In Part 1 of this series we talked about the insular nature of “IT past.” We looked at how consumerization was one element that broke down the old castle walls and led us tromping into the digital era. In Part 2 we take a look at our uncharted digital landscape and how to unearth new opportunities. We will explore how to refocus IT so that, by embracing the customer, we can retool and start to realize the value of innovation that is just waiting to be cultivated all around us.

There are two words incessantly bantered about in any technology discussion right now, “innovate” and “entrepreneurial.” The context always being, IT needs to be innovative and operate in an entrepreneurial fashion or IT is out as far as valuable to the business. Think about IT of the past as we discussed in Part 1 of this series, where we owned up to the fact that IT has been so hesitant to grant access into the walled realm that we’ve been neither innovative nor entrepreneurial, in the minds of our customers anyway.

Here’s the fun part: We get to reinvent ourselves. Openness to change unlocks the mystery, and it’s time to get excited about that!

In a 2010 IBM report on digital transformation [1] steps for preparing your organization for the digital era are enumerated. The report offers glimpses of the significance of customer based change, if we were paying attention back then. One of the points in the report discusses how you should first, “create and integrate digital operations” followed by a focus on “the customer value proposition.”

Six years later, I contend that you need to reshape your customer value proposition first, then you can tune your operations to fit the customer focused vision you have defined. Our customers are in control of what is valuable to them, and we need to spin off our old technology personas and instead listen and understand first.

We know the customer wants an integrated experience. This is so much more than a Facebook promotion pushing customers to your website. The expectation is that however, wherever, whenever the customer wants information about a product or service a collective and cohesive range of options to explore those details is available. We need layers to the information we are offering, each building and adding onto one another. Brick and mortar, website, social media, reviews, advice, online chats, education and any two-way interaction ALL must successively and richly shape the picture of what you offer. As new technologies emerge we need to be adept at integrating them in the ways the customer sees as useful. We cannot ever get comfortable in our castle keep again.

Here’s the rub, information must be more than a single channel between you (the business) and the customer. Silo experiences, where a customer must research company by company when looking for solutions, won’t make sense in the future state. Is it possible to integrate your data with other businesses that compliment and add to your customer’s experience? Does this seem radical?

Imagine doing something as simple as buying a shirt, pants, and a coat online. What if the eCommerce store has just the right shirt and pair of pants, but doesn’t carry coats? But, recognizing your taste and needs, the store is able to suggest a coat that perfectly matches from a completely different store. Then, the online experience has the ability to put all of this together into one purchase interaction AND one delivery to your home? Encouraging loyalty and trust through data and personalized integrations (in parallel with amazing customer service), may just be the new tipping point of competitive advantage.

The IBM report is right in that digital operations must advance in speed and consistency. Adopting agile thinking beyond software development into the operations realm is much discussed today for good reason. Our traditional physical operational responsibilities are already being restructured into commodity functions. Let’s get comfortable with what that entails.

Businesses will increasingly view the Cloud as an effective replacement to the on premises data center. This doesn’t take away from the fact that on some level, the on premises plumbing has to exist, work reliably, and be monitored but who do we want to focus on that plumbing? The network teams I have overseen in my career have been smart, insightful, and intricately valuable to the enterprise. I’d rather have them working on complex business-related problems than patching servers.

Speed to deliver, elevated security, changes in financial investment preferences are all good reasons why the Cloud trend will continue. Efforts and attention to reshape the network team into a business driven force with skills to facilitate positive customer impact is a victory on all sides (if leadership is smart in coaching these teams through it).

There is agreement among futurists that this type of commoditization will occur quickly and exponentially over the next ten years in many areas, changing both business and economic models. How we manage the consequences can determine if this is a healthy, affirmative, and growth-induced direction, or a business backwards slide. A restructuring of tasks and therefore jobs in many sectors will happen, and, like the network administrator learning to embrace the Cloud, workers in all areas that can re-train their thinking and skill set will adapt and find opportunity.

Streamlined and faster processing of operations and delivery is necessary for businesses, and is a key component in digital transformation. But this alone would be a short-sighted tactic. You must have a vision of where your business needs to go and this must be done with an intimate understanding of the customer’s sense of value.

Smartphones are one facet of what has brought consumerization to the fore, paving the control shift to the business view first. Now pile on Cloud, social media, mega-data, and the Internet of Things. The customer is leading the charge. The castle has been breached, but look around us; we now have an open green landscape in which to nurture and grow.

Partnered with the business’ natural understanding of where the customer sees value, IT has opportunity to work hand in hand and provide innovative solutions. Let’s not undervalue IT’s unique expertise to offer sound and secure ways in which to expedite, scale, and deliver. However, in the digital era IT must bring human understanding of the nuances and temperature of the business teams and customers they support.

The human element as part of your digital transformation will be a cornerstone of survival. Soft skills, expertise in technology advancements, and a business and customer focused vision applied together, can bring extraordinary leaps forward for the enterprise. This new approach enables a democratic landscape where IT, business stakeholders, and customers are true symbiotic partners. This is digital transformation at its best. No castles needed.

[1]IBM: Digital Transformation, 2010

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