During my 25 years in business, I have been fortunate to make a small contribution to the digital revolution as well as witness board members and business owners – occasionally frightened and in some cases (respectfully) somewhat dazed – discuss their need to transform their business to digital. Their fear of being challenged is understandable, in a world where:

  • the largest taxi company [Uber] does not own a single taxi,
  • the largest accommodation provider [Airbnb] owns no real estate,
  • the largest phone company [Skype] owns no telco,
  • the largest movie house [Netflix] owns no cinemas,
  • the most valuable retailer [Alibaba] has no inventory, and
  • the fastest growing bank [Society One] has no actual money.
[Source: IBM]

While not every business faces such radical obliteration, every business risks some level of disruption and needs to adapt to become a digital business.

What does it mean to be a digital business?

Being digital is simply about using data to make better and faster decisions, and to respond to customers with greater relevance and immediacy. In simple terms, becoming more relevant to customers and easier to do business with.

How do we get there? Where do we start?

I would suggest a simple, pragmatic, yet powerful three-step framework to think, communicate and operationalize a digital transformation strategy.

As a first step, think about how your business can become more responsive, how it can provide better answers to every employee and every customer when they have a question, so it can put its best foot forward every time. Simple? Yes. Transformative? Yes.

At a high level, this is a simple strategy that everyone can grasp easily: “Let’s become more responsive.” The outcome however is very far reaching: when every customer gets the best available answer every time, they become smarter about your business, engage more, and convert more. When every employee gets the best answer and information available, they upskill, they can do more on their own and faster, including satisfying more customers. When those two events occur, business thrives.

Delivering the best available information every time is the definition of relevance.

Uber, Google, Airbnb, and Netflix are successful because they provide more relevant choices for your needs, and generally much faster than the older alternatives they replace. Relevance matters greatly. According to Forrester Research “insights are the new currency of business”  (Digital Insights are the new currency of business, April 2015). Without relevance it’s impossible to know which insights matter, to whom. While search is ubiquitous, relevance is not fortuitous. It requires a commitment, and then perhaps a little help from modern technology.

For every business, technology makes relevance possible in simpler ways than most think, thanks to major advances in intelligent search technology.

  • First, search is one of the few technologies that actually begins with understanding what customers and employees are looking for.
  • Second, because information is ambient, we need to stop focusing so much attention on managing siloed systems of record, and reach it everywhere at once.
  • Third, democratizing access to information that is truly pertinent to the question, activity or task at hand is very valuable, and consumers now understand that concept very well as they purchase Amazon recommendations or get relevant suggestions online.

We have entered an era where information can be reached securely anywhere it resides across the enterprise, cloud or on-premise sources, and then brought into context within websites, sales, customer service, communities, intranets, and create richer and more relevant work and customer experiences. The result is more empowerment, more self-serve, more learning, better use of the data you have, and in the end being more agile, more innovative, and easier to do business with. Relative to major technology waves of the past decades such as ERP, CRM, ECM, this transformation is actually radically easier to deploy, and yet, at least equally transformative. This wave is about the economic power of information, not only the efficiency gains of technology. It is about making people not only more efficient, but more proficient.

Relevance is king so fix it first, for every employee and for every customer interaction, putting the information you have to use, every time. Simple. Powerful.

The second step is to become proactive. Once we understand what customers and employees need and can respond with a relevant answer, we can then suggest other questions they might not have thought about, or surface related relevant content, products, services, or even people. Not only did Amazon make retail more agile, but they added a whole new model by supercharging cross-selling through relevant suggestions based on “you”. This same concept applies to business by surfacing opportunities that employees or customers might not have thought about, expanding their horizons, knowledge, needs, and opportunities. Again, intelligent search technology can deliver on proactive insights that upskills employees and engages customers in whole new ways. This results is more innovation, upskilled workforces, and more customer conversions.

The third step, more advanced, is to become predictive. Beyond the world of suggestions, there are certain areas where technology can provide formal recommendations. Things like next best actions, formal process recommendations, and next issue avoidance are good examples of how a business can proactively prevent issues or make processes more efficient. This is done by adding machine learning to intelligent search, to analyze data and usage patters to predict what recommended content will achieve the best outcome. This is the world of Coveo machine-learning…

Digital transformation is clearly a journey, but like many big ideas it starts with simple steps: investing in responsiveness and relevance. If you think relevance is not a good investment, try irrelevance.

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