What ‘Doing Digital’ Really Means, in One Simple Map

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In my earlier post (Making sense of Digital: is “look at Uber and Airbnb” the best we can do?) I highlighted how we might be in danger of obsessing over what companies like Uber and Airbnb do, and how they’re disrupting existing industries; and thereby missing a bigger picture.

Uber and Airbnb are of course attention-grabbing, because they’ve used digital technologies to enable them to grow fast and serve massive customer bases – by co-ordinating external resources and managing market information (matching supply and demand) in new, more efficient ways. But digital technologies are also important because they can enable large, established organisations to act small, at scale.

So clearly there’s more to ‘what doing digital’ really means than ‘doing an Uber’. But we urgently need to find a way to lay everything out clearly – because everywhere we turn, we find that different people talk about ‘digital’ while meaning completely different things.

Here are the four groups we come across most often:

  • When we listen to HR and Communications leaders talk about ‘doing digital’, they’re talking about how social, mobile and cloud technologies in particular affect the workplace and the ways that employees engage with each other and with the broader organisation/corporation.
  • When we listen to marketing leaders talk about ‘doing digital’, they’re talking about how social, mobile, cloud, and analytics technologies are changing how the organisation needs to create experiences and engage differently with customers (other leaders may also be thinking about implications for partner and supplier engagement, too).
  • When we listen to operational leaders, they’re thinking about how digital technologies can help the organisation co-ordinate internal processes and ‘things’ to create ‘digital operations’ capabilities.
  • And lastly there’s strategists. They inhabit the realm of Uber, Airbnb, Upwork, Zopa, open innovation networks, and so on. These people are tasked with looking at digitally-powered strategies for new product approaches and changes to business models.

How are all these things connected?

Let’s start by backing up, and considering this:

Digital technologies are important because in combination, they can be used to co-ordinate resources (people, plant, machinery, infrastructure, market information, goods, materials, knowledge) more efficiently.

Now look at the picture below. What I’ve done here is split up the universe of ‘resources’ into internal and external resources (that’s the horizontal axis); and also (vertical axis) into resources which revolve principally around people and their knowledge, and other resources which revolve principally around processes and ‘things’ (plant, machinery, infrastructure, materials, assets etc).

I’ve also labelled four distinct digital domains – driven by very particular business priorities – one for each quadrant.

digital strategy

When HR and Communications leaders talk about ‘doing digital’, they’re starting their exploration from the top-left quadrant.
When marketing leaders talk about ‘doing digital’, they’re starting their exploration from the top-right quadrant.
When operational leaders talk about ‘doing digital’, they’re starting their exploration from the bottom-left quadrant.
And lastly, strategists tend to start their work in the bottom-right quadrant.
Of course when we dig a little deeper, we see that things are never as simple as they first seem. Different groups tend to start their explorations in one particular quadrant, but very soon (if they’re really exploring the potential opportunities and challenges of digital technologies correctly) they start to have to consider other quadrants too.

So actually the picture looks a little bit more complicated. Like this:

digital strategy

Nevertheless I hope you agree that this map of digital strategies is still pretty easy to get your head around.

Now we’re currently in the final stages of a major planning and design exercise here at MWD Advisors for 2016, and this map will play a big part in how we shape and present our industry research and services in 2016 and beyond.

What do you think? Does this map help you place and position different conversations and ideas about digital strategy?

Neil Ward-Dutton

I'm passionate about helping organisations get real business benefits from the investments they want to make in IT. I love technology, and I've seen it used to amazing effect - but I hate waste, and I've seen so many organisations waste their investments. Over the past 10 years as the Research Director at MWD Advisors I've gained invaluable experience working with clients across many industries, learning about what works and where people come unstuck in trying to drive business change with technology. I've advised on technology strategy and business change management across Europe, and presented at dozens of conferences on these topics around the world.

1 Response

  1. Carl Varney says:

    Appreciating that this is somewhat old now, but I think it is missing one thing. The WHY.

    To what end are these 4 groups all looking at doing digital?
    Who are the people that will benefit from the efficiencies of coordinated responses?

    It is clear to me that it is the consumer of the provided product [that the organisation produces] that benefits and the common goal is to improve the consumers lot, and retain our attract more of them. Though it may be true that each group may not fully understand that they each SHARE the goal

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