Studying the impact of innovation on business and society

2014 – The Embolden Years: Change agents lead the way for digital transformation


Happy New Year!

2014 is upon us and it’s once again time to share our (Altimeter Group) predictions for the year ahead. Except this time, predictions are moved aside in favor of important trends that are on the horizon. Let’s use this time together wisely in the hopes of prioritizing our investments in relevant strategies and the time and resources necessary to bring them to life this year and next.

In 2013, Charlene Li and I published several reports, infographics, Slideshares, and even an ebook on the state and evolution of social business. I also published a new book that focused on the specific behavior of Generation-C and how they make and influence decisions, digitally, in each of the Four Moments of Truth.

The link between everything last year sets the stage for my work this year.

2014 and 2015 are the years where the importance of customer and employee experience triggers a revolution in digital transformation. While I’ve paid notable mind share to pushing the social business movement over the last decade, I’ve also dedicated further work to understand the pillars rising upon a foundation of digital transformation. These include change management, leadership, and the role of social along with other disruptive trends such as mobile, big data, Millennial behavior, and connected consumerism. Each play a significant in the reshaping of business, relationships and experiences, and the way work is done.

I’d like to share my agenda for 2014-2015 with you. This is where I will lead research efforts, advise executives, and also present at conferences around the world.

1. Social Business will be a way of business not a stand alone, bolt-on or isolated functional strategy.

Social media, as channels, are just part of the bigger picture. The challenge we face today however is that where we invest time, energy and budget assumes that social’s role in the transformation of business is limited to just marketing and customer service or other functions such as HR and recruiting or sales. And even then, businesses continue to struggle with aligning disparate social media strategies across the enterprise. More importantly, we learned that even still, strategists are not integrating business goals into strategy development, which complicates the ability to demonstrate ROI or the promise of it.

This year, I will continue to track the evolution of social business specific to how businesses become social from the top down. This is less about technology and more about how transparency, authenticity, internal and external engagement, et al are used to influence new vision, philosophies, strategies and supporting systems that build meaning relationships and experiences with customers, employees and stakeholders alike.

2. The role and importance of Customer Experience (CX) will escalate to the C-Suite and create new roles in the process.

Today CX is relegated to the champions who believe in its importance to improve relationships and loyalty. What CX studies and discovers affects every stage of the dynamic customer journey. How companies plan for engagement in each moment of truth is largely disconnected today. By becoming a strategic imperative at the C-Suite level, distributed teams and efforts will unite around a new or renewed vision to modernize and lead customer engagement throughout the new dynamic customer journey and in each moment of truth. This work will create new roles starting at the top with someone owning the customer experience a la Chief Digital Officer (CDO) or Chief Experience Office (CXO). While seemingly trendy, this function will unite marketing, sales, service and also IT. New areas of expertise will also be necessary to support these new efforts ranging from experience architects to digital anthropologists to data scientists to cross media strategists.

This year, I’m tracking the adaptation of the dynamic customer journey and the moments of truth to understand how technology and behavior is progressing. Ranging from journey mapping, experience architecture, and digital anthropology, I will observe new touch points, changes in expectations and personal value systems, and also how these insights lead to digital transformation.

3. Digital transformation is going to be driven by the desire to integrate and enhance the evolving customer experience.

There’s a lot of research lately that studies new models for businesses as they invest in technology, systems, and processes to compete in the digital economy. The most common term for this movement is Digital Transformation. However, digital transformation is not just about technology; it’s about vision and how businesses are transforming from the inside out using technology as an enabler for a more integrated customer and employee experience. Everything begins not with replacing legacy systems in favor of shiny new objects, but instead with the recognition of how customer and employee expectations and values have changed.

I will actively interview executives at organizations to learn how businesses are creating new models that marry technology, people, and processes to create a more integrated and collaborative experience throughout the customer lifecycle.

4. To expedite adaptation, companies will need to create a culture of innovation, which is core to the future of work and competition.

To lead the next generation customer experience, to engage a more connected and sophisticated workforce, and to survive Digital Darwinism, businesses will invest in a culture of innovation. Today, disruptive technology is shaking the foundation of businesses from the outside in and the inside out. It’s not just tech though, people are also a big part of the success or failure of any company and how they engage now is affected by tech. Right now, there’s a notable disconnect between older and younger customers and equally employees. One is held to current standards and workflow (the way things are done). The other wonders why processes don’t reflect the times (the way we buy and work). At the same time, customer preferences are also transforming. Competitors and threats nowadays can arise from anywhere. Empathy is key to bridging the gap.

Initially, organizations will form innovation teams that explore new trends, threats, and opportunities. Eventually, the insights and best practices surfaced by this team will affect the company DNA and lead to changes in how people learn and work, what they’re tasked to do, and how they’re rewarded to take more risks and introduce new ideas into the workflow and product roadmap.

In early research, I’ve already observed a combination between design thinking and systems thinking where leaders empower employees to contribute to internal and external problem solving and hold managers accountable for cultivating ideas and raising them up the flagpole.

Observations and Questions that Need Answers

In addition to the above trends, here are some questions I also hope to answer to get the conversation started. Let me know what you would like to add to the list!

Digital Transformation

Why will focusing on social media limit my professional growth and that of my organization?

How do I break social out of a silo to have a real business impact?

How can change agents create a sense of urgency among executives to expedite digital transformation?

How do I broaden perspective around “CX” so that everyone works together to create, reinforce desired experience?

How do I create a cross-functional steering committee to work broader than scope that we’re currently focused on and collaborate for change in…?
– Social
– Mobile
– Digital
– Real world

Culture of Innovation

How do we motivate laggard or complacent teams to get with the program?

How do we change our culture to disrupt before we’re disrupted?

How do recognize threats and opportunities around disruption early enough and what do we do about it?


Workers, customers want you to understand them, appreciate them, and empathize or align with their values and their definition of success as they’re much different from the generations before them.

How is my customer behavior changing and how do I change along with it?

What would you add?

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Image Credit: Shutterstock

28 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “2014 – The Embolden Years: Change agents lead the way for digital transformation”

  1. towingadapter says:

    Its like the small guy gets his idea noticed except he gets more than a token for his efforts.

  2. Mike Bailey says:

    How can these changes benefit my relationships with future and potential suppliers

  3. Bill Vernon says:

    Brian, I am confident that 2014 will be a benchmark year in the extinction of ‘sales’ as a principal activity of organizations.

    CX models will replace sales because of the high cost and poor quality outcomes of direct/channel sales efforts, increasing customer preference for self-service organization-customer relationship models, and customer preference for on-demand communication to address product/service acquisition and support. Sales ROI’s aren’t sufficient any longer.

    An interesting side effect is to consider with the extinction of sales where organizational senior leadership will come in the future. Accountants and lawyers are unlikely to provide the creative leadership needed to thrive in the coming years– perhaps design and software personnel will take the lead.

  4. JEBworks says:

    A key success factor, it seems to me, is “culture”. Every business striving to be a social business has to instill a culture of empowerment in every employee. Not only the marketing, sales or customer service people, but every employee. To achieve that starts at the top with the CEO. Asking the question “Why?” before the “What?” and “How?” is a good way to go about this. As is realizing that a five star reputation is essential to get to and stay at the top. To achieve that again starts with each employee and closes the circle.

  5. ITSinsider says:

    Thanks for the plug Brian! 🙂 As you know, this is our raison d’être. We believe embracing the core values of social ultimately will result in a step change in innovation and growth. Our Enterprise change agents can demonstrate that this is the case. That said, it is indeed difficult to sell this message to the unconverted, as the economic buyers for this change are also its greatest impediments and stand to lose political power and control. Forward-looking Executives don’t fear this change – they embrace it. They see the potential, as well as the risks of not changing.

  6. OutpostMagazine says:

    Another great post Brian, thanks! More and more you cannot forego the importance of customer experience!

  7. Jake DeShon says:

    Great article!

    Who would you consider the leaders of the Digital Transformation movement to be thus far?

  8. CXG says:

    Great post as ever Brian.
    1. Social is not about social media but shared experiences.
    2. C-level will recognize the importance of company wide synergy in squeezing out a company’s last ounce of competitive advantage.
    3. Digital will relinquish its channel-centricity to true human-centricity
    4. Companies will be forced to throw away internal ego and self-worth and think outside-in, not inside-out.
    Question is, can a leopard change its stripes?

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