If you were to name a driving force in the global economy over the past 30 years, what would it be? Ted Shelton, VP, EAS CBC customer solutions, Cognizant Business Consulting, would respond, “Technology.” “In the past our institutions, whether political or economic, were influenced by a set of environmental factors. Their stability and health determined by access to raw materials, the weather, and competing interests. Today though the most important forcing function for change in our institutions has become technology,” he said.
Recently, Shelton has begun writing about the digital transformation and how the enterprise can successfully navigate it with social tools. “We live at a moment of transformation, and I have become a student of this change, looking not just at its impact but also at its potential,” he commented. “I can¹t imagine a more interesting topic at this moment of history.”
Shelton defines the digital transformation as the process of how organizations are re-evaluating their activities due to the capabilities of information technology. As a result of changes in technology, businesses are eliminating non-digital elements of those activities and shifting them to the digital realm. Shelton predicts that this transformation will lead to the rise of a new type of corporation: the connected enterprise.
The connected enterprise places a high degree of importance on engaging with its customers, Shelton explained. In fact, he believes that the future belongs to companies that put their customers first and adopt an “outside in” approach. “The point of ‘outside in’ is to put yourself in the shoes of your customer (or potential customer) and to ask the question, ‘what would I want if I were buying something from this company? What experience? What value? What qualities? What support?’” he remarked. “Most companies consider their processes from their own perspective and efficiency and not from their customer’s perspective.” Shelton cited the example of boarding an airplane: airlines want passengers to disembark and board a plane as quickly as possible to maximize their profits. However, the emphasis on speedy boarding makes the experience unpleasant for passengers. Creating a pleasant pre-boarding experience will make passengers want to travel with that airline again.
Shelton sees social technology tools as having a significant role to play in the “outside in” approach. Connecting to employees, partners and customers will create a more successful business. He places an especial emphasis on creating a deep relationship with customers through social tools. Although social media technologies have existed for the better part of a decade, businesses are still not leveraging them effectively to connect with customers. Shelton described the mindset that keeps the enterprise from success in this area: “There is an operating model, developed over the twentieth century, that companies still mostly follow which defines the customer as an outsider, whose perceptions should be carefully managed,” he said. However, social media renders that model invalid. “[It] creates a level of transparency and interaction that voids this bifurcation and enables a fluid conversation between employees and customers,” Shelton remarked.
Any paradigm shift requires cooperation from all employees. Attaining collaboration can be difficult, especially from executives. It is not impossible, though. “The most important way to insure ‘buy-in’ from all levels of an organization is to demonstrate the return on investment achieved by investing in these technologies,” Shelton suggested. “Companies can be scientific in defining a set of experiments that will guide them in making the right investments and this is the core methodology for a successful transformation agenda.”