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January 27, 2014
Digital is more than a sheet of glass
By: Mark McDonald

When organizations need to demonstrate their digital strategy and capability they often pull out a sheet of glass. These sheets are presentation layers in mobile phone, tablet, PF and TV screens. Rendering digital results on screens from marketing, sales, service channels and customer experiences are tangible proof of digital making interfaces on glass a focus of digital investments. It is an important but incomplete focus.

Glass is the primary display vehicle for apps, information and experiences of digital because it puts digital in your hand. Sheets of glass make things real, but without other changes, the information and apps on these sheets are just thin digital veneer on the pre-existing analog business. That may help people feel more digital but it will not make them more digital. It will not help them gain the benefits of being a digital business.

Getting behind the glass

Glass is an organization’s digital skin. Digital is skin deep when the value is in the display without driving real differences. Project teams easily fall for, invest in and stop at the glass in the name of customer experience, being easy to do business with or marketing.

Leaders are superficially digital when they just look at the glass. Leaders lose attention and create long term problems when they do not consider how the dynamics of a simplified, high transaction-oriented front end meet the economic and operational support capacity of traditional back office processes. The result is ‘half a loaf’ as marketing programs that capture interest, generate demand but do not connect to the other half of the promise – engagement and transactions. Weak contextualization is another symptom of superficiality, as few of us are impressed when personalization stops at “Hi Mark” and fails to recognize past interest and experiences in favor of canned marketing scripts.

Digital business thinks beyond being a pane in the glass

Business lives behind the glass. Business models shatter when digital thinking ends at the customer interaction and experience. Working through these issues requires recognizing the primacy of three relationships and the need for a business platform. These elements reflect the core of digital business operating models. These include:

  • Customer experience and workforce abilities – Your external experience is only as good as the skill of your workforce to support it. Great customer experiences fade fast and cloud up when supported by lower performing people.

  • Digital ecosystem and business processes – The who and how of brand and experience fulfillment drive both quality of service and costs. Viewing these as simple services at glass level undervalues their complexity and implementation requirements.

  • Operating models and the future of work – Capture the operational implications of being digital and the nature of how people work. Moving from product or functional centricity to customer or outcome centricity is one of the operational consequences of being a digital business.

  • Digital Business Platform – The ability to provide multiple different experlences using the same set of resources and operations. Unlike silo’d IT infrastructures, platforms orient themselves around using information to create scale and differentiation.

These are some of the considerations for going behind the glass and each point is a blog post on its own. Look for those in the near future.

Shattering the digital glass feeling

Putting your business model on a sheet of glass is the easy part of digital business. It’s the hallmark of first generation digital solutions. Possessing digital resources such as apps, information, social media properties, etc. is only about 10% of the business challenge. The other 90% is creating a viable business that delivers customer experiences, growth and results.

Digital business leaders know that digital is more than another channel, see customers as more than walking wallets, or view your operations as ready for another round of technology automation. Such views see new technologies with old eyes – pragmatic yes, but limited absolutely. That same dynamic happens when you limit yourself to the digital you can see – the stuff on the glass.

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