Edinburgh firm identifies the key principles of successful online platforms

Adopting a more digital approach is a challenging but positive change for organisations and staff

Becoming increasingly digital requires new skills and capabilities
Becoming increasingly digital requires new skills and capabilities

A reality of the modern world is constant change. At a technical level this means the frequent release of new digital services to users, sometimes without them noticing, and a move away from long release cycles and big-bang implementation – and the associated drama.

At an organisational level the differences are profound. Digitisation and automation shift the demand for resources away from operations towards change delivery. This means that organisations need to commit their A-team with the right skills to design, develop and deploy the new services.

In an increasingly uncertain world, organisations need to adopt a ‘fail-fast’ approach and adapt quickly. This requires strong leadership and support from all levels of an organisation. Like digital technology, organisational change is best delivered in short iterations, allowing engagement, commitment and support to grow over time.

Once organisations have adopted a mind-set of constant change, there are three areas to consider: digital platforms (over products and services); new capabilities and fresh ways of working.

In addition to embracing digital and delivering services through such channels, there is a wider opportunity to start benefiting from the –positive – disruption that results from digital platforms. These benefits are similar to those experienced by many of us on a daily basis when we use Google, Amazon, Uber, AirBnB or LinkedIn. These platforms share a number of characteristics.

- They are digital businesses whose users identify with the channel through which they receive services and not the provider.

- Their ease of use means that the user experience is so intuitive that there is no training requirement. As a result, they are almost entirely self-service.

- They disintermediate by removing unnecessary duplication and waste – including tasks, activities, people and sometimes entire organisations – from operations.

These characteristics can become guiding principles. They also infer a different business model and so, achieving them requires a transition from ‘organisation’ into ‘digital platform’ – a seismic shift that demands careful thinking about purpose, strategy, culture and structure.

Becoming increasingly digital requires new skills and capabilities and different ways of working. Many are commonplace, such as user research, service design, Agile software and UX design.

However, these capabilities need to extend beyond technology and, as they evolve, they bring new challenges with them.

- Extending beyond ‘scrum teams’ by making Agile programmes work at scale and introducing new frameworks and capabilities.

- Securing resources in a hot digital-skills market, which is currently unable to keep up with demand.

- Engaging trustworthy strategic partners to supplement in-house digital skills without a long and uncertain procurement processes.

Nevertheless, these are good problems to have, because they indicate that an organisation is bridging the gap between the pre and post-digital world. However, they emphasise the need for continuous improvement as ‘becoming digital’ throws up new and different challenges.

In addition to establishing and developing new capabilities, those embracing digital need to consider the implications for employee engagement, their ways of working and ultimately their culture.

It is pointless establishing Agile teams who are empowered to deliver if policies, performance management and career development pathways act counter to day-to-day staff operations. This requires an organisation to focus on three main objectives.

- Engaging the workforce. The organisational culture needs to reflect the reality of the digital world, which is essential for recruitment and retention.

- Adopting new approaches to workforce development. This becomes increasingly important in bridging digital skills – and sometimes generational – gaps.

- Living the new behaviours. The tone for the new culture should be set by the senior leaders, addressing capability and credibility gaps needs to start at the top.

It is essential that the chasm between ‘digital’ and ‘everything else’ gets smaller. The key to success is going further than building good digital products and services, by starting to become a digital organisation.

Alex Matthews, digital director at Anderson Anderson & Brown Consulting