Digital Strategy Must-Haves

By: David Whitehouse

Are you at risk of “getting Uber’d?” With smart devices accepted as the new standard, and more and more start-ups reinventing tried and true industries (like what Uber has done to the taxi industry), ignoring the disruptive qualities of digital is no longer an option. Whether your organization has grown from digital roots or is a traditional brick-and-mortar developing a targeted digital innovation, the need to include digital in your business thinking is crucial for future success.

What follows next is a set of five “must-haves” that your organization should include in its thinking when developing a digital strategy. As part of an ongoing series, we will unpack each of these components, explore their value, identify methodologies for defining them and support them with relevant industry case studies.

1. Define the Problem. Honestly.

Before heading down the digital-solutions path, qualify the real problem in front of you. Often harder than it looks, begin by conducting an analysis of your competitive landscape, market externalities, and consumer behaviors, and reflecting on your companies own conduct and performance. This process will inevitably reveal some painful realities, but the benefit is that it allows for treatment to be localized rather than misdirected. So, once identified, create a set of problem statements with clear, focused and measurable language, and seek comfort in the uncomfortable – for the path toward solution begins here.

2. Create a Digital Vision that Future-Proofs

Informed by an external analysis and some internal reflection on your organization’s aspirations, the crux of any well-planned digital strategy is an inspiring vision. For digital specifically, a powerful vision is one that future-proofs your organization’s relevance. The spectrum of digitally-minded vision statements may range from improving customer experience (“make commerce easy for everyone”) like mobile payment service Square, to disrupting an industry business model (“become a platform for music”) like the on-demand music provider Spotify. Where possible, involve a cross-section of your organization’s leaders in the creation process; this is your first chance to test their tolerance for digital transformation.

3. Capture the Customer Experience

As organizations’ business models evolve from being product-centric to customer-centric, the user takes an even more prominent position in your digital strategy development. Invaluable customer insights can be discovered through in-context interviews, analysis of social networks, and studying consumer behaviors. Think critically about how you can best connect with your customers to create the best experiences possible. Walt Disney put this best when he was creating the Disney experience: “You don’t build it for yourself. You know what the people want, and you build it for them.”

4. Conduct a Reality Check on Your Capabilities

Pressure-test your digital strategies and pose the question: Can we realistically deliver on the objectives we have set before us? Perform a high-level business and technology audit focused on assessing your current capabilities and their ability to perform in an ever-evolving world. This exercise will assist in identifying the key relationships, strengths, and pain points in your existing business model, and how those will affect your ability to deliver on the strategy. The role your company’s culture plays is not to be left out of this analysis. Without a corporate culture that enables and empowers employees to participate and support digital initiatives, pushing start on any digital venture risks almost immediate stalling.

5. Construct a Results-Focused Strategic Roadmap

The anchor of any strategic planning effort is the roadmap. You know, the beautiful multi-colored graphic on which you invested all of your designer’s time and effort? A necessity for sequencing and prioritizing your plans, a well-laid strategic roadmap outlines your agenda across a multi-year timeframe. What makes a digital roadmap unique is the need to show tangible results in rapid fashion to gain momentum with impatient consumers and stakeholders that may question its true value and utility. Consider the use of prototypes to test-pilot what a digitally-connected solution looks and feels like to your user community. This exercise is a low-risk, high-reward scenario that provides feedback and generates momentum from stakeholders while revealing invaluable lessons that can be incorporated into the larger digital victory in-play.

David Whitehouse

As a leader in Sapient's global business consulting practice, David brings over 15 years of experience to Fortune 500 and nonprofit clients. David is an expert in strategy and operations consulting at the nexus of marketing and technology with deep expertise in developing business plans, designing customer engagement models and leading digital technology implementations. If David is not presenting on the latest trends in digital business at national industry events, or authoring articles on how to design organizations to create value, you can find him on the soccer field with his kids.