Guest Column | December 19, 2016

Digital Business Transformation: 4 Recommendations For Success

BSM Sheldon Monteiro, SapientNitro

By Sheldon Monteiro, global Chief Technology Officer, SapientNitro

When the original Fortune 500 list was created in 1955, the brands on it appeared to have cracked the code for success. And yet, just 71 of those companies remain on the list today. That’s fewer than one in seven, or just 14 percent.

A lot has changed since 1955, but one lesson remains: to build a company capable of withstanding the test of time, the organization must be capable of continuous reinvention. In 2016, we have a name for this imperative: Digital Business Transformation (DBT).

DBT is the overarching strategy that guides the reimagining of the business in a customer-first, networked world. It is the thread that unites the organization’s digital efforts and compels business leaders to radically rethink the ways in which the business will meet customer needs in an always-on world.

Given the critical nature of DBT, SapientNitro — along with our partners Scott Brinker and the MarTech Conference — conducted a survey of 250 marketing technology professionals to better understand how organizations are driving change, what barriers to transformation exist, and how leadership can improve their game. Here we present some of our key findings, as well as key recommendations for businesses as they seek to hone their DBT strategy.

  1. Determine A Clear Leader For DBT
    Every major business initiative requires strong leadership and DBT is no exception. Yet our survey — and several others that have been published recently — offered no consensus among organizations as to which executive should own DBT. According to our data, the most common was the CMO (26 percent), followed by the CEO (22 percent) and CIO/CTO (13 percent).

Given the critical nature of DBT, this finding does not sit well. It is the CEO who should develop the DBT strategy and align every critical process, team, and decision with that vision. Without this direction, it is impossible for organizations to offer a consistent, Omni channel customer experience. That said, execution of the CEO’s vision can fall to various members of the executive team, such as the CMO or CIO.

Some organizations have identified an alternative candidate — someone who has deep cross-functional knowledge and experience with both marketing and IT. The Chief Marketing Technology Officer (CMTO), a relatively new addition to the C-Suite, is well-suited for the job given her ability to work across silos, anticipate business needs, and drive change across marketing, communications, customer-facing operations, and IT. Our survey showed the CMTO oversees the execution of DBT in 6 percent of organizations — a number that we expect to increase in coming years as this executive’s profile and influence grows.

  1. Develop A Comprehensive DBT Plan
    DBT is on the agenda in board rooms around the country. In fact, our survey showed nearly all organizations (97 percent) claim to be addressing DBT “in some way” and more than three-quarters of Marketing Technology (MarTech) professionals (77 percent) are involved in the business’ DBT initiative.

This data seems to paint a rosy picture… until we dig a little deeper. Despite the vast majority of organizations claiming to address digital, our survey found nearly half (44 percent) of MarTech professionals said DBT was not a priority for their organization or they don’t know if it was. Meanwhile, about one in five MarTech professionals do not feel fully equipped to drive change. This implies that, even as most companies seem to recognize the importance of DBT and most MarTech professionals are playing a role in executing the plan, a staggering number are simply not up to the task.

In order for DBT efforts to be successful, the CEO must articulate her vision to the organization and outline in explicit detail how each member will contribute to its execution. Like any business initiative, the DBT plan must include a clear charter, objectives, timeline, resource allocations, budget, and supporting capability enablers such as technology. Further, the goals of the program must be measurable and should be constantly reevaluated based on evolving business needs and progress.

  1. Create A Culture Of Change And Innovation
    DBT is not bolt-on solution to digitize creative campaigns or one-off applications of technological tools, so it can’t be a side-project within the organization or an add-on to employee day jobs. The spirit of transformation must be infused into the very culture of the organization and embraced by every employee.

Our survey indicates most organizations have some work to do on this front. When asked what the top barriers to transformation were, respondents most often cited: conflicting priorities (38 percent); lack of dedicated resources, including staff allocation (35 percent); and lack of organization alignment (30 percent)

When it comes to DBT, the business must be organized to enable success — and employees must be empowered to deliver the vision. This means creating a culture that embraces continuous learning and development, as well as rethinking the structure of the business to improve collaboration and agility.

  1. Design For The Customer
    Today, every business is operating in the age of the customer. And yet, more than one-third of marketing technologists (35 percent) claim their organization’s DBT initiative is not driven by customer insights. This comes as something of a surprise given the endless thought leadership and research expounding on the importance of the customer experience and the well understood chasm between the experience organizations think they deliver and what customers say they encounter.

The importance of customer experience cannot be underestimated. New entrants and disruptors can compete with long-established leaders on product, price, place, and promotion. But no one can duplicate how a brand experience makes the customer . Those organizations that consistently organize around their customers — as opposed to simply selling products or services — have the ability to build long-term loyalty and brand affinity.

As businesses are forced to compete in an increasingly uncertain landscape — one where disruption and globalization all but forces every organization to rethink their position in the market and who their competitors are — no business’s position in the market is safe. One need look no further than the original Fortune 500 to understand the need for transformation.

Sheldon Monteiro is global Chief Technology Officer of SapientNitro. For nearly two decades with the agency, Sheldon directs its global technology capabilities, engineering programs, and global standards. He is responsible for building the technical talent, innovation culture, processes and systems needed to consistently deliver groundbreaking work for SapientNitro’s clients. He leads SapientNitro’s Chief Marketing Technology Officer University, a professional development program designed to develop senior leaders to innovate at the intersection of story and technology, while also taming scale and complexity in systems, organization and culture.