Contributions by Matthew O’Rourke

This is part two in our seven-part series on digital maturity. If you’d like to start reading from the beginning, you can find the first article here.

Digital maturity starts and ends with people. It is an ongoing change process that requires fluidity. Ideally, this is driven by the culture and leadership of an organization. Both aspects create an environment for digital initiatives to thrive. However, we find ourselves in structures that are hesitant to change, and, in many companies, it is still more accepted to fail conventionally than to succeed unconventionally. So how do we achieve digital maturity in organizations that are hesitant to change?

In our experience, making digital maturity a reality often comes down to influential and well-connected change agents who are open to innovation and continuously plant ideas and initiatives across the company. The people who are accelerating in digital don’t hesitate to take risks, launch pilots and share their learnings with the rest of the organization (even if they weren’t successful).

We’ve seen change agents in a variety of roles and functions – from human resources to procurement and in some instances even among legal, regulatory and medical teams. They are crucial in driving digital innovation. Typically, we find change agents as part of the following w stakeholder groups with varying levels of digital maturity and influence:

  • Internal business stakeholders, such as brand or marketing teams, who have a specific business need or objective, which digital initiatives aim to address.
  • Digital Center of Excellence (DCoE), such as digital planners or managers, who support business stakeholders as experts in planning and executing digital initiatives.
  • External partners, such as agencies or consultancies, which bring high levels of specific expertise and knowledge to digital initiatives.

Roles and Level of Digital Maturity

While business stakeholders have a very strong understanding of a specific brand, category and business need, their experience with digital processes, platforms and functionalities can be limited. It’s not their job to be experts in the latest technological developments, but, rather, to focus on what is most beneficial to the brand and the business. They are often the owner of the initiative, budget holder and ultimate decision maker.

Members of the DCoE are able to bring together a solid understanding of the business needs with a broad understanding of digital platforms and channels. This enables them to enter each engagement with an internal perspective to assess the need for the given situation and the external knowledge of potential digital solutions. Their role includes defining the brief for the digital initiative and supporting the execution or helping select the right partner for execution. They are digital consultants to the business stakeholders and can share learnings across the organization.

External partners, such as agencies, are typically engaged for a specific area of expertise. If there is one key success factor in engaging these external partners, it’s to set clear expectations. Be transparent about why you are bringing in the external partner (do they provide a capability, experience or resource you’re lacking in-house?) and what you want them to do (do you want their advice on the approach or do you have a specific brief you need them to execute?).

Informed Decision-Making and Digital Pilots

The roles of these three stakeholders are clearly defined as long as there is a clear brief in place. It becomes challenging if the situation requires a new way of thinking and approach. Digital initiatives often don’t rely on proven and tested tactics. Through evolving demands in user behavior and experience, we have continuous access to new platforms, formats and channels. This opens opportunities, but also risks and creates a blurry definition of what the solution may look like, which makes it hard to secure buy-in from internal stakeholders.

In the absence of a strong and precise brief it can be helpful to include a trusted (external) partner at an early stage of the assessment and solution-defining process. (Yes, we all want to be part of this decision-making process, because we want to share our experience and help create better outcomes.) If you are concerned about a potential conflict of interest, you can decouple the consultation from the executional efforts.

We know there are many stakeholders already involved at this phase and navigating the politics internally is quite complex and time-consuming. At this point, the last thing the in-house team needs is another opinion. However, sharing a draft brief with an external partner for feedback can save time and costs, pressure test the scope of the assignment, or generate ideas for a potential pilot. The latter is a great way to mitigate risks, since they cover a short time period, require low investment, and focus strongly on measurement of potential outputs. This way, they allow for larger-scale projects if they demonstrate they can deliver the desired outcome.

In summary, change agents manage to bring together the right team of internal business stakeholders, who are open to pilot digital initiatives, and DCoE members, who understand the business need and can define the digital brief as well as select the right external partners. Launching scalable pilots can help mitigate risks and secure buy-ins from internal stakeholders. However, the process for creating and advancing digital maturity requires an honest skill assessment of internal teams and external partners to identify and address potential gaps. Find out how to best approach the skill assessment in part three of our series.

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