How to become a digital business

How to become a digital business

As a business providing a digital tool to digitally orientated businesses, at Axis we're always working to understand the characteristics of a "digital business". Our take is that a digital business has three essential characteristics:

  1. An obsession with meeting customer needs and desires
  2. Iterative and agile delivery of superior experiences and increased efficiency
  3. The continuous pursuit of data-driven competitive advantage

These characteristics are intrinsic in companies like Amazon and Google. The problem is for organisations that had a big business pre-digital. Their analogue reflection is staring back at them in the mirror, reinforced by their orthodoxies, culture, processes, systems and talent. To make the shift to digital requires a systemic change in ways of working across the organisation, and this is not easy.

So how can digitisation help to shift the culture of a pre-digital business?

Workplace technology can enable the required change

One simple but often overlooked aspect is workplace technology – whether for collaboration, innovation, or project management. How people work on a day-to-day basis is hugely influenced by the technology they have available to them. Think of the impact of Excel and conference calling: it is hard to imagine modern business without them.

And yet the approach to workplace technology is often flawed:

  • Blow the budget on one or two amazing innovation and collaboration spaces whilst most of the workforce remain constrained by a limited collaboration toolset
  • Workplace IT is first on the chopping block as IT is forced to meet cost reduction targets
  • Penalise anyone who looks to use a SaaS product outside of the standard toolbox, even if the product is better or there is no ‘authorised’ alternative
  • If someone finds a great tool and tries to get it through corporate IT and Procurement, they face a 9-12 month wait for approval with an enterprise contract

These approaches restrict the ability of big corporates to compete in a digital economy.

Take running a workshop as an example which is close to our hearts at Axis. Traditionally, everyone had to travel to the same location, a professional facilitator had to be hired and a team would be brought in to prep and write-up. An individual workshop could easily cost upwards of $20k in budget terms, without even considering the opportunity cost of taking people out of the line for a number of days. This, therefore, has restricted their use to the most strategic and material issues.

With digital workshop facilitation, a brilliant workshop can be run remotely, with guided facilitation and no write-up at one thousandth of the cost. Suddenly, workshops become a widely used means of co-creation and collaboration, displacing ineffectual meetings and email chains.

Some businesses are moving too slowly to take advantage of this digital revolution - some existentially so. With the pace of innovation accelerating with powerful new capabilities available across remote collaboration and conference calling, workshop and meeting facilitation, prototyping and design, customer engagement and feedback, data mash-up and visualisation, and project management, it's easy to see how businesses big and small can quickly get left behind. See here for great examples of some of the tools available.

What needs to change?

The starting point is leadership from the top, down, to enable change from the bottom, up. Workplace technology and tooling must be viewed as a source of competitive advantage and a key enabler to pivot to a digital business. This requires a change in workplace IT as a function and capability. Specifically:

  • Support and promote bottom-up identification and adoption of new tools – people will find things that make them more effective and their jobs easier; IT and procurement need to become enablers to be able to adopt tools quickly, rather than block with policy and process
  • Simplify and accelerate the process to onboard new suppliers. Take a process that takes months and shrink it to weeks, at least for piloting and early adoption
  • Have a workplace innovation team, which replicates the successes seen in customer facing technologies. Scan for new tools, pilot and build a partner ecosystem that goes beyond the traditional big players.
  • Make tooling a core part of the employee value proposition and to help develop business critical skills e.g. adoption of agile and design thinking at scale
  • Find bright spots and replicate them. Identify teams who are working in new ways and collaborate with them to promote their learning and experiences
  • Don’t always drive homogeneity in tooling - think of the move to bring your own devices. Different teams have different needs and SaaS products allow economic deployment of capability without cross-enterprise standardisation. Push vendors toward open API based architectures (already the direction of travel for collaboration tooling) so different tools can integrate with ease
  • Consider both the physical and digital together as an integrated approach to drive workforce performance

With these practical steps any organisation can begin to shift the way in which people work, collaborate and innovate and in doing so provide a source of sustainable competitive advantage whatever the business strategy.

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