By Opeyemi Olaniran
I love taking my family or friends on a road trip. While it might have the potential to end in disaster if not thought through, with a little help from technology, planning and leadership you can expect a great adventure. And it’s the same when it comes to digitally transforming your company.
Your bags are packed, the kids are armed with tablets pre-loaded with movies and games, your GPS is charged, and you’ve packed your coffee-cup power inverter, portable satellite antennae, speed-trap detector, and made a checklist of your stops using mapping software. In the digital-era you wouldn’t think twice about using technology to make your roadtrip a success. So why would you treat your business any differently?
Today there are only two types of organisations; the disrupter and the disrupted.
The disrupters were born in the digital age and includeAirbnb, Uber and LinkedIn. The disrupted are those that are trying to keep up.
Disrupters do not rely on physical assets, but rather technology. You could think of them as young road trippers with nothing but a backpack and a phone, which is all they need to conquer the world.
Uber for example relies on cars but does not own them, instead it owns the technology. Meanwhile, the disrupted are weighed down by physical assets and human capital that does not scale easily. For example a family travelling in a big bulky caravan will be limited in terms of where they can go.
However, digitally transforming does not mean you have to dump all your assets. A few changes can make all the difference, like connecting a solar panel to the roof of your caravan to supply hot water no matter where you are.
Here are 5 ways we can apply roadtripping lessons to our business.
Build a solid roadmap
A successful roadtrip means avoiding obstacles like traffic and roadworks. This requires a plotted route, advanced warning of where the threats are, and good leadership. It’s hard to convince your family that you’re missing the turn-off to the theme park unless you have informed data proving that there’sa roadblock there.
It’s the same in your organisation. You need a roadmap for digital transformation, and data to inform your decisions. Leadership is key, and 23% of the largest 300 companies in the world have at least one digital director. But digital transformation should not stem from one digital officer, and it should not be viewed as a back-office function for achieving efficiencies. It must become a culture that flows from top managers to all levels of the organisation, not just the IT department.
Change it up
The world is changing. Ten years ago you would never have dreamed of staying in a stranger’s house on a road trip. But disrupters like Airbnb havechanged consumer habits. The disrupted now need to adapt to fulfilling customers’ changing needs.
Just as when choosing accommodation you do your research to ensure you don’t wind up somewhere far from what you expected, enterprises must use data-driven insights to know exactly what their customers want.
For example, Virgin Atlantic, which partnered with Windows 10 to create “Ida”, an interactive digital adventure app, allowing customers to take an immersive tour of the ‘Upper Class’ experience, through a tablet powered by a virtual reality headset. This was in response to data that showed a lack of interaction between sales staff and business customers.
Intelligence plays a critical role in understanding massive amounts of data about customer behaviour to recognise patterns of sentiment.
Some of the best roadtrips are those thattake risks – going somewhere completely new and unchartered.
Companies that want to compete against start-ups need to behave like start-ups, taking risks and embracing failure. In the Middle East and Africa, a burgeoning innovation culture means that disrupters are used to doing this. While more established businesses are often held back by old technology infrastructures because they were never digital from the start. A skills shortage can also be attributed to slow digital transformation, with 70% of companies saying they lack the required ICT skills to adapt.
On any road trip, your passengers are not going to be happy if your car breaks down, or the GPS fails and you get lost, or the aircon doesn’t work.
Companies that don’t shift to the newest way of doing things are likely to lose staff. Employees, particularly millennials, want companies that offer the best digital opportunities, and businesses will have to up their game to retain and attract them. In turn, young talent will spur innovation and help change the culture of the organisation.
Employees can also be empowered by using intelligence to learn how everyone in the company uses their time and help maximise the impact of the workforce.
Dual role of the IT department
If you’re the leader of your road trip, you’re also the navigator, motivator, mechanic and technology expert. The best drivers have many roles and rely on tech to accomplish these.
In an organisation, technologyshould similarly be part of each business function. At Microsoft, our own IT system plays dual roles within the company. It helps the company digitally transform while managing applications, infrastructure and security, and serves the role of customer advocate by testing new products and providing feedback. Our leaders continue to raise expectations around the role that IT can play by aligning digital services into 15 cross-company service offerings.
These types of results aren’t discovered by simply spending more on IT. Executives should be integrating IT into their departments, creating a singular roadmap with mutually supportive objectives.