TL;DR: Most digital change is going to happen whatever you do. As a digital team your role is to try and make it as seamless as possible for your organisation and to get ahead of your competitors for a little while. Have some humility as you go about this work. You didn’t invent the internet and most of what your organisation knows is still extremely relevant. The way that telephones were adopted by businesses can give us a few clues how all this might go.
Digital capabilities are undergoing a maturing process. It’s the same process that telephones, cars and refrigerators have gone through, to name but a few. It’s such a predictable journey that there are even academic models to plot it against — such as the excellent @wardleymaps
What makes up this digital capability is certainly down to the definition of different organisations — but for me it’s usually some combination of:
- digital marketing
- user experience design
- content design
- analytics & experiments
- channel integration.
It’s important to think of these areas as the people, processes and tools that make them up — rather than just focussing on the latest tech which pops up in each area.
As this capability matures within an organisation, the operating models needed to make the most of it evolve. These are fully aligned with what happened when telephones entered the workplace and as people working in the digital industry, we can learn a lot from what happened before us to understand how to effectively drive the future.
Digital Operating Models & Digital Maturity
Digital: generally we look to employ external agencies to create one off, unintegrated experiences which serve a single purpose. The expense is lower than bringing the specialist capability in house.
Telephones: Initially the Post Office employed local boys on bicycles to deliver messages to businesses in the local area, from their telephone. The capability to make and take calls (or telegrams) was outsourced because it was too expensive to buy for any one organisation.
Digital: Often a contractor or fixed term role, brought in to explore how new tools can be implemented against existing sets of goals. Their role is not to try and build capabilities within other teams or to influence processes outside of direct digital channels. They normally end up building new CMS, CRM or Email systems.
Telephones: Offices would have a single phone, which was operated by a highly paid expert. They would make and receive phone calls on behalf of the rest of the office. Again, they wouldn’t be looking to train up the rest of the organisation, just deliver against their own specific channel.
3. Specialist team
Digital: Once the number of digital projects, campaigns or products reaches a certain point, it makes sense to employ a group of people to keep across it. They will develop processes and their own tools to meet the needs of the organisation and their success will be measured not just on digital KPIs, but how much they contribute to the bottom line.
Telephones: This is the picture that we often have of people working a basement connecting calls using a switchboard. They were a specialist group who made and took calls on behalf of the whole organisation. There was lots of focus on the best to improve the processes and the first investment in kit which the company owned or leased long term.
4. Hub and spoke
Digital: After a series of successes and heavy investments in people, processes and tools that makes up the digital capability, the rest of the organisation wants to have a say in its usage. This next step empowers these teams so that they are able to make changes most efficiently. It puts decision making in the hands of those closest to the organisation’s audiences. In order to be successful, there also needs to be a level of upskilling provided by the Hub to the Spoke.
Telephone: Devices were placed on desks outside the offices of those closest to their customers and manned by secretaries. These groups (or practice areas as they might now be called) would share best practice and often have strictly enforced processes for how to answer the line, make a call etc…
5. Fully integrated
Digital: Responsibilities that were once only handled by specialists are expected as part of day to day roles. From creating website content to broadcasting email campaigns or running social ads, the teams who look after particular products or audiences handle them all. This leads to greater efficiency and allows content to be created by those that know their audiences the best.
Telephone: Everyone is expected to be able to make and answer their own phone calls. We even have our own devices that we will use for work without even thinking about it. There is little discussion about best practice as they are so accepted and understood.
If you’re working in a digital team, don’t forget, everything we’re doing is transitory. It may feel like your organisation is a long way away from being able to ‘do digital’ by itself — but that’s the direction of travel.
It’s also worth remembering that much of this change is going to happen whatever you do. Your role is to try and make it as seamless as possible for your organisation and to get ahead of your competitors for a little while. Have some humility about it. You didn’t invent the internet and much of what your organisation knows is still extremely relevant. Have respect for people and their jobs — which you’ll probably end up doing once the organisation is ‘transformed’.