DX Summit attendees had plenty of questions about digital transformation.
DX Summit attendees had many questions about digital transformation. PHOTO: Robert Levy

CHICAGO — Five minutes into CMSWire's second annual DX Summit, my skepticism about the concept of digital transformation blew away like a feather on a windy day here in the heart of the Midwest. 

Gerry McGovern, CEO of Customer Carewords and author of "Transform: A Rebel’s Guide for Digital Transformation," kicked off the first workshop Monday morning asking attendees their roles and biggest challenges.

Not only did they talk about a desire to digitally transform, they used the term. It’s the first time as a technology reporter I’ve actually heard practitioners from the trenches — not vendors, not consultants, not agencies, but actual marketers, digital strategists and the like — use terms usually reserved for webinar slides and white papers.

CMSWire 2016 Digital Customer Experience Survey
CMSWire 2016 Digital Customer Experience Survey

The lesson for me: digital transformation is real

It’s here. 

And organizations actually have barometers to rate where they are in their journey, as evidence by the CMSWire 2016 Digital Customer Experience Survey.

'We Think Very Old'

I’ve poked my head into a few tech conferences the past few years and spoken to more than a few practitioners of marketing and digital experience technology.

Not once have they said things like, “We need to create a personalized journey for one-to-one marketing in order to create a better customer omnichannel experience.” 

But digital transformation? That’s a term that resonated for many of the 400 attendees at this week’s DX Summit, fittingly held in a city known for the ultimate transformation — from an aging urban center to "the most data-driven government in the world."

And it all started in that opening session by McGovern, whose message then and in his keynote became, “You are not the center of the universe. Your customers are.”

The standing room audience told McGovern about their challenges:

  • “We think very old. We’re a large industrial company starting our digital journey with a clean slate.”
  • “We’re a small community bank who’s just getting started in digital.”
  • “Education has moved into digital age and we need to personalize the experience for prospective students and for current students.” 
  • “We’ve done customer journey mapping and we have a digital transformation roadmap that we’ve sold to executives and are now implementing.”
  • “We’re trying to pivot from an infomercial-based model to digital.”
  • “The hardest part for us is resistance to change.”

CMSWire's Digital Customer Experience Survey corroborates that last challenge. When asked the challenges their organization faces when creating its approach to digital customer experience, most rated lack of strategic direction, lack of executive support and budget constraints as the top concerns.    

The Digital Imperative

Transforming digitally also means testing and taking risks, messages eloquently delivered by DX Summit 2016 speakers such as Vab Dwivedi of Dell and Josh Aberant of SparkPost. Stop obsessing over failing — failure gives you an opportunity to show customers empathy by admitting your mistakes and fixing it.

DX Summit attendee Fred Faulkner, a Chicago-based group marketing director at digital agency ICF Olson, said digital transformation was a buzzword for marketing "back in the day." 

“However,” Faulkner added, “over the past 12 to 18 months, the C-Suite has really understood that IT’s roadmap isn’t just IT’s roadmap anymore. It’s marketing’s roadmap. It’s the customer’s roadmap. Marketing has the ability to now influence technology’s budget and that’s forced the C-Suite to understand these are now not separate line items. The C-Suite is making a strategic initiative for themselves because either they’re getting beat up by the competition, they want to set the bar for competition or they’re getting invaded by places they never thought possible — customers are demanding it.”

Companies also need to transform digitally internally before they can provide solid digital experiences to their customers, according to Tod Pedler, CEO of CentricMinds, a San Francisco-based provider that offers digital workplace software.

“They’re only now realizing this,” said Pedler, who attended the DX Summit. “You’ve got a large enterprise of 20,000 to 30,000 people. How to you distill something from the CEO to everyone?”

Digital transformation — from the inside, from the outside. It’s real, no matter what my skeptical fictitious pen writes.