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It’s 2016, and the world may seem like it’s "digital-first." But let’s be real: we’re still in the early chapters of digital transformation. 

Twenty years after the arrival of the web, most enterprises are just now starting to realize the potential to use digital technology to transform how they operate.

Throughout the first phase of innovation, digitalization focused mainly on communications, marketing and advertising functions within an organization. Brochureware sites led to transactional commerce sites led to omnichannel digital experiences and wow — now everyone has a big stack of marketing-oriented tools and technology, trying to drive better data-driven customer journeys. Businesses are getting smarter about presenting personalized content and experiences to get people to click "buy" on their website.

Websites are one thing, but changing your operational processes or, more significantly, your business model, offers bigger opportunities. 

Majority of Companies Suffer from Digital Whiplash

Companies like Uber and Venmo were digital-first from the outset. Their entire business is digital. They leverage capabilities like geolocation, process payments online and make useful services utility-like in their accessibility and simplicity. 

For them, digital is more than a great website or app. It’s their heartbeat. Digital drives and improves each function of their offerings. 

The moment this new wave of ‘clean-slate’ online businesses came into the mix, it accelerated the need for others to follow suit. These firms and others, like Netflix, gave traditional businesses digital whiplash (or ran them straight out of town, like Blockbuster). 

Speed matters in this environment. According to IDC, two-thirds of Global 2000 CEOs will have digital transformation at the center of their corporate strategy by the end of 2017. Beyond this, 85 percent of enterprise decision makers think they have two years to get up to speed or else they’ll fall behind their competitors, 55 percent of this group thinks they only have a year and 59 percent think it may be too late. 

So what’s the next move for traditional businesses? Think beyond marketing and commerce, and identify new ways to approach digitalization — use digital to make old processes or products new, or invent completely new processes and products to meet the needs of the market. 

Making Old Things New

Domino’s is a great example of a company that’s embraced digital to improve CX and its existing business functions. 

A few years ago the company wowed the pizza world with online ordering and a real-time pizza tracker that showed where your pizza was in the make-bake-deliver process. Now, customers can order a pizza by simply sending a single emoji. They can also use other digital methods — from the Apple Watch to the Amazon Echo.

Dominos disrupted a traditional business process — taking orders via phone, syncing into a computer system, communicating to chefs — by digitizing it. 

Not everyone runs a massive pizza business. But think about the way you currently do things in your organization and evaluate how you can do them more efficiently by using digital technology as a process enabler.

The aviation industry has also improved operational efficiencies through digitalization. Companies from Bombardier to GE have implemented IoT and big data solutions into jet engines to help them detect performance issues and report back to maintenance teams on the ground in real time. Leveraging digital solutions, these companies have created a much more efficient and robust system of checks and balances to maintain their aircrafts — and get planes back up in the air with minimal delays.

Creating New Things

Using digital to create new things is where true innovation comes in. The tools and technology available in today’s digital age allow us to reinvent the way we do business and interact with customers. You don’t have be a pioneer like Uber to do it.

CVS is a company that’s not only used digital to improve the existing process of reordering and picking up prescriptions, but also to create a new, better way to serve customers. 

CVS alerts customers via text message when prescriptions are ready, cutting out the time and energy it would take for pharmacists to call every customer or answer their calls (making an old process new). 

It is also piloting a new curbside pickup service in 350 locations around the country. A CVS app enables online ordering of anything in the store, then location-based notifications alert delivery runners when the customer arrives, and items are carried to customers in a designated parking area. It’s a fantastic solution for elderly customers, or those with kids who can’t be left alone in the car.

Dunkin’ Donuts has also leveraged digital to create something new. On National Coffee Day, the company debuted a "Time to Coffee" app for customers in Manhattan. The digital service analyzed the current walking times and wait times at local Dunkin’ Donuts locations to help customers see exactly how long it would take to get a coffee from their current location. It was a new way to leverage data digitally to enhance the Dunkin’ customer experience.

These digital business innovators are leading the way, and more are sure to follow. Two important trends are merging that organizations must pay attention to in order to thrive: businesses must improve operational efficiencies to remain competitive, and create better customer experiences to differentiate themselves. CIOs and digital leaders must consider ways they can improve back-end processes through digital, and create a better forward-facing customer experience.