How to Tell If You’re Just Dabbling with Digital

Digital transformation is hot — in a new Altimeter Report, “The State of Digital Transformation”, we found that 88% of organizations we surveyed said that they were undergoing a formal digital transformation effort, which Altimeter defines as “the re-alignment of, or new investment in, technology and business models to more effectively engage digital consumers at every touchpoint in the customer experience lifecycle.”

But the research found that only 25% had mapped their out the customer journey, while another 12% were in the process of a mapping effort and were awaiting results. What was striking was that 42% of respondents said that while they were not officially researching the digital customer journey they had made efforts to update those digital touch points with new social and mobile investments and initiatives.

This means that while many organizations believe they are making progress to be more focused on the digital customer, I fear they are merely dabbling in their efforts and not truly undergoing a transformation. One organization I worked with had very advanced social and mobile initiatives and applications — but these two teams operated in silos (marketing and digital, respectively), rarely interacted or coordinated, and competed frequently for limited resources — both investments and people. Without a common understanding of the customer journey and alignment on how the organization would develop digital touch points, such conflict and inconsistency is inevitable.

One other statistic serves as evidence that organizations aren’t truly underling transformation — 59% of respondents felt that one of the biggest challenges to digital transformation was “thinking beyond a ‘campaign mentality’ in digital strategy efforts”. If you are jumping from campaign to campaign, your customers will feel it — you aren’t trying to develop a relationship with them, you just want to sell more stuff them.

There are three ways you can use the data from the report to benchmark your digital transformation efforts — and demonstrate to your organization the need to reconsider whether you are truly transforming or just moving chairs on the deck of a ship that’s adrift in the digital seas.

  1. Have you mapped the digital journey of your customers? With data? Until you have this in place, you can’t really align your organization around the journey.
  2. Does your leadership have a plan to address cultural issues that arise with digital transformation? True transformation is hard, painful, and challenges the status quo of organizations. Our research found that people are at the core of the transformation, not technology. Do you have a digital Center of Excellence that coordinates all of your digital efforts (social, mobile, digital marketing, etc.) and also an executive committee in place that has governance in place to identify and resolve these inevitable conflicts? You’ll need these structures in place to guide the organization through these tumultuous waters.
  3. How widespread is digital engagement amongst employees? A surefire way to tell where you are in your transformation journey is how many employees are able to engage with customers. Is it just a few select people in marketing, communications, and customer service? Or are all employees trained and empowered to engage? That second requires a clear understand of how widespread employee engagement with customers is beneficial to both the customer and the organization. It also requires guidelines, training, and ongoing monitoring and education — as well as a change in mindset from authoritarian, hierarchical control to a more open leadership style and approach.

If you don’t have satisfactory answers to the three questions above, then you have to ask yourself if your organization is truly committed to digital transformation or if it’s merely waving the flag. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of advanced with a social presence or mobile application — dig deeper and honestly ask yourself if the organization is transforming or just dabbling. If the first step to change is awareness, then it’s time to make sure that you understand where you stand.

Want to learn more? Join Brian Solis, the author of the report, for a webinar on the report findings on September 17, 2014.

Below is a preview of the report. The full report is available for free download as well.

State of Research & Consulting: The Smartest Network, Not People, Will Win

Closeup portrait of business people with hands on hands

This post was originally  cross-posted on LinkedIn. You can read the original post here.

My background as an industry analyst at Forrester Research and management consultant at the now-defunct Monitor Group gives me a unique point of view into the intersection of two industries, Industry Research firms (dominated by companies like Forrester, Gartner, and IDC) and Management Consulting (with leaders like Bain, BCG, and McKinsey). Both are being hit by the classic Innovator’s Dilemma, where new entrants offer services that are cheaper (or free) to an under-served customer base. I believe that the established players have several facets of their business models that limit their ability to respond.

Let’s take a look first at the state of the research industry:

  • The double-edged sword of syndicated content. Research firms derive much of their revenues from great content that sits behind a syndication wall. But analysis from journalists, bloggers and independent analysts is rapidly improving in quality and available at a great price point – free. And technology vendors like IBM conduct cutting edge research that is arguably better than what any research firm can do. While syndicated revenues scales thought leadership wonderfully, research firms can’t cannibalize themselves without seriously jeopardizing profits. The result – free content from these new entrants – is gaining a significant foothold and making syndicated clients take a closer look at their investment in annual seat-based subscriptions.
  • Individual versus firm brands. Research firms promote the expertise of top analyst talent – but not too much for fear that these “stars” gain too much visibility and spin off to create their own firms, stealing away clients in the process. Non-compete contracts and restrictions on personal blogs are attempts to try to contain the brand of individuals. But this means that all talent needs to be homegrown as no established thought leader would ever consider subsuming their own brands. This opens the door for companies that know how to attract, grow, and develop individual brands in harmony with an overall umbrella brand.
  • Clients demand more custom solutions. Research firms don’t like consulting – it’s messy, time-consuming, and not as scalable as syndicated research. But their clients are dealing with tough, disruptive problems of their own – and parachuting analysts into a client for a day leaves many clients wanting more detailed, customized advice and strategy. While research firms have made decent inroads into creating consulting services, these efforts typically involve dedicated consultants rather than industry experts – because every minute an analyst spends with a client means less time spent on generating syndicated content that pays the bills.

Now let’s turn to management consulting firms that have their own set of challenges:

  • Secrecy constrains engagement. Consulting firms operate in the Cone of Silence to respect client confidentiality, which limits their ability to network and share best practices sometimes even within a firm. Contrast that to their clients’ own increasing willingness to share with and support each other through formal networks like Corporate Executive Board and The result: It’s getting harder and harder for consulting firms to provide new insights and value to smarter, networked clients.
  • Clients demand more research to justify decisions. Consulting firms rarely invest in industry research that isn’t specific to a client because it’s a cost that can’t be easily recovered across multiple engagements. This business model constraint means that a key client need – research-based evidence needed to justify risky strategic bets – aren’t at the fingertips of these consultants.
  • Deep relationships versus deep expertise. In the Internet and social networking age, small boutique firms and even individuals with deep expertise can create visibility, generate press, and get on the radar of potential clients. This challenges the broad expertise and brands of traditional firms who rely on a brand and deep relationships to carry it forward, even in areas when expertise may be lacking. One of the key notes of disruption in consulting is the pairing of these boutique experts with the mainline consulting firms, supplementing knowledge of the firm’s inner workings and relationships with deep expertise. Guess what happens when senior management sees that much of the value is being created by these boutique experts rather than trusted counselors?

If your firm is in either of these two industries, I encourage you to take the following three actions to refine your business model and guard against disruption:

  1. Develop and grow networks. Research and consulting firms often indulge in hubris, believing that they have THE smartest people in the industry within their walls. But how can that be the case in fast developing, disruptive spaces? Buy yourself an insurance policy against the pace of change by developing a network of the brightest people OUTSIDE of your firm including people at rival firms. At Altimeter, we cultivate and feed that network with our Open Research, where we give it away for free. The result is thousands of people reading the research, commenting on it, and helping us develop the next research. The result is in research that is better, faster, and cheaper to produce. In the future, it’s not the firm with the smartest people that will win, it’s the one with the smartest network.
  2. Invest in the brands and careers of individuals. The success of research and consulting firms depends on attracting A+ talent – and that talent won’t stick around if they think they can do better elsewhere or even on their own. At Altimeter, we believe that a strong individual brand results in a strong company brand – the two live in harmony so that we can leverage individual thought leadership AND the company brand. But we also create the greenest pasture possible for individuals to stay with us – there are no non-competes, no constraints on personal blogging or book writing, that artificially keep someone around when they don’t want to be here. When one day the fit is no longer there, we agree to bid each other “all the best,” knowing that it was a fair exchange of value for the time that we worked together.
  3. Create synergies between research and consulting. Rather than look at either research or consulting as a cost center, think about how they can each lower costs and actually result in better outcomes in the other area. Research improves when you can apply it to real client problems. Consulting deepens your understanding of client pain points that results in better, more meaningful research. The key is to find people who can stretch between these two areas. At Altimeter, we have analysts who do primarily research, but stretch frequently into consulting to keep that research grounded. And we have consultants who spend most of their days working with clients – but who then stretch into research, which gives them research-based grit to bring into their engagements.

So because the incumbents in the research and consulting industries have very real business model constraints, I see plenty of opportunity for new entrants to disrupt and gain a foothold.

Additional reading and resources:


Disruptive Trends to Watch in 2014

Forward to 2014 new year concept

This post is part of Altimeter’s Trends to Watch in 2014

To kick off the new year, here are seven trends I’m following closely in my research at Altimeter, inspired by my conversations with clients, keynote audiences, social media communities, and very generous thought leaders. The list is not exhaustive of what is important, but these are the key issues I’ll be digging into in 2014. For each trend, I also include a few thoughts on the implications for organizations — and what actions they should take.

1. The Imperative for Strategic Disruption

Innovation is hot, hot, hot. I’m constantly asked how companies can use digital and social tools to capture and develop more innovation that leads to strategic growth. These executives want to develop a strategy that builds innovation into the DNA of the organization, with strategy, organizational structure, and processes to make innovation the job of every single person. But I don’t think it’s enough. Given the pace of change, I’m hearing from executives the need to set a goal of becoming disruptive, because innovation won’t be enough to keep startups and competitors intent on disruption at bay. The key difference is that disruption involves conflict and friction, the dilemma that Clayton Christensen says is the bane of innovators within organizations.

But there’s a key difference today, in that new technologies and management approaches like agile development create organizations that can sit on that knife’s edge between managing strategic disruption and crumbling apart in chaos. The implication for organizations is how will you create the strategic imperative to build resilience and adaptability into the organization so that you can disrupt yourself and your industry – rather than be disrupted. I’ll be researching how organizations create a strategy to become a disruptive organization, one that can identify and capitalize on The Disruptor, that unique leader who can identify a disruptive opportunity and pull the resources, people, processes, and most importantly, culture, into a coherent strategy.

2. The Rise of the Digital Executive

The year 2014 will mark the 20th anniversary of the World Wide Web. This means that people entering their 40’s — the time when they come into positions of power and responsibilities in organization — have had spent their entire professional career with the Internet. They will think digital first, integrating mobile and social holistically into the strategies that they develop for their departments and eventually, companies. The implications for companies is that this is going to inevitably set up conflicts in executive board rooms. If these up and coming Digital Executives are not given the support and latitude they need to fulfill their vision, they will leave.  and their mindsets will set the directions.

Implications: Clash of the board room as senior board members who are not digital natives will have to align with the strategies being created by a digitally-minded executive team.

3. Social Goes Mainstream — and Gets A New Name

At the end of 2013, Pew Internet Research released a report that showed every demographic group in the US had the majority of people online using social networking sites. And the Seniors — those age 65 or more were not far behind with 43% of those that are Internet users using social networking sites. And overall, 72% of ALL Internet users are social. So if you think “social” is still something that is done only by the young, you need to get your facts straight. The  implications are that your customers and your employees are social in their personal lives — and you’re missing out on precious relationship-building opportunities if you don’t respect this medium. That said, there is almost an allergic reaction to “social” in some enterprises, especially when it comes its internal use. So we’ll see a gradual usurping of social initiatives into overall digital strategies — which should be the case as it becomes more integrated and feature, rather than a destination.

Percent of Internet users using social networking sites

4. Increasing Privacy Concerns

The recent NSA data collection revelations and security breaches at Target and SnapChat have people more on edge than ever about the collection and use of their personal data. Add to that the potential of big data being used by companies, Facebook, Google and Apple tracking your every move and it’s no wonder people are concerned. The data supports this feeling: GlobalWebIndex found that in the US, the percent of people who say they are concerned that the Internet is eroding their privacy increased from 47% in September 2010 to 57% in Q3 2013, a 21% increase over three years. Similar trends exist in other countries, except, curiously, in China where it’s been dropping slightly over the past year.

 The implications are that organizations that hope to tap the promise of big data will need to begin NOW to clarify what data they are collecting, how they are using it, and how they will secure it. And this can’t be buried in the user agreements — it needs to be front and center as part of the relationship definition with customers. The key — developing trust so that when you collect and use the data, it makes sense in the context of the growing relationship.

 5. Holistic Approaches to Building the Future of Work

The seminal research being done by Lynda Gratton at London Business School on the Future of Work points out how the realities of technology, globalization, demographics, social, and energy resource changes means that organizations will have to rethink how work gets done. In response, organizations are starting to make strategic preparations — Dell recently announced a goal that by 2020, 50% of its workforce will have some sort of flexibility work arrangement [link]. This is much more than simply deploying an enterprise mobility platform or having a BYOD policy. I recently moderated an Evolving Workforce Roundtable at Dell where a key takeaway is that the CIO will need to be much more focused on the overall experience of not only employees but also customers. That “experience-first” mindset will be needed to shepherd in a new era of employer-employee relationships. In this holistic approach, culture and leadership will provide the guiding principles and strategy, while technology will become the means, not the ends.

6. Engaging Empowered Employees

In speaking with HR professionals over the past decade, one of the biggest things keeping them up at night is how to tap into and engage what they perceive as their biggest assets — employees. What’s changed over the past year is that it’s now also the concern of business line leaders as well as the rest of the C-Suite. They all see that engaging and involving the workforce from anything from driving innovation to engaging directly with customers can create a powerful and sustainable competitive advantage. But here’s the rub — most companies lack the culture and leadership mindset to do this. My research in this area is closely linked to the Future of Work research, but looks at how the combination of strategy and technology creates engaged and empowered employees. I’ll be looking at how collaborative and social platforms are merging, and which day-to-day activities make the most sense tackle first.

 One company I spoke with was highly discouraged because an early experiment in employee engagement went nowhere. When I dug deeper into the situation, we discovered that the company decided to focus their enterprise social network primarily on upcoming labor negotiations — talk about jumping into the deep end! Their hope that the ESN would help foster conversation and engagement left out a key component — the relationship between management and union members simply wasn’t there to be able to allow the conversation to take place face-to-face, let alone in a digital environment. The implications for organizations is that you need to have an employee engagement strategy that takes into account how technology will — and won’t — be used.

7. Customizing Enterprise Platforms to Increase Productivity

Improving productivity with technology continues to be a priority for many companies, but is becoming harder to do as most firms have already realized initial gains. One emerging area is the customization of enterprise applications. Most of the work to date has been around integrating your favorite platforms so that they work well together (e.g. Salesforce + Box, Exchange + Facebook) but an emerging trend is moving beyond the traditional  “one-size-fits-all” approach and customizing enterprise apps for each employee.

The email inbox is a great example — we all use the inbox in different ways, some of us keeping emails in there as a to-do list while others live by the Zero Inbox rule and creating specific task lists elsewhere. The adoption of new productivity tools in the consumer space, such as LinkedIn Intro, and Mailbox phone app, mean that these or similar offerings will shortly grow legs and walk into the enterprise through the back door. CIOs should look for ways to reflect the flexibility of these productivity tools in the way traditional enterprise and collaboration platforms are used.

If you have ideas, suggestions, or examples of how your organization is addressing one or more of these trends, I’d love to hear from you. Please add to the comments below or email me at

New Report: Social Media Education for Employees

Last year, we asked companies about their top social strategy priorities. The second top response was “Developing Internal Education and Training.” Yet, when we surveyed companies earlier this year, we saw that only 38% had any education program in place, beyond ad hoc efforts.

Over the past few quarters, we identified a number of large companies that have developed social media education for their employees, to learn why and how. We interviewed companies as diverse as ARAMARK, Kaiser Permanente, RadioShack, and more — and learned that social media education helps achieve two key business objectives:

  • Reduce the risk of social media violations to protect employees and the company, and
  • Increase employee advocacy and effectiveness, both on and off-domain.

In addition, one of our most important findings is that social media education can be deployed given limited resources. For example, at Adobe two social media team members spend approximately 10% of their time on this business program. One person told us: “You can do it with a very limited budget,” while another said “You don’t have to have all the bells and whistles, and you can roll this out to a limited set of employees first.”

We’re happy to share with you research today, particularly for those of you who may be including social media education in your 2014 plans. Our report, Social Media Education for Employees, includes a framework to structure your education program — based on four unique roles and learning objectives — and a 10-point checklist of requirements for success. It’s embedded below, along with the four data charts from the report.

Figure 1

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The Twitter IPO: Some Initial Analysis

Twitter just tweeted that it has filed a confidential S-1, with the appropriate disclaimer. Here are a few reasons why this filing and IPO warrant close scrutiny.

  • Twitter is the last of the Big Four to go public. In the social networking ecosystem, Twitter is seen as a must have in terms of a social strategy, and is the only major player left that is still up for grabs — YouTube (owned by Google), LinkedIn (IPO), and Facebook (IPO) are all spoken for. Other upstarts like Pinterest are just getting started so Twitter is going to be the talk of the town into 2014, which is the earliest the IPO can be expected. There will be a certain “last call” mentality to the Twitter IPO that wasn’t there for Facebook.
  • Confidential filing gives Twitter control. Twitter took advantage of the JOBS Act pass last year, which allows firms with less than $1 billion in revenue to file an S-1 confidentially. This means that unlike Facebook, Twitter won’t be subjected to a microscopic dissection of every word of its filing. This is a good thing, because Twitter’s business model isn’t the easiest to explain. As Twitter begins the roadshow, they’ll be able to roll out their story to investors in a systematic, orderly way that enables them to tell their growth story to the world.
  • Timing and Friends benefit Twitter. Twitter should be saying a big “Thank You” to Facebook for carving out the path before them. Facebook has spent the past year educating the market about social media advertising, doing much of the heavy lifting and laying out the red carpet for Twitter.
  • Challenge: Twitter’s Advertising Model. The biggest challenge that Twitter has is that its main form of revenue comes from “sponsored tweets” which is a form of native advertising (see Altimeter’s just-published report on Native Advertising). The problem with these sponsored tweets is that they are not, at present, a standard ad format that can travel outside the Twitter platform. That makes ad buying — and scaling to media buyers — more difficult.
  • Discipline to Stick to the Business. The tweet that Twitter posted one minute after the “filing” one shows everyone at the computers with the next, Now, back to work.” The company has been preparing for this day, and realize that it’s a long, long slog for the next approximately six months before the actual IPO. The team will need discipline to focus on the work, rather than pulling out spreadsheets to calculate their potential net worth. Not an easy thing to do!

These are still early days, and I anticipate that we’ll learn a lot more about Twitter’s business over the next few weeks and months. I, for one, am eager to not just see the numbers, but also to hear their story. Because as one of the four foundational platforms of the social space, they have the ability to shape the future as they envision it unfolding. And the vision that Twitter CEO Dick Costello and his team roll out is sure to be interesting.