The term ‘digital transformation’ implies technological change – and for good reason: adopting modern, flexible and scalable technologies is, indeed, at the heart of any digital transformation process. The emphasis, however, should be on the flexibility and scalability rather than the tech per se. In other words, digital transformation should be a response to business needs and, therefore, should be guided by those needs rather than the technology itself.
As a result, the particular form of any digital transformation will vary widely from industry to industry and even from business to business, depending on the nature of what they do, their existing investments in legacy technologies, and their goals for the future.
Chris Donnelly, design principal at user experience consultancy Each&Other, offered the airline industry as an example of an industry that has transformed radically in recent years, but also one that has significant opportunity for further change.
Obviously, the internet has revolutionised the ticket buying experience for consumers and also radically shifted the airline business model, particularly though not exclusively for short haul flights. However, other changes have occurred, too, such as in-flight connectivity.
“I think, in the case of the airlines, there has been a huge transformation over the years. One example is connectivity: the provision of in-flight wifi,” he said.
Donnelly said that engagement levels with in-flight connectivity varied, rising as high as 60 per cent when it is provided free of charge, but dropping to half that or less where it is a paid service.
However, browsing the web and firing off e-mails are not the only use for connectivity on a plane. The very same technology can be used to support predictive maintenance.
I think that there is still a lot to do in terms of the internet-connected plane. If you can get ahead of maintenance issues [then] there are huge cost savings to be found.
In other words, the craft’s sensors could relay data on their current condition to the airline, allowing engineers to have a picture of how each component is acting over time.
“If someone really cracks that nut, perhaps in a platformed manner, they will see huge take-up,” he said.
For any business, though, the key to a successful digital transformation is to understand what your customers want. Donnelly gave the example of Netflix, which transitioned from posting DVDs to streaming films and, eventually, commissioning its own films and serials – as dramatic a transition as ever there has been, and one that required the implementation of an entirely new technology stack.
“Not everyone can repeat the Netflix experience, of course, but I think that there is something to learn from it,” said Donnelly.
When you understand what people want, you then have a clearer idea of how to deliver it, and a clearer idea of what is stopping you, he said.
“Businesses develop a lot of systems and processes over the years, so one thing is to ask is there some way to reduce or remove some or all of these? Some are resistant to change but it’s about understanding your long term costs, so digital transformation is really about investment and return on investment,” he said.
As a user experience consultancy, Each&Other’s particular interest is in ensuring that dramatic shifts like this are grounded in qualitative research that says the end result will be the ability to better deliver for customers.
I think we want people to invest in their end users, in their needs and wants, with the understanding that [as a result] you get a better investment return.
Donnelly said that, ultimately, developing a keen understanding of users starts with actually seeing what they do, how they do it, and why. Properly executed user research can be an invaluable asset to business leaders as it helps them de-risk their decision-making process, he said.
“There is huge value in spending time on it: it gets you out of your office and allows you to see what motivates the people you’re trying to sell to. And once you get a sense of that, it’s a very powerful thing.”