Think Like a Startup: How to Build a Competitive Digital Business

Jacques Fouché, Head of Strategic Consulting at Ovations Group

Digitization has affected all aspects of our lives: our way of life, our way of working and, essential to your business, our way of consuming. It has changed the way customers want to interact with your business.

Convenience comes first. Customers now have high expectations, they want to follow orders, and tolerance levels are low. Without the necessary digital technology, it becomes unlikely that your business can support this level of service.

Jacques Fouché, head of strategic consulting at Ovations Group, says organizations should see technology as an opportunity to compete with companies that have organized themselves to make the most of digital. “Start-ups often offer competitive products at low prices and can provide an excellent customer experience using the latest technology and lean internal structures.”

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He advises, “To stay competitive in your industry and increase your market share, you need to start automating the business processes that bring value to the customer, to improve their overall experience and exceed their expectations.”

Fouché identifies two key digital drivers: customer experience (CX) and the price of digital enablers.

“Customer experience is now recognized as the most critical factor for business success and is seen as an important differentiator in the market. Customers expect a level of service that you can only deliver by adopting emerging technologies. Service levels at all points of customer interaction should be a key objective for every business. »

The cloud lowers barriers

Second, Fouché states that while the cost of digital enablers has been prohibitive, cloud computing has begun to break down that barrier, providing access to digital solutions to a wide range of organizations and IT budgets.

In the context of the current pandemic, remote working and new shopping behaviors have caused many business owners and leaders to rethink digital and the role emerging technologies should play in the future of businesses.

A digital business is one that provides customers with a physical product or service in digital form, such as Uber, Takealot or even online banking, where the interaction is digital from start to finish, Fouché explains.

He believes that the foundation of a digital business includes the following four elements:

  • A set of standardized business processes across all internal functions to ensure a consistent customer experience;
  • The ability to forecast and respond to customer demand levels and meet their requirements on time;
  • Use your customer knowledge to drive personalization; and
  • The ability to quickly deliver new products and features – digital businesses need to be able to experiment and react to the pace.

“Technology is just one tool to help create a better customer experience, but being an effective digital business also requires changing the way your organization operates. It should align with how customers interact with it; this will greatly improve the customer experience.

But how do companies go about implementing digital and a customer-centric operating model? To support the required service levels and information your customers demand, organizations can consider the following, Fouché says:

  1. Optimize, automate and continuously improve business processes. Consider robotic process automation (RPA) which uses software robots to automate highly repetitive routine tasks typically performed by knowledge workers. The addition of artificial intelligence allows bots to mimic human tasks such as pattern recognition and decision making.
  2. To support customer insight and personalization, you need enhanced data processing capabilities and big data technologies that integrate customer information across all touchpoints. Complement this with machine learning to provide the predictive analytics needed to drive personalized marketing and prevent fraud.
  3. From a software perspective, the transition from a monolithic architecture to a microservices architecture will improve scalability and flexibility, and enable the digital enterprise to launch new features and application instances, and expose APIs to partners in your business ecosystem.
  4. From an infrastructure perspective, a hybrid multi-cloud strategy offers the opportunity to optimize costs. If you match workloads to the most appropriate computing model, you properly optimize the workload architecture and continuously track expenses. Consider both containers and serverless to balance your portability requirements while being aware of vendor dependency.
  5. From a people perspective, you need better collaboration between development and operations and other stakeholders such as information security. Build on Agile software development practices that have bridged the gap between business and developers by extending it to operations. Integrate security and Lean principles into your DevOps environment to streamline faster delivery of the products digital businesses need.
  6. Finally, strong cybersecurity and fraud strategies to protect the organization and your customers from emerging technological threats are mandatory. It is increasingly difficult for a company to recover from cyberattacks and data breaches.

A digitally savvy leadership team is needed to drive the necessary change within the company, not only in technology, but also in culture and ways of working. Fouché says, “For years, business and IT have focused on alignment and integration, but in the digital business, the executive needs to collaborate on people, process and technology, in the context of customer value.These stakeholders should establish an integrated program organized around customer journeys, where they focus on those that unlock the most value.

The CIO must ensure that IT and the business are working towards the same goal: to improve the customer experience.

Core IT functions, however, have lost some control over IT resources and services due to the unprecedented adoption of emerging technologies directly by business units, in what is known as shadow IT. Technology decisions and acquisitions are gradually bypassing IT, increasing IT spending and the number of vendors to manage.

Fouché says IT encourages business units to work with them when choosing an emerging technology vendor. “To ensure you get business value and competitive advantage, IT must become the trusted advisor and negotiator. IT should play a key role in identifying how you implement emerging technologies to improve your customer experience. This involves involving customers in the design process from the start to improve the chances of success. »

IT also needs to identify the new skills and expertise needed and establish a procurement model that will best support the adoption of technology trends.

“Traditional – non-digitized – businesses will eventually struggle to compete and meet customer expectations. For some, survival will be at stake. Traditional businesses have more legacy to manage than new entrants, but these often perform well and need to find the right balance to stay competitive,” says Fouché.

“Hype aside, I think all businesses should at least recognize that digital can enable more efficient business models. Rather embrace digital than end up unprepared.”

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