Igniting the bonfire of digital reinvention: Start the fire before there’s nothing left to burn

By Warren Tomlin

Recently, I was at a campground at night. The smell of campfires was unmistakable, and my eyes picked out the many flickering points of light in contrast to the pitch-black night. The individual blazes gave warmth and light to each separate group of campers — comforting, but going no further than their respective fire pits.

When I think about the digital reinvention efforts of many companies, I think of pockets of digital initiatives, innovations or new experiences that spark up like campfires in different departments. Yet these isolated campfires are not enough to illuminate a whole company. They haven’t been properly orchestrated or strategically driven, so they’re too scattered to produce long-term growth, and people are too afraid to wander far from their individual campfires.

Real digital reinvention, the kind of change that will drive companies forward to competitive advantage, requires business leaders to combine those campfires into a raging bonfire of passion and purpose. In addition, it also requires coordination and participation on every level, with fuel in the form of investments. It may also require you to burn off some things that are holding you back. To stick with the metaphor, it needs to illuminate the darkness of doubt, combining efforts and resources to — if required — set ablaze the entire forest. OK, perhaps that’s a little dramatic!

It requires the integration of everything together: analytics and mobile, emerging technology and new business models, business practices, systems and data, all guided by a holistic reinvention strategy that can stoke all of those little campfires into a powerful blaze.

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Take the adoption of emerging technology. Clearly, technology can be a strong enabler of new ways of engaging, new ways of working and even new revenue streams. Dominos is delivering pizza with drones, people are 3-D printing everything from cars to houses to arms and 5.5 million new things are connected to the IoT every day, according to Gartner. However, tack on the latest technology to your business in isolation, and you’ll be disappointed — the fire will burn out. It will never be as powerful or as transformative as it could be if it hasn’t been strategically integrated into the fabric of your business for long-term value.

Build your bonfire with the right materials

It’s also easy to fall into the trap of thinking that doing more is always better, particularly when just keeping up feels like a big challenge. Yet being purposeful about everything you do to advance your strategy, whether it’s a new partnership or a new mobile app, is the only way to succeed.

Rather than doing everything, focus on those initiatives that will bring the most value, and focus on doing them right. It’s OK to pass on ideas that don’t mesh with your goals — a few “nos” is better than too many “yeses.” You’ll have greater success by proceeding with purpose — building your bonfire with all the right materials — and you’ll see greater results from your efforts.

However, how do you make that decision about when to add fuel to the fire and when to grab a hose? Start from the end. This means you need to know what you’re trying to achieve and understand how everything you do connects to that ultimate goal. It’s easier to gather around the bonfire if you illuminate the path.

Many companies are making customer experience a guiding principle. That means everything they do to transform the business and every piece of technology they adopt must in some way advance the mission of connecting more deeply to the customer and improving their interactions.

In the end, digital reinvention is a hard path to navigate. On the one hand, you have destruction through inaction. Paralysis. If you don’t move, others will move you — out of the way. On the other hand, you have destruction by continuing to rely on those little campfires. Searching for that one thing that might work, you try everything and overextend your resources. Or, you try multiple things but your efforts are scattered, diffused and slowly die away. It’s up to you to start the bonfire before there’s nothing left to burn.

To get started on your digital reinvention journey, join IBM iX at Mobile World Congress 2017 in Barcelona at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 28, for a special session titled, “Mobile and Cognitive: Business by Design.”

Written By

Warren Tomlin

IBM Vice President

Warren Tomlin is an IBM Vice President and Partner with more than 20 years of experience in strategy, innovation, product development and online marketing. Recognized as one of Marketing magazine’s 100 Thought Leaders, Warren is our Global Mobile Leader. He is also an IBM…

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