Digital customers – fast, nice and easy
The Internet has spoiled us: we have grown accustomed to having everything “right here and right now”. Customers expect zero stock-outs, intuitive interfaces, mobile sales platforms and personalized treatment from sales personnel and customer service. Such expectations spill over into other areas of life. People want to be able to access their electricity bills and bank loan documents and acquire new smartphone models within a matter of seconds. When applying for loans, we question the system: “Why should I have to prove my income if my employer transfers my pay to my account every month”? The bank should be able to see this in the system rather than bothering me about it.
Keeping up with digitization leaders
One can easily name the companies that have helped change customer behavior. They include the two sales and distribution giants Apple and Amazon, which have identified the needs of “digital” customers and offered them instant services. They have proven it is possible to search for a product online, buy it securely and have it delivered instantly. Such companies have begun to change the market. The majority of technology sellers today are following suit. They spoil customers with automated easy-to-operate buying platforms. Many others struggle to keep up and live up to the challenge.
The process of embracing new standards is complex and multilevel. Many local companies which have been around for a dozen plus years are suddenly forced to compete with global players who employ new management methods and rely on digital solutions. More often than not, the challenge of digitizing smaller operations lies not as much in the IT systems themselves as in the flexibility of business management and a progressive approach to customers. Equally significant is the behavior of managers and workers, who dread change and tend to cling to obsolete IT systems. Antiquated systems are difficult to expand and retrofit to enable the performance of new tasks.
New role of IT function
To compete successfully with market giants, businesses need to develop a whole new set of management tools and alter the way they make their decisions and respond to day-to-day challenges. Another part of the process is to redefine the roles of IT units within companies. Today’s IT functions should play a key role in the management process rather than focusing on its own narrow field. IT experts should engage in all stages of planning and implementing customer service. The process starts with defining the product or service the company is planning to offer and ends with ensuring customer satisfaction. It might be advisable to break up in-house IT departments and assign their individual functions to other business units within organizations. This is what digitization is about. It helps support processes within a company at the company-customer interface as well as at customer locations.
Members of such reformed IT teams, who deliver “the digital experience”, need to support other business units and develop the expertise required to better understand the field they are supporting. Therefore, IT staff should acquire new business knowledge and focus on resolving issues that are specific for a given function. In a changing company, IT experts should be prepared to embrace new processes fast and professionally while being informed how best to use them to support business. To make this happen, digitization leaders need to be hand-picked. In addition to IT skills, they should know their organizations and enjoy confidence across the company. This will allow them to act as “change agents”.
Flexibility of a start-up, credibility of a corporation
Today’s organizations need to modify the way they perform many of their tasks. The flexibility of a worker who stems from the “high-speed” environment of start-ups should be skillfully married with the approach of corporate staff whose priority is to run the company responsibly. Digitization often involves reconciling contradictory ideas. Processes once developed in a “slow” environment end up in the hands of digitization experts who live by the principle of “high speed”. To avert conflict, it is crucial to be alert and use sound judgment. A company that wants to act fast needs good corporate governance.
To tap into potential business benefits, companies need to employ new technologies. Ageing IT platforms tend to hamper company transitions. They are the most common reason why business scaling fails or grinds to a halt after a sudden spike in sales. It isn’t without a reason that Amazon invests five times more in IT system expansion than its immediate competitors. After all, it is technology that has transformed this book seller into a global sales platform offering excellent user experience. The sophisticated systems of Skyscanner.net, the largest air ticket search engine today, allow it to process over 8 million inquiries a day. Cutting-edge IT systems have helped both of these companies alter business models or even develop them anew and ultimately achieve superb customer satisfaction boosting their sales and business development.
Transformations must go the distance
A critical success factor in digitalization is to make the changes comprehensive. In the past, effectiveness was the primary criterion for an organization’s success. Today, everything counts. Time is always of the essence. To ensure their survival, companies need to digitize their resources sooner rather than later and show the customer an instant response. This makes reliability paramount in the digital world. Even momentary system downtime will erode sales. This is particularly crucial wherever workers are unable to mitigate a crisis manually. Another priority is security. The digital authorization of purchases entails a number of known risks and the possibility of losses.
IT requires new strategy
Before an organization can go digital, it needs to reform the way its management views IT units. As mentioned earlier, the only way to forward is to dismantle IT units and assign them to all other functions and management steps. Digitization means that the whole sector, the IT industry and software and service suppliers must get more involved in business matters. We know today that IT is critical for innovation, operational and management models and strategic decision-making. The future trend-setters are the companies that succeeded in digitizing their management and business.