2014-05-24

Digital Technology powering a collaborative world

Audrey_03Audrey Mothupi, Chief Executive of SystemicLogic, shares her view on the importance of digital strategies, how business is converging on the back of technology and how technology can bring companies closer to their customers. SystemicLogic is a global consulting and technology firm with a leading edge in innovation and emergent business strategy.

What are the drivers of business in the global economy and do you think there are differences between the global and local drivers?

There are no significant dissimilarities between the drivers of the local and international economy. A strong focus on the growth of technology and the opportunity this unlocks around the customer is prevalent everywhere. The digital space around consumers is a key driver of client centricity – it is at the core of finding new ways of understanding customer preferences and complexities. This leads to a process where the economic models that companies have built their market dominance upon thus far, are being re-examined in earnest.

A good example is the blurring of lines between financial services companies, telcos and retailers. In response to client needs, banks are emulating telcos and leveraging technology to provide services. Telcos in turn are seeing distribution channel opportunities opening up in this segment and are starting to behave like financial services companies. In the midst of this customers are stepping into retail stores, shopping for groceries and concluding banking transactions – clearly signalling their desire for a one-stop experience. Therefore it is imperative for boardroom conversations to include the importance of digital technology and how an organisation is going to interpret and respond to the signals customers are sending via these channels.

The pace of digital transformation can have rapid and enormous impacts on products and industries. Do you think companies should be proactive and attempt to set the tone or be reactive to changes looking to capitalise on emerging opportunities?

The way in which companies are doing research and development is changing dramatically. Digital technology is making the response to new product strategies immediate. There is no longer a three to five week wait, companies know very quickly if something is working or not. Social networks have made this possible. Much current research revolves around how quickly a product can be brought to market and perhaps, more importantly, how well it is going to serve customer needs. We are also entering an era where many traditional business theories will be re-examined and re-interpreted.

In the early part of my career, Michael Porter’s hypothesis with respect to first mover advantage was viewed as an absolutely critical component of any company’s strategy. I believe that while still relevant, its context has changed. The rapid evolution of technology means that if you get to market first, competitors can quickly build on the foundations you have laid and potentially overtake you. Therefore, leading companies are realising the future of market development is going to lie in collaboration – allowing their competitors early access into the game so they too can wrestle with the challenges.

In many respects it is also about a different interpretation of the 80/20 principle. In that, you develop 80% of the market and allow others to invest resources in helping unlock the last 20% of the market which is proving challenging to access. Approaching markets and business in this way is a tricky proposition for companies to get right. You need to find a balance between current demands and future developments. This also needs to be done against the backdrop of digital evolution and in conjunction with a network of collaborative partners that can strengthen your position.

Does leaning heavily on a collaborative approach not undermine brand differentiation?

There is little doubt that brand differentiation is going to remain important. Companies will need a constant stream of innovation to underpin their differentiation going forward. What is definitely going to change is how the elements that drive this differentiation are going to be sourced. Collaboration is not only about working with different companies, it is also about working with your own people and allowing their ideas and experiences to influence your products. It is important to remember that disruption lies at the heart of innovation and differentiation. Companies that can harness these disruptive ideas and processes internally will be the ones that will successfully differentiate their brands.

At SystemicLogic one of the things I am really excited about is the creation of a platform within the company – on a global scale – that recognises that our people are closest to the customer and gives them a leading role in defining our approach to market. If there is one area that still needs to be effectively leveraged by companies, it is the utilisation of technology to give their employees a voice. The creation of digital platforms in companies can serve as valuable tools that allow for the flow of ideas and viewpoints on customer perspectives. These platforms possess the potential to harness the energy, knowledge and creativity that team members have and direct it towards developing solutions customers want. This is an important realisation for many organisations, because the reality is that technology is nothing more than a tool that aids us in providing customers with the very best experience.

The challenge for executive teams is going to be finding the right amount of space, they need to give their teams, to deliver on these expectations. Differentiation is therefore no longer going to be an isolated process where a specialist team comes up with a set of recommendations for the executive team to approve and filter down through the organisation. Instead, it is becoming a company-wide collaborative effort with the end-goals being providing the customer with the best deal, quality and product, rolled together in a great customer experience. We are going to see traditional thinking with respect to products and pricing challenged and companies will have to look beyond their known boundaries to find solutions.

With so many voices giving input on how the customer experience should be shaped, how will companies identify the meaningful elements – those that can be game changers?

Technology has made knowledge almost omnipresent. How often do we resort to Google to solve a problem or argument? It is a typical example of how many voices, seen and unseen, can weigh in on your business and the decisions you need to take. We’re certainly finding that companies who are proving successful at harnessing new opportunities for shaping their customer offerings, are using processes that have served them well in the past and adapting them for the contemporary environment. This enables them to find the balance between internal knowledge and outsourced knowledge.

There is no silver bullet in this space, and sticking to well defined processes remains important. In addition, companies need to be mindful of sticking to their core business. If you know what you are offering customers, it is easier to decipher the clutter and to harness the knowledge and experience of your team, to identify offerings you believe your customers need. Once you have reached this point you need to apply the same decision making methodology you have always utilised, to make sure you are offering both shareholder and customer value.

I think the success Apple has enjoyed in the past decade or so, perfectly captures how a company can use the environment around it, to its advantage. In essence they took as much information as they could get from the developer community, customers and businesses, synthesised it and produced products that speak to customer needs and simultaneously giving them a glimpse of the future. At the heart of this success lies a realisation by its leadership that it needed to be quick to market, agile in decision making and cutting edge in its product offerings.

Traditional branding and marketing has undergone considerable changes in recent years, what do you think will be key elements to look out for in the future?

There has certainly been a shift in this field. The emergence of social media companies who have fed the growing culture of self-promotion and individualisation, have given established companies something to ponder. Some of the global players are leading the way in showing that one has to be disruptive to retain your brand’s edge. Coca-Cola’s personalisation strategy is a very good example of how a brand has shifted itself closer to the customer. They are leveraging a simple technique to enormous effect. I can only imagine how many brand managers are looking at this and kicking themselves!

Dove has recently tapped in the psychology of women’s issues by running an advertising campaign that seeks to identify the elements of beauty. It moves the discussion away from traditional perspectives and allows alternate viewpoints to surface. It’s not difficult to see why this has proved to be so popular – they have initiated a conversation with women around a topic that is very close to them. A home grown brand like Nandos has moved away from the static advertising that is often prevalent in the fast food sector, to using humour to address many of the developments in our society and promote its brand. I think the current message is a simple one. A business needs to understand its core offering and thereafter tailor its brand position and marketing so that it is relevant to the customer.

With the increasing clamour for customer attention how will companies know if their engagements are being successful and that they are leaving an impression on customers?

There are many factors in the mix when considering how effective your engagement is: are our customer conversations ongoing; do we have the right partners onboard to help us interpret what is being said; is our strategy being executed correctly and are we in this for the long-haul? While these are all important elements, the most critical aspect is ensuring that you maintain the quality of your customer relationship, which also refers to the quality of your execution and the quality of the people you entrust the customer relationship to. This requires analysis into the strength of these relationships. For this customer relationship to work, it is obviously important that you constantly work on having the right relationships with your staff, suppliers and other partners, because this will ultimately underpin the relationship you will be able to maintain with your customers.

As opportunities in the business world start to unfold at a rapid pace, so do the challenges and risks. What do you think the challenges are that businesses need to look out for?

I think when viewed correctly risk can be beneficial to an organisation, in the sense that it can force it to look at processes and products and eliminate potential problems before they emerge. Admittedly there is a lot out there today in terms of fast changing regulatory environments and a glut of information. It is critical to ensure that good corporate governance structures and behaviours are in place within organisations to minimise the risk of a misstep.

I think risks are sometimes overlooked as a result of a confluence of circumstances and when they cause problems and are eventually analysed, there is too much focus on why something occurred. This as opposed to addressing the problem and finding solutions aimed mitigating future problems. That being said, risks are emerging all the time and companies are going to be under continuous pressure to find them and proactively manage the threats they pose. One only has to consider some of the social media presences, which business executives have built for themselves in recent years, to realise how far reaching the risks are that companies face today.

Do you think we are going to see the emergence of social media technology that is going to offer some sort of protection for users?

I certainly think we are going to see some form of protection-based innovations coming to the fore. As with many new things that emerge, one tends to start moving towards extremes, before there is some sort of pullback towards the centre. I think we are starting to reach the point where people are starting to re-assess social media in this light and tech savvy entrepreneurs are going to start offering solutions that speak to this need.

What is your take on where digital technology and the new frontiers it is creating will take us?

One of the things the world is definitely starting to realise is that being a technology driven company does not mean you get to take short cuts. You may have technology at your disposal but there is no substitute for hard work, commitment and the resilience needed to be successful in business. Technology removes boundaries and obstacles in markets at a rapid pace, making the challenge of finding new ideas and keeping a step ahead of competitors, more challenging than was previously the case. Going forward there is certainly going to be pressure on companies to find good sustainable ideas that they can speedily take to market, for the benefit of their customers.

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2014-05-24

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