People, Process & Technology
09 Oct 2022 » Opinion
Today I want to tackle an area that I rarely mention in this blog: digital transformation. I know, this is a very broad concept, with many ramifications and ways of implementing it. Every digital strategist has their idea of what it is, how to approach it and how to implement it. My goal today is just to introduce the three pillars of a digital transformation program: people, process and technology.
I like to picture them as the ancient Chinese vessels known as Da Ke ding (大克鼎):
Metaphorically, the three legs would be the three pillars and the container, the new shape of the company that is created after finishing a digital transformation program. Clearly, the beauty of this piece of art is in the container. However, without the three legs, you get a simpler, uglier artifact. Also, if one of the legs were shorter or larger than the others, while it could still stand, it would be less stable, more difficult to manage and the beauty greatly diminished.
You may see others calling these three pillars the 3 Ps: People, Process and Platform. In any case, the highlight is that all three pillars are essential and they all should be addressed in a digital transformation program.
You will also notice that I talk about “program”, not “project”. A full-scale digital transformation initiative will require many projects, under the umbrella of a program.
First things first: we need to know where are we going. Although everybody wants to say they are undergoing a digital transformation, just saying so means nothing. It has to start from the top, with a clear strategy, a North Star, a why… Do not even try to start a digital strategy program, if the leadership is not truly involved and has given a direction.
Some people say that the strategy is the capstone of the three pillars. However, with the metaphor of the Da Ke ding, I would prefer to say that the strategy is the design on paper.
Over the years, I have learned that people put a lot of confidence or responsibility into technology. I once heard of a customer who thought that, by just deploying Adobe Target, it would automagically take care of the personalization and optimization of the website. He was disappointed that he had to manually create the activities. Also, being an Adobe consultant means that I get to hear how some customers complain about the Adobe tools. I am not going to deny that, from time to time, there is an outage. In case you did not know, we have a site that monitors the status of Adobe tools: status.adobe.com. Also, no tool does exactly what you want it to do, there will always be some capabilities that you need and are not there or capabilities that are part of the tool but you do not need.
That being said, it must be clear that technology is only one pillar. For those of us coming from a technology background, it will sound like the most important pillar, although we should say that it is the one we like the most. I would like to stress that this pillar is just about tools. Just like a carpenter would use a chisel or a hammer, an e-marketing professional needs Adobe Analytics or Adobe Campaign. We should not put more importance on the tools than what it really deserves.
In a digital transformation program, you want to make sure that the technology offers the support you need to achieve your goals. One way of getting to this situation is through a gap analysis:
- What technical capabilities do you need? This is something that will likely come from the strategy.
- What is the maturity of each of these capabilities that you want to achieve in the coming months or years?
- From the existing tools, which one offers each of these capabilities? Does it also offer the maturity that you are looking for?
- For the capabilities that cannot be delivered with the existing tools, which products in the market offer these missing capabilities?
Finally, once you know where you are, where you want to go and the gap, acquire and deploy any new technology.
Obviously, this is a very high-level overview. Each organization will need to come up with their process. If you want a standard to follow, I recommend TOGAF.
While technology usually takes the blame, we are very cautious to mention issues related to people. We know what can happen if we say that someone is underperforming or delivering bad results. It also happens that we, humans, do not like change and, if there has to be change, it is the outer world that should change. I am very well, thank you.
However, this is where, in my experience, you will likely find the greatest gaps or blockers to becoming a leader in digital marketing. The number one issue I see in my clients is that teams do not talk to each other. I have already written about siloed teams a couple of times. In some of my projects, teams have started to talk to each other thanks to my work with them.
When it comes to digital transformation, there are two aspects of this pillar that need to be treated separately: individuals and organizations.
As I said above, people hate change. So, in my opinion, there are three important tasks that leaders must do during a digital transformation program to keep the people pillar strong:
- Change management. Make sure that the team understands that the change is for the better and that those who are staying are going to be useful.
- Training. Give all the training the people need in the new tools and the new processes.
- Implication. It is not enough for a CEO that a digital transformation must be done, he/she must be part of it. It is more likely that the employees follow suit if they see the C-level as part of the transformation.
The bigger a company, the more likely it has developed inefficiencies. We all know how government organizations are: full of useless procedures, no motivation, siloes… As I said above, the main blocker in companies is how siloed their teams are, but this is not the only problem.
Some structures are are better suited than others. The typical that I hear the most is a center of excellence. However, I am not an expert in organizational growth or data-driven operating model, so I suggest getting one to help you with it. Even if you think you already have a very efficient structure, you should confirm it with an external consultant.
Many years ago, during my college years, I had a subject on industrial organization. One part of it was on how to organize workshops and factories, to make them more efficient. The lecturer told us that he would go to his clients and ask the following question: why are you doing this like that? If the answer was “we have always done it like that”, it probably meant that nobody had given too much thought and that there was potential for improvement.
This anecdote is from a few decades ago and I still remember it. However, the learnings can be applied nowadays and to digital transformations. As I said above, we do not like change; we want to continue to do the same as we have been always doing, without questioning why we are doing it. This does not mean that everything we do is wrong, but that there are areas that can (and should) be improved.
In other situations, we just do not know how to manage more complex situations. For example, I have been working with a customer that has been very successful with their personalization programs using Adobe Target. They were tasked with scaling up: managing more countries and more sections of the website, with the same team. To achieve this, they needed to find a better way of managing Experience Fragments, a new process.
When Adobe acquired Workfront, I did not understand the reason. I remember the CEO and others explaining it, although it did not make much sense. Finally, when I understood these three pillars that I am talking about today, it made sense. While I cannot claim I know a lot about Workfront, I see it as a tool to manage processes. I know that it can be used for project management in general, but it seems to be very good for digital marketing.