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Why winning digital strategies never omit people

Eric Lai
Eric LaiExecutive Director and General Manager of Asia Pacific
I have over two decades of experience with leading technology companies, a decade each with IBM and Lenovo. In my current role, I am the Executive Director and General Manager of Lenovo Asia Pacific. I focus on the global account business for Lenovo. This makes me responsible for Lenovo’s Top Global 500 corporate customers across China, ANZ, ASEAN, HTK (Hong Kong, Taiwan and Korea), India and Japan. I drive growth for Lenovo’s global customer segments in this region by ensuring the delivery of a consistent customer experience across Asia Pacific. One of my key initiatives has been to enable Asia Pacific Headquartered customers to implement standardised IT equipment (from PC and smart device to data centre equipment) across the world.

Follow me on Twitter @EricLaiMail

In an age where the digital elements of organisational strategy development seem preeminent, it comes as something of a surprise to learn that the best digital strategies – those that help an organisation win – still have a clear focus on people.

It’s a fundamental truth of any strategy that success is marked by meeting the needs or addressing the frustrations of customers, users, suppliers and employees.

What digital strategies add are the technologies that systematically provide smarter, better and faster ways of delivering an organisation’s objectives.

But they still centre on people – let’s call it the employee and customer experience. Does your digital strategy serve them? It should, because your success as an organisation depends on these groups of people being highly engaged and having their needs met.

As tech author Brian Solis recently pointed out, for most companies there’s a gap between desired employee engagement and actual employee experience. The same goes for the customer experience. It’s ranked as a top digital driver for companies and yet the percentage of organisations which have actually mapped the evolving customer journey in the last year was just 34.8%.


Customer experience is ranked as a top digital driver for companies and yet the percentage of organisations which have actually mapped the evolving customer journey in the last year was just 34.8%.

Indeed, the topic of digital transformation gets a lot of air time. But it’s important to be strategically aligned as a business before applying digital technologies to transform your processes. Ask: is your overall strategy aligned with your actual capabilities across your people and departments? Consider a point HBR makes: do not attempt to transform into a highly connected, open network of teams and partners if it does not suit your culture and your people. And working out what suits your culture is a function of leadership as well as strategy.


Approaches to people-centric digital strategy

In this context, and with people – customers, employees and partners – at the centre of strategic thinking, there are two ways organisations should start when developing their digital strategies.

First, focus on the fundamentals of how people drive productivity and value, rather than being overly concerned with market sentiment, worrying predictions, or the latest trends.

Second, identify the objectives and goals needed to win first: take the end result you’re trying to achieve, or pinpoint the problem you want to solve, and make sure you’re empowering people to get there. The objective could be trying to ready a new product, launch in a new market, or align your operations more around customer pain points.

Only once these steps have been taken should digital elements be introduced – the software, hardware and applications needed to deliver on these business objectives.

Recent MIT Sloan Review research suggests three elements are critical for any successful digital strategy:

  1. Longer term vision
  2. The right internal communication, and
  3. Applying the digital strategy to your core business.

Follow these tenets and design your digital strategies with people at the centre.


Examples of today’s digital strategies 

Here’s an example of a strategy with people at its centre – from our own business. Lenovo’s internal, global digital business management system (BMS) is currently being reinvented and redesigned. As we’ve grown, we’ve become more-complex, with insights increasingly difficult to see across our organisation. The resolution is something we’re calling “one BMS” – one system with a single view of the truth. We’re in the initial discovery phase in planning and creating this system, guided by a longer-term vision, constant internal communication, and training. Empowering our people with a better-functioning employee experience is at the centre of this strategy.

From a digital transformation perspective, we’re delivering by physically enacting and building on the vision, and we’re accountable as leaders through formal key performance indicators (KPIs). There are clear measures (in real time) of success or failure. We don’t need to wait until the end of the development phase to know whether our strategy is sound.

The senior executives I speak to at our top-500 global customers use technology to harness or counter disruption, and on finding new ways to make life easier for customers and employees. Automotive companies are working on autonomous driving technology to build into the next generation of their automobiles. Large manufacturers are changing workflow practices on warranty services, using digital technologies to help improve repair processes. For example, one business has limited experts, so it’s sharing knowledge on skills via analytics and augmented reality. More engineers can perform the tasks of a senior engineer. Empowering employees helps the business achieve success at a lower cost via digital means.

Another manufacturing company is trying to solve an issue around poor collaboration between their designers and engineers. In this case, the ideas both teams have are great, but stitching them together to solve customer problems has been less productive. One simple digital solution is that we’re helping them with more-powerful mobile workstations so they can collaborate away from the traditional desktop space. This has created collaboration in different physical spaces that is more natural and spontaneous – the way people like to work, instead of within their isolated, static compartments. It’s a classic example of digitisation and technology supporting the people actually doing the work – solving an actual problem to create a better result.

Finally, digital strategies can open up greater creativity for marketers, using data and personalisation to find new ways to delight customers. Take the example of a soft drinks FMCG company we work with. This business is using online technologies and QR codes to interact with its customers more frequently via mobile and digital channels – offering discounts, competitions, and gamification of the customer experience. Creativity engages customers and drives loyalty; it’s all part of a digital strategy, which for consumer-facing organisations involves broadening your customer base, and reaching a younger audience that knows and expects digital. For many companies, it’s about extending the physical reach of their products into the digital realm to get closer to the user.

As you can see, people are at the centre of digital strategies – thinking about customers, partners and employees and enacting a more sophisticated and integrated level of strategic, digital thinking. Digital technologies are useful – and they have meaning when they improve lives.

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