, they must connect their staff with digital solutions for internal communication, process management, and product development. You need to think about digital across the different departmental silos to get the maximum value. When used in a more complete model, digital is also redesigning an internal user’s effectiveness by producing better processes, technologies, and skill sets. This allows for the company to interact cross-departmentally, allowing them to coordinate and more rapidly affect the market.

Digital defined: digital is unlocking new business value by creating better experiences for your customers and employees.

What Digital Is Becoming

Digital is on a trajectory of transformation.

By integrating multiple skill sets across departments for better technology offerings and offering more holistic solutions, digital is transforming the business model itself. Digital will lead the companies that will continue to be relevant, onward and upward into the coming world where all business models have to compete and survive with technology disruptors.

Some people today refer to non-digital companies as “analog.” I would prefer to think of these as legacy companies. A legacy company is a company model that has not transitioned its core business model and value proposition into a technology solution.

All industries can be made better with better data, better customer experience, and better product design. At the current rate of disruption, it is hard to imagine a world where we will have any “analog” companies in 20 years.

We have seen it time and time again in industry after industry. Technology finds a way to disrupt the market by revolutionizing the user experience, making the old business model of the industry obsolete. Uber made car service an enjoyable experience, Apple revolutionized music, YouTube democratized media. Of course these are all what we would call “tech” companies. Digital is the path to enhance your business from a legacy company into a business that cannot only compete, but can lead in a world of digital disruptors.

This is the future of digital. It will not be just aligning marketing channels. It will not be just realizing that your product offerings need to be technology driven. Digital will be realizing that your company, if it will survive as a market leader, is a technology company, providing digital solutions at the core of its business model.

Your product, people, and processes will need to be able to compete with technological excellence and efficiency. Your organization will learn how to think, manage, and produce your solutions differently and at all levels.

These big, transformational changes are very hard and require far more than an investment in new technologies. They require:

  • A clear and solid strategy for how technology can be used to transform the business and provide better customer experiences.

  • A culture that embraces change and collaboration.

  • The technological capabilities to execute the strategy quickly and efficiently.

Otherwise, these digital transformation initiatives will end up just like the failed enterprise resource planning projects of the past we’ve all heard about or been a part of.

digital users

Digital is currently a seed for your business’s future potential. It is a Trojan horse, and you are on the side sieging Troy. It is the basis of current technological proficiency. It will become the benchmark for how organizations innovate and create market solutions.

How can we help you realize your digital potential?

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