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Digital is the New Normal

12th December 2014

Author James Fuller

“Digital” – It’s everywhere – across every industry and type of organisation, people are talking about “Digital”. It’s the latest trend that everyone wants a piece of – the business equivalent of the cronut. But can anyone truly define the boundaries of what “Digital” means nowadays?

Is “Digital” about using mobile and web technology? How about social media? Does it include branding, marketing, content creation, cloud applications or all of these? Does being “Digital” guide the way you dress at work, or the way you use technology to do your job? Can an entire organisation be “Digital”?

EVERYONE LOVES DIGITAL

For a few years now, “Digital” has been used to describe the transformation of specific channels or emerging technologies. A wide range of technologies and concepts (including social media, web, mobile, wearables and ‘the Internet of Things‘) were all deemed to be in the realm of “Digital”.*

*This graphic by Detlef La Grand perfectly defines what most people mean when they talk about ‘Digital Transformation’.

Beyond ‘Digital Transformation’, attaching the word “Digital” to something has become a way of associating it with innovation, new technology and creative thinking. The buzz and excitement that surrounds “Digital” and its concepts has led to it being applied far and wide across organisations, however the sheer breadth and frequency of its use is clouding its meaning and causing confusion.

As an example, a while back a colleague attended a presentation entitled ‘Enabling a Digital Workforce’ which turned out to be a short course on how to train your employees in basic computer skills. Soon after, I heard that a colleague at another consultancy was asked to work on a piece of “Digital Strategy” work for a client – which turned out to be a client replacing their stock of film cameras with digital cameras.

“Digital” is a word that has become homogenised and twisted, being used to describe everything from the transition from paper into electronic form, to the use of mobile apps and emerging technology. You only need to head to Google to see how broad “Digital” has become.

THE NEW DIGITAL ETHOS

As the use of the word “Digital” has grown, so have the concepts associated with it. “Digital” now refers to a much wider set of ideas including tools, methods and approaches, and is beginning to represent an overall ethos to delivering business value faster than was previously possible. “Digital” is now considered to be a way of thinking; a way of approaching problem solving; a mind-set for delivering rapid business change using new tools and techniques. All of the below could now be considered to be part of doing things in a “Digital” way:

  • Customer-centric Design
  • Iterative and ‘Fail-Fast’ approaches to design and delivery
  • Real-world Prototyping
  • Internal and External Innovation

The value of these concepts and methods goes far beyond just technologies and channels, and could quite easily be adopted wider across businesses. “Digital” has become a grey area, and it is harder and harder to see where “Digital” ends, and where traditional business should begin.

DIGITAL BY DEFAULT

The techniques and the thinking behind delivering what is currently perceived to be “Digital” can be used in many other more traditional areas of business – when we think about some of the most successful businesses – Apple, Google, and our own Xero – are they successful “Digital” businesses, or are they businesses that are successful because they embody the ideals and methods that the rest of us currently consider to be part of “Digital”?

If the concepts that underpin what currently constitutes “Digital” are successful and drive efficient business outcomes, we should be adopting them across our organisations. We should be using the thinking, tools and technologies to raise the game of all areas of our businesses.

“DIGITAL” IS NOW JUST ‘BUSINESS AS USUAL’

The sooner we promote these concepts as standard practice for everyone, the more value we will get out of them in the long term. To be truly “Digital” organisations, we have to adopt the ethos, methods and technologies throughout our businesses. Let’s be pragmatic and clear when we talk about these concepts – “Digital” is just the way we should all be thinking and working from now on.

 
James Fuller is a Senior Manager in our Wellington team who specialises in Customer Experience, Digital and Innovation advisory. He has worked with some of New Zealand’s largest businesses and public agencies, helping them to become more customer-centric and to harness innovation to stay ahead.