Starting out in Digital Innovation - eating the elephant one bite at a time.

Published on February 16th, 2019

Chris Brockhouse
Technical Director

If you’ve never heard of the proverb “To eat an elephant, take one bite at a time” then you might have wondered how eating an elephant is any way related to digital innovation! It goes without saying that I don’t condone harming these majestic animals, however it’s a great way to describe how you might feel about getting started with digital innovation.

If you feel inexperienced or don’t know where to start, you don’t need to commence transforming your entire business. Incremental innovation can be just as successful – and better still, it can bring you benefits in a matter of weeks or months rather than years.

Perhaps you think that digital innovation is for multinational corporations, however there is an entrepreneur in all of us and digital innovation can be affordable for small to medium organisations – in fact even sole traders can successfully embrace innovation.

What is Digital Innovation?

The standard theory of Digital Innovation is that it’s a transformational change to a business’s process, technology or strategy to provide new and emerging methods of innovation.

We’ve all experienced that moment when you’ve needed to fax or post a form to a business, whether it’s to open a bank account or notify them of a change of address. As someone in the technology industry, I always have high expectations of being able to interact with businesses digitally. I would rather submit a form online using my mobile phone than have to print it out, sign it and find a letter box.

Why Digital Innovation?

Digital Innovation has touched every single industry across the board, from healthcare to manufacturing, through to entertainment and education. Whether you’re an existing organisation or a start-up, disruptive technologies will have impacted your business model and value chain. To remain competitive in today’s global marketplace, you must begin responding to this challenge or risk becoming redundant.

One popular business impacted by digital innovation was Blockbuster Video. At the peak of its roll out throughout the Australian market, Blockbuster had 370 stores nationwide. Within 10 years this number had fallen to 12. Blockbuster’s business model relied on an outdated service model that was directly impacted by digital innovation – streaming.

Incremental or Transformational?

Not every innovation needs to be an Uber or a Netflix. In fact, these are quite often the outliers in digital innovation. It’s substantially harder to re-engineer an end to end processes or implement a new technology stack when you’re continuing to servicing your customers. Imagine trying to change a jet engine when the plane is in the air – sounds impossible doesn’t it?

Everybody jumps to transformational thinking but often incremental change will have the greatest chance for the biggest impact. Whilst there is certainly a place for transformational change and innovation, this can be rather daunting to consider.

Where do I start?

Now that you know what it is, how do you get started? In my experience, digital transformation will never achieve its full potential without being built hand in hand with human centered design. These principals and tools can be used to connect with the pain of your customer to find opportunities to improve. To read more about this link and how it helps, check out 6 simple design thinking techniques for busy people.

Most importantly, don’t panic – you don’t need a team of developers to start your journey. Build Me Stuff can help you get started quickly and without fuss.

There are also few key points to consider and questions to ask when thinking about the journey of digital transformation.

What are your business objectives?  It’s great to think about what’s possible for your business, but what problems are you trying to solve for which of your customer groups? Is it a retention issue, a revenue problem? This is why you need to be aware of your overarching business strategy. Whilst it doesn’t need to drive the change, it can set some great guiding principles for your journey.

Don’t assume anything – or ‘Trust your data, but listen to your customers.’  One of the key principles of digital innovation is using data and insights into your business. Don’t start with gut feel but rather use data from your business using human centered design principles. This will help you connect with the pain of your customer to find opportunities to improve.

Small ideas can change the world.  Like I mentioned earlier, you don’t need to move mountains with your ideas. Small iterative changes can be just as powerful as transformational ones. Who’d have thought a simple progress bar would change the way we interact with – and wait for – our computers? I remember waiting for games to load on the Commodore 64 and being unsure whether I should keep waiting after 5 minutes of loading, or perform the ever-reliable IT panacea of turning it off and on again. Sorry Microsoft, your ever unreliable file copy dialog doesn’t count in this instance… (Having said that, this is one thing Windows 10 does fairly well finally…)

Embrace and understand failure. “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” – Robert F. Kennedy. We’ve all worked for companies that do not tolerate failure and if you’re a brain surgeon operating on a patient, fair enough. However, when the cost of failure is relatively low, why not embrace it and build it into your operating rhythm? Build Me Stuff works with every customer to introduce a rapid prototyping approach. This requires an element of psychological safety where we agree to have an appetite to fail fast. By embracing rapid prototyping, failures are smaller and can be resolved faster, thus saving sunk cost and time in an idea not wholly suited to your business.

Just get started. It can be really tempting to perform analysis, collect data, process requirements, seek funding, find resources and schedule time to work on an idea. I’m as guilty as anyone else on this on occasion, but over the years I’ve managed to move away from analysis paralysis. Sometimes the best way to get started with innovation is to just jump straight in and do your best.

Measure, enhance, then measure again. OK, you’ve jumped in and created something you think will be successful and will help your customers. Now what? It’s tempting to move onto the next issue or idea but how do you know you’ve made your customers’ lives easier or better? Remember what I said about failure? It’s OK to have made a change that didn’t necessarily hit its target but you need to pick this up early and be ready to change it again and keep refining it until your data reveals the desired impact. When you’re happy – and more importantly, your customers are happy – feel free to move on to your next idea or refinement.

Now what?

Digital Innovation isn’t a destination, it’s a journey. Once you get started – and you can start seeing the potential – I guarantee you’ll be addicted to the journey.


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