You can keep doing business as usual — or you can future-proof your business by becoming agile rather than reactive and customer-centric rather than presumptive.

In short, you can embrace digital transformation, explained digital analyst, speaker and author Brian Solis.

Solis, a principal analyst at San Francisco-based Altimeter Group, today released an unique maturity model for digital transformation in his new report, “The Race Against Digital Darwinism: Six Stages of Digital Transformation.”

This Is How We Do It

The research is centered on the digital customer experience, which Solis called "an important catalyst in driving the evolution of business, in addition to technology and other market factors."

Solis said his latest research gives companies a step-by-step guide to become more agile, competitive and innovative in a digital economy. 

"Many popular articles these days are served as listicles, GIFs and infographics. But change is hard. And, change only happens because the type of person who wants to really fight for it, needs to know they’re not alone, and that there’s a manifesto to guide their next steps," he said.

The Case for Digital Transformation

The report is Solis' fourth study on digital transformation, a concept that Altimeter defines as "the realignment of, or new investment in, technology, business models and processes to drive new value for customers and employees and more effectively compete in an ever-changing digital economy."

Working in collaboration with digital experience analyst Jaimy Szymanski, Solis developed the maturity framework to help businesses create roadmaps, business models and processes to compete in the digital economy.

"Digital transformation is one of the most important movements in business today. But at the same time, it’s also one of the least understood and consistently debated across the enterprise and throughout the industry," Solis told CMSWire. 

The research, which took a year and half to assemble, was developed to help CIOs, CMOs and key stakeholders follow the paths of other successful companies. "More so, it helps guide, justify, validate and effectively make the case for driving transformation," he added.

To uncover the foundations for digital transformation, the researchers interviewed representatives at some of the world’s leading brands, including Dell, Discover, GM, Harvard, Lego, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Nestlé, Novartis, Sephora, Starbucks and Target.

"I attempted to interview many companies we read about in the press to ask these questions and more to provide a human perspective to 'digital transformation.' Over the years, I found a series of patterns in how people, teams, processes, systems, technology roadmaps and models evolve as companies pursue innovation," he said. 

Forget 'Mission Critical'

You can't surf the web for insights on current business topics without running headlong into repeated references about digital transformation. In the past 10 years, it has surpassed "mission-critical" as the most popular catchphrase to define something essential to the survival of a business or organization.

It's especially relevant at CMSWire, where we are currently planning our second annual DX Summit conference (#DXS16) to help businesses better understand the strategies and technologies to guide their digital transformation efforts.

And it is something Solis contends is an essential element for businesses that are committed to updating and upgrading their capacity to compete in a digital economy. But Solis also concedes that effective transformation takes "a clear purpose, vision and motivated people."

"To effect change, businesses need a modern, human, market perspective to guide cross-functional research, collaboration and innovation in how organizations compete for tomorrow … today," he states in the report.

Beyond Business Buzzwords

But all the talk about digital transformation — along with game-changing techhologies, new paradigms, agile process, adaptive enterprises and innovative everything — can basically leave even the staunchest supporters of digital transformation scratching their heads. 

Just this month, CMSWire contributor Jonathan Moran noted, "With digital transformation so prevalent, we see a lot of metrics on how brands are measuring up. Unfortunately, there's not a lot of tactical advice on how to get digital transformation done."

How can a business get from here to there?

That's the question Solis has tried to answer through an in-depth maturity model that documents how companies go through the acts of transformation — using customer experience as a catalyst — down to the stages and the key areas of focus and change.

"This is important because companies are disrupted not only because of startups but also because of how digital customers are changing the game," he said.

6 Stages of Digital Transformation

Solis and Szymanski contend organizations go through six distinct digital transformation stages. Collectively, they noted, "these phases serve as a digital maturity blueprint to guide purposeful and advantageous digital transformation."

"Digital transformation is one of the most important trends in business shaping how companies work, market and innovate. Yet, there has never been a maturity model that shows how companies go through the process of digital transformation," Solis said.

The six progressive stages are:

  1. Business as usual — Organizations operate with a familiar legacy perspective of customers, processes, metrics, business models and technology
  2. Present and active — Pockets of experimentation are driving digital literacy and creativity, albeit disparately
  3. Formalized — Experimentation becomes intentional while executing atmore promising and capable levels
  4. Strategic — Individual groups recognize the strength in collaborating on new strategic roadmaps that plan for digital transformation investments
  5. Converged — A dedicated digital transformation team forms to guide strategy and operations
  6. Innovative and adaptive — Digital transformation becomes a way of business

While presented in a linear format, they said their research found that companies may span multiple stages at once depending on their goals, resources and overlapping initiatives.

Unique POV

Solis said his maturity model is unique because it focuses on how customer experience (and how people are changing) can drive more relevant and innovative enterprise-wide change. The story is usually told from the IT perspective, with technology roadmaps driving change, he explained.

Solis contends customer experience is a primary catalyst for driving change with CMOs and CIOs (and sometimes CDOs) and the basis for new models to jointly lead common efforts.

How important is digital customer experience? The report found:

  1. At GM, "a focus on digital customer experience drives business transformation and how companies work, but it also drives innovation in product and service development."
  2. At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, "the digital customer experience is the catalyst for change, insights about behavior, expectations, preferences and values that improve CX overall (physical and digital)."

"By concentrating on digital, companies can examine how it affects or alters the connected customer’s journey, and influences their decision-making at large. In the process, change agents recognize gaps, isolate friction, and surface opportunities," the report notes.

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