Every so often I get asked “What should our digital strategy be?”

Now there is a big debate about whether an organisation actually needs a “digital strategy” or not, or if it should be just entwined within general strategy within an organisation. But the latter requires a level of maturity and experience in thinking about how modern technologies are impacting on the way in which organisations interact with the people that they serve that can’t be just expected to be there.

For some years I’ve argued that the modernisation required for organisations probably involves three distinct phases – a chaos phase where initiatives are happening all over the place in a haphazard and uncoordinated way; a centralised phase where things like digital strategies and Chief Digital Officers might be involved, and eventually a decentralised phase where control is pushed back out into the organisation’s general management.

So if you are at the point where the chaos needs to be reigned in, and the call for a Digital Strategy is strong, what exactly should you do about it?

First off, my baseline for what makes a good strategy is from Richard Rumelt’s Good Strategy/Bad Strategy. He argues a good strategy consists of three key things:

  • a diagnosis (what’s the challenge?)
  • a guiding policy (an overall approach to cope with the challenge)
  • and a set of coherent actions to carry out the guiding policy.

From what I’m seeing in many organisations at the moment, a strategy of  “We need a digital strategy” will lead to all sorts of quackery from digital agencies, consulting firms and other wholesale providers of buzzwords and unicorns.

But if you want a general diagnosis that frames what I think might be the challenge for many organisations, it’s something along these lines:

Our customers’ and staff’s expectations of how they should be able to interact with organisations through digital channels have been raised significantly through their experiences as consumers and citizens. We need to better serve their needs through providing digital services that meet with their needs and expectations.

For a guiding principle, I have been working on a simple framework called Digital Architecture for the past six or so years. Details in the post here: https://mmitii.mattballantine.com/2015/11/10/digital-architecture-revisited/

The Digital Architecture framework provides a straightforward approach that says that the core business activities you provide to your customers will increasingly be expected to be transparently accessible through digital channels. Things that you regard as supporting functions should probably be kept out of view, but if there are things that your customers need to do to interact with you, but you regard them merely as costs to be managed, bad things will happen.

The way I usually illustrate this is with energy companies. Most of the traditional energy companies in the UK think that they are in the business of supplying gas or electricity to their customers. The reality is that they are in the business of providing a seamless billing experience (the gas or electricity are all provided by B2B companies in a similar way that most phone and broadband is supplied by OpenReach no matter who your supplier may be).

Upstart new entrants into the market have clicked on this and often make the billing a key element of their service proposition. Traditional companies outsource the billing to SAP and it’s horrible (or worse, they build a load of custom front ends on top of SAP).

That then leaves the coherent actions. This is going to be completely contextual to the organisation and will be derived from using the Digital Architecture framework, but there’s some meta-stuff there that you can look at putting in place. The UK Government Service Manual is a really good resource to start with – https://www.gov.uk/service-manual. Exploring concepts of things like Design Thinking are probably good here too.

So there you go. A simple, “off the shelf” (but totally bespoke) Digital Strategy. If you want any help doing that in your organisation, just drop me a line.

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