Digital Transformation in the Real World

Dan Willey, Chief Information Officer, Wilbur-Ellis
Dan Willey, Chief Information Officer, Wilbur-Ellis

Dan Willey, Chief Information Officer, Wilbur-Ellis

Much is written about digital transformation, digital disruption, and the overall excitement of the next big thing. This includes such technology as big data, the internet of things, machine learning/AI and more. Mixed in with this is the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO): If you’re not there with everyone else you’ll be left behind, disrupted and eventually out of business. An example that comes up often is the “Amazon effect:” you don’t want to be on the other side of history when a competitor enters your market who can do it better, faster, cheaper and with great customer experience. As a leader in a traditional distribution company, what should you do and where should you invest your resources?  You absolutely need to continue improving your customer experience, and it may be that new technology offerings will help you achieve this goal.  However, before jumping to the next big technology thing, it’s important to keep a few things in mind:  

Firstly, be very clear on what your values are as they pertain to your customer: What is your competitive strength? In our case, it is our focus on getting our customers what they need when they need it.  It is important to note that this is not just the digital experience; it’s helping the customer with their problem or opportunity, offering them the best products and services and delivering it to them when they want it, where they want it. When looking at technology to supplement this process, think about the services and features which can positively impact the interactions with your customer. There is no silver bullet here. There is only the process of thinking through the unique relationship you have with your customer and considering which technologies can enhance the experience.

Secondly, explore available existing technologies that you haven’t fully implemented. There are many tried-and-true approaches and techniques which can be used to meet the needs of both the customer and the organization while carrying less risk than new technologies. A great example of a solution looking for a problem to solve is blockchain: while it has application in specific cases, such as where provenance is required, care should be taken to ensure it is both the simplest solution and has the clearest benefit for taking on the risk of new technology. Look at what is already available to solve your problems before jumping to the “next big thing.”

  Be cautiously optimistic about the next shiny object, as the past is littered with technologies that sounded great but never lived up to their promises. It’s not about technology; it’s about the customer relationship   

Thirdly, think red light, green light: Whatever you do, it needs to be dead-simple in both the form and function. An excellent way to think about it is if it takes longer than 20 minutes to master the capability, it’s not designed correctly. Admittedly this is a high bar, especially with traditional technologies, and this can be the best place to apply newer techniques and technologies such as mobility and analytics.

As an organization, it is important to spend the time and energy necessary to agree on what the current customer experience is, what you want it to be, and how technology enables you to achieve those goals. This process takes close collaboration between the technology providers in an organization and the people who know the customer best (often your front-line salespeople or customer service team). Once you have the vision and have thought through the points above, you should look at the innovative technology available. This is an extremely exciting time to be in technology, and there may be something new that meets your needs. My advice is to be pragmatic but also keep an open mind.

In the end, it’s about focusing on what you bring to the customer, how you can operate more efficiently and thinking about how a given technology, new or old, helps you do that. Be cautiously optimistic about the next shiny object, as the past is littered with technologies that sounded great but never lived up to their promises. It’s not about technology; it’s about the customer relationship.   

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