What does it mean to become a digital leader? Companies in every industry are looking for answers to this question. They are exploring new business models, developing new user experiences, and experimenting with new channels and platforms—all with the strategic goal of creating significant value in a digitally powered business environment. To get there, most of these companies are pursuing the same laundry list of initiatives. They are reengineering processes and products, investing in technology platforms, and launching efforts to achieve back-office efficiency. Many are recruiting digitally native talent, setting up internal venture funds, or crowdsourcing new digital business ideas to get a jump start on this transformation.
For too many companies, these efforts have not translated into enough market impact and growth. They are stuck. Their results are too incremental; they merely move their brand recognition or increase sales a bit. But there is far more market-making, world-changing potential for them in digital businesses, products, and experiences, and more and more business leaders know it. Instead of reengineering their digital practices and processes, they need something bolder and more disruptive, but still very simple. They need reimagination.
Reimagination means reshaping your entire business around the customer or user experience. The best-known term for this is human-centered design (HCD). When companies practice HCD, they put the user (the customer, the audience member, the person on the other end of the digital channel) at the center of every decision the company makes. This empathetic focus on user experience is an essential driver to creating simple yet disruptive solutions that are operationally feasible, economically viable, and, most important, desired by users.
You can see the difference that HCD makes when you look at a typical company that reimagines its business this way. It conveys a distinctive brand identity and creates a tangible emotional connection with customers. It reinforces that connection across many different channels: bricks-and-mortar retail stores, websites, mobile apps, connected devices such as wearable monitors, and forms of interaction still being conceived.
These companies use “big data” and analytics to gather insights in real time from what people do on each of these channels, and they deploy those insights in real time as well, providing products and services that respond instantly after sensing and analyzing what people need or expect. Their operations are set up to react and pivot on these insights with nimbleness and ease. They continually measure the impact of these products and services, and set a “test and learn” agenda that can react quickly and iteratively to feedback from anywhere. Perhaps most important, these companies position their digital investments not as costs, but as catalysts: They use these investments to build their capabilities, drive their culture, and accelerate their progress, creating a virtuous circle where behavior change fuels more digital innovation.
Human-centered design represents a new way of life for business. It cannot be easily achieved with the embedded controls and constraints of a typical mature enterprise. In the digital world, time really is money. Companies no longer have the luxury of carefully developing new products and business models via a bureaucratic and waterfall-driven stage-gate process. Instead, successful companies evoke many of the attributes of a startup—creativity, speed, bias for action, flexibility with risk, and radical collaboration. People work fluidly across functions and business units and collaborate readily with outside vendors and business partners when specialized expertise is needed. These companies are less likely to force their talent, whether internal or external, to run the gauntlet of restrictive finance, IT, legal, and HR processes. Finally, the digital process is a viable contributor to the business, with significant revenue and profit growth rates.