BY Matt Williams
The digital revolution continues at an incredible pace. And companies – in both the Private and Public sectors – are having to work harder than ever to keep up.
With this in mind, we held an event at Engine HQ earlier this week to explore the shift towards digital, and assess how companies are maturing in this space.
The event – labeled the Digital Maturity Index – was powered by channel shift experts Transform, and after a warm welcome by Synergy chief executive Tim Crow, the agency’s director Chris Boyd took to the stage to outline the influence of digital on UK organisations.
First up, Boyd presented some vital stats. Twitter now has 500 million registered members, with users now sending more than 1 billion Tweets per week. Facebook, meanwhile, now has more than 800 million users, while Pinterest has recently exploded onto the scene and become the 3rd most visited social network in the US and UK.
This has not gone unnoticed by companies. Boyd gave the good news that “Digital investment has continued at a pace in both the private and public sectors.”
Of course, the recession has caused some companies to reassess exactly how they invest in digital, but Boyd said that cost reduction and improved digital experience can go hand in hand.
In fact, maybe it’s time to take more digital risks and be prepared to innovate more. Look at Facebook’s recent acquisition of Instagram. “Most of our businesses would have rejected Instagram as an idea – it wouldn’t have passed the ROI test,” Boyd stated, but less than two years after launch it sold for £1 billion.
What is glaringly obvious though is the necessity to invest more in digital skills. These are becoming a scarce resource at the moment. 2/3rd of companies have yet to implement a solid digital recruitment policy, according to Transform’s research, and this needs to change.
Luckily, some companies are making real strides in digital. And representatives from three of them took to the stage after Boyd.
First was O2’s Brendan O’Rourke. He talked about O2’s Priority Moments – an innovative app for O2 customers that offers deal and experiences from nearby companies.
Incredibly, the app took just 4 months to build - to put that into perspective, Foursquare took 2 years.
O’Rourke suggested this was the case not only because of the money that a large corporate like Telefonica was able to put into the initiative, but also because O2 has digital and innovation built into its culture. “Priority Moments is not just a technology story,” O’Rourke told the audience, “it’s about business integration.”
This has meant that O2’s technology department has had to become versed in marketing, while the marketing department has needed to become clued up on technology. After all, O’Rourke points out that success can only be attained if you have the right people in place, with the right skills.
One man who’s been given a very tricky task when it comes to changing an organisation’s digital approach is Mark O’Neill, the director of innovation for the Government Digital Service.
The Government spends an incredible £14 billion each year on IT, and that’s a figure that needs trimming. There’s much that can be done, O’Neill admits - for instance, 150 million calls made to Government Call Centres each year are avoidable.
One of O’Neill’s main aims is to get the Government approaching digital more like the way a Private Company does. “Why should using our services be different to using services from Amazon, John Lewis or Telefonica?” he asks.
Meanwhile, the Government’s approach to innovation is also dramatically changing. According to O’Neill, innovation in the past too often simply meant “having a room with colourful walls and funky furniture”, now it’s about making sure that innovation is an integral part of the Government’s culture, putting it at the heart of everything they do.
The event’s final speaker was News International’s chief marketing officer Katie Vanneck-Smith. She explained in great detail some of the digital challenges that face media companies – many of which are big and complex.
But digital is something that News International really has to take seriously – it is going to end up as the only substitute for newsprint, the only platform for the future.
Take The Times as an example – Vanneck-Smith explained that 15% of the newspaper’s daily editions are now delivered in the tablet format, meaning News International “can no longer win in the newspaper business through logistics,” as it used to be able to do.
But how do they do this? Vanneck-Smith explained that News International has “now started to think of digital as an enabler, providing its business with a new focus.”
This meant merging the company’s sales and marketing departments, so more of a focus can be put on a customer’s lifetime value. It’s also required the marketing department to pick up new digital skills. “Before, being in marketing meant we had to make friends with the finance department,” Vanneck-Smith said. “Now it means we have to marry the technologists.”
On a personal level, this has even seen Vanneck-Smith get herself a digital mentor. “Someone who’s under 25, and who this stuff comes naturally to,” she says.
Indeed, putting more of a focus on digital talent was a recurring theme during the event. And why not? If any company is to successfully embrace innovation, then it needs to shift its culture to revolve more intensely around digital. After all, the stats don’t lie.