Going Digital

Grace Monahan, VP, Global CIO, Henry Schein [NASDAQ:HSIC]
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Grace Monahan, VP, Global CIO, Henry Schein [NASDAQ:HSIC]

Everyone in business is talking about “going digital.” And why not! Digital has fundamentally changed the definition of “customer” for every brand.

As a result, companies in all industries are embarking on this journey in the hope that it will lead to current success and future survival. New digital commerce companies are moving at increasingly rapid speeds to provide the customer experiences that will grab market share from established organizations, disrupting their bonds with long-time customers. Big acquisitions and mergers are happening regularly, creating even stronger digital businesses.

In my opinion, the digital journey is one taken by the whole enterprise, with IT as an enabler. The digital journey requires a strategic shift in priorities, new resource allocation, the hiring of people with new skills, and an “outside-in” approach to understanding your customer’s needs.

 Digital has fundamentally changed the definition of “customer” for every brand 

Digital technologies have a direct impact on the consumer experience because they create a reinforcing cycle of commercial activity, generated by increased access to self-service options, which results in increased analytics, surveys, and metrics that are then used to make the customer experiencing even richer.

The digital journey is an “all hands-on deck” business strategy that changes processes and arrives at new ways of operating. Because every enterprise needs to understand its customers better, digital is leading to investments in CRM, social, and demographic tracking. It is also driving top-line growth with new business models that include new revenue generating services. Digital also includes greater usage of tablets and other mobile solutions, increasing the number of customer touchpoints with the brand.

So, what does digital mean for the role of IT? In my view, it involves four major activities.

The first is Business Partnership and Collaboration

IT’s role as a business partner becomes even more important. A tight bond is critical, especially with marketing teams and business leaders because the digital journey focuses on customer experience. Lines begin to blur for digital commerce design between creative teams, Marketing, Corporate Communications, and IT. Close collaboration and flexibility is needed among these teams.

The second is IT as a Big Data Enabler

Data management is very important to achieve a successful digital journey. IT’s role as data steward and protector changes into big data champion and enabler, providing new types of access, technology for analytics, and a movement to the cloud for scalability. Systems that enable data cleansing and categorization, dashboards, and other visualization tools are necessary. Cybersecurity also becomes part of the formula, as may privacy, data protection and marketing compliance.

The third is Culture Change

IT platforms and strategies for digital require new skills and methods. A move from Waterfall development methodologies to Agile is a big change that takes time and training. Cloud leads to different financial models and new vendor relationships. Mobile development and digital commerce skills are needed and are in high demand. IT must create an attractive environment to recruit and retain this talent.

The fourth is Keeping Up

For sure, the digital space, in its broadest definition of transitioning systems, processes, and people, is moving at a very fast pace. Keeping up with the innovation is exciting and the opportunities are endless. This adds to the age-old biggest challenge for IT, one of prioritization. How do we move fast to leverage this new technology for the benefit of the business when the old legacy work is still here to do? How do we keep up with the new technology and what is available? What governance is needed? How do we manage it all? Where does the new investment funding come from? What takes priority? Who decides?

The digital journey is complex and never-ending. It is a true team effort that requires a level of stamina and commitment that will challenge every enterprise. Some companies will fail to cross the digital divide. The successful company will embrace the pervasiveness of digital technology by forming partnerships across the enterprise, with IT playing a central role, that will bring flexibility and innovation to a new level. 

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