Every business begun before the Internet now faces the same challenge: How to transform to compete in a digital economy?
This is the leadership challenge examined by BRITE founder and Columbia Business School faculty member David Rogers in his newest book, The Digital Transformation Playbook.
In the book, Rogers argues that “digital transformation” is not about updating your technology but about upgrading your strategic thinking.
To grow in the digital age, businesses need to rethink their underlying assumptions in five domains of strategy—customers, competition, data, innovation, and value.
Rogers applies his model of customer networks (introduced in his last book, The Network Is Your Customer), to show how brands need to shift from mass markets and broadcast messaging to a dynamic two-way interaction with customers. That means rethinking the marketing funnel, treating customers as the key influencer on your brand, and creating omni-channel experiences to match customers’ lives today.
Competition must also be reimagined, according to Rogers. Traditionally, businesses have thought of competition as a zero-sum game, defined by industry, where competitors look just like them. In the digital age, we are often faced with “frenemies”–a company’s biggest competitor that is also a critical partner (think of Apple and Google). Rogers explains the rise of platform business models, and how they enable companies like Airbnb and Uber to compete with traditional firms in radically different ways.
The third domain of digital transformation, per Rogers, is data.
Where businesses traditionally used data to optimize processes, today data is becoming a key strategic asset, much like your brand. Rather than residing in functional silos (sales, marketing, operations), data today needs to be integrated to provide a complete picture of customers and unlock new sources of value for any business—through insights, targeting, personalization, and context.
The process of innovation is also changing. Thanks to digital technologies that allow businesses to learn in real time, innovation is moving towards a process of constant and rapid experimentation. Rogers distinguishes between “convergent” and “divergent” experiments—explaining how AB testing and minimum viable prototypes each play a crucial role in innovation. Innovation requires a shift in leadership as well, from top-down decisions and high-cost bets, to leaders who know how to pose the right questions and drive a learning organization.The last domain of digital transformation is a business’s value proposition for customers. To succeed in the rapidly-changing digital era, every business must be ready to adapt early, and to continually re-think how it creates value for its customers.
With case studies ranging from Facebook to The New York Times, Rogers argues that continuously evolving your value proposition is essential to every business today. Rather than seeking to defend yesterday’s business with barriers to entry, firms must look to understand why customers will still need them tomorrow, and adapt to meet their changing needs.
The book concludes by examining the threat of business disruption—updating the classic theory of disruption to account for the new dynamics of the digital age, and dispelling the notion that disruption is inevitable and irresistible. Despite the fall of companies like Kodak or Blockbuster, the lesson of Rogers’ work is clear: no business is doomed to distinction.
With the right strategies and leadership, any company can adapt to grow for the digital future.