Five ways to make your digital strategy a success in 2017

Five best practice tips for CDOs looking to make a big business impact.
Written by Mark Samuels, Contributor

Mark Foulsham, chief digital officer at Scope, is working to ensure technology plays a crucial role in the charity's aim to ensure disabled people have the same opportunities as everyone else.

Foulsham joined Scope in September after more than a decade as group CIO at insurance specialist esure.

"I want our customers to believe Scope is really engaging with them," he says. "I want the organisation to create innovative new ideas that are delivered promptly and adapted to fit customer requirements. And I want our customers to be able to consume products and services in a way that offers great benefits to them."

Here he sets out five guiding principles for creating a digital strategy that can make a big business impact in 2017.

1. Think about people

Foulsham says CDOs must ensure customer engagement is at the forefront of their work from conception to delivery. He encourages other senior executives to co-design products and services with customers. Once products are live, Foulsham says CDOs must continue to monitor customer behaviour.

"Analyse how your products and services are being consumed, and create a highly iterative process," he says. Foulsham adds CDOs should draw on different techniques during the product lifecycle, such as test groups during the design stage and online feedback mechanisms during roll out.

CDOs must also ensure their focus on people spreads to both the internal business and to external partners. Internally, Foulsham says it is crucial to build strong teams and to promote cross-business project delivery, rather than letting people work in functional silos. Suppliers must feed into that process, too.

"You'll need some really strong partners to help you deliver digital transformation," he says, pointing to a £1m multi-year partnership with Virgin Media, which Foulsham and his team are using to help push business change. "They're helping us to amplify what we're doing digitally."

2. Don't be too rigid

Success in digital, says Foulsham, is about more than just using the right technology to help a business transform. While the cloud, apps and collaboration are key tools, CDOs must also ensure that both they and their organisation are nimble enough to modify their approach as business requirements change.

"Great, have a digital strategy - but be prepared to modify it on day one," he says. "If your customers tell you something needs to change, then you must have the ability to flex. That ability is often strongly related to internal mind-set and the kind of people you have around you."

Foulsham says it is impossible to run a digital business without creativity. "Agility and innovation go hand in hand. In order to provide the best services digitally, you need to bring together many people and concepts," he says.

"That amalgamation of disparate ideas is going to give you a different type of solution to the challenges you face. What you're looking for is a competitive differentiator, and that's true whether you're a commercial business or a charitable organisation."

3. Be rigorous in your exploitation of data

Foulsham says data is the lifeblood of a modern organisation. He suggests there are two key elements to pumping information successfully around an organisation. First, CDOs must take advantage of the insight and opportunities that big data can provide. Second, CDOs must work on data protection.

"You need to know what data your organisation holds and how you're going to exploit that intelligently," he says. "Equally, you need to know what types of data needs strong levels of protection. You must safeguard your organisation. The cyber risk continues to increase and vulnerabilities are ever-present."

Foulsham says this holistic approach does not have to create a strategic split. "Insight and security are actually two sides of the same coin - the two elements have got to be managed in tandem," he says.

4. Act in a service-orientated manner

Organisations will continue to purchase more services through the cloud during 2017. Foulsham says working in an on-demand manner will mean CDOs have to think about how their business will buy those services and how finance teams internally will make the most of those cloud arrangements.

"You'll have to think about how you fund that cost," he says. "Your management of services-based contracts is likely to be different to traditional arrangements and is likely to have a strong bias towards operational expenditure, rather than capital expenditure."

Foulsham says the services executives buy from the cloud should be aligned with their firm's overall business dynamic. Any CDO must ensure their organisation can flex its digital services in response to the broader trends within the business, whether those change monthly, seasonally or annually.

"If you're going to procure services digitally, then you need to do a number of things differently," he says. "A services-orientated business has an ability to make sure that each element of the organisation is aware that the operating model might need to change in terms of costs and technical integration."

5. Focus on providing value

Vendors and experts alike continue to hype all-things-digital. Yet Foulsham says executives must avoid simply being digital for digital's sake. "That kind of approach is worthless - you must look at the time to create value and the return on investment," he says.

"As we've seen with the cloud, you'll be procuring services digitally in a different way - and there will be risks associated with that process, whether that's in terms of using organisations and products that are not fully market-proven, or whether you'll be able to scale appropriately when the business demands rise."

Just as a move towards being a services-oriented business requires a change in mind-set, so the definition of value changes as an organisation starts to make the most of digital transformation. "There's more risk, but there's also greater opportunity," says Foulsham, referring to the task facing CDOs.

"Really understand how you're going to produce value over what kind of timescale. Be prepared to fail fast - and adapt that approach if the value your business requires is not being generated."

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