While Econsultancy cannot quite claim to have coined the term ‘digital transformation’ (I would probably give that accolade to Cap Gemini), we certainly helped popularise the term.

My presentation on Slideshare on Digital Transformation from 2013 attempted to define the term at the time.

Certainly we have been researching, writing about, consulting on, and helping deliver digital transformation for longer than most.

I describe digital transformation simply as the journey towards being a digital organisation where “digital” means two things: firstly, focusing on the customer experience irrespective of channel, and secondly, having a digital culture.

I believe the seven defining characteristics of a digital culture are:

  1. Customer-centric
  2. Data-driven
  3. Makers & Doers
  4. Transparent
  5. Collaborative
  6. Learning
  7. Agile

As part of this transformation journey most organisations follow a similar evolution of organisational structure.

Full details of this are given in Econsultancy’s recently updated Digital Marketing: Organisational Structures and Resourcing Best Practice Guide.

The graphic below outlines a typical five stage evolution towards true multi-channel customer-centricity. Each stage has a typical corresponding job title and organisational structure for digital.

My observation for 2016 is that most businesses are somewhere between stages two and four. We are entering the teenage years for digital transformation.

These are years of change, of experimentation, of pain, of growth, of tumult, of crises of self-identity, of commotion and instability.

We have already seen in my trends two and five above how the agency and consultancy worlds are colliding and blurring.

Apparently pretty much everyone these days offers ‘digital transformation’ services of some sort.

On the client side we will continue to see re-organisations, new job titles like Chief Digital Officer or Chief Customer Officer, new joint ventures, labs, innovation centres, start-up partnerships, accelerators and acquisitions in an attempt to kick start or accelerate their transformations.

2015 saw a number of examples of brands buying, or investing in, digital agencies and talent: Jaguar created a joint venture with agency Spark 44 to manage its global communications; Coty bought content agency Beamly; Unilever has its Foundry; Visa set up Europe Collab; Barclays has its Accelerator; the list goes on.

In the early years of digital transformation most businesses had digital in a silo.

This created obvious problems so the broad consensus was that actually digital needed to be embedded throughout the core business.

So the last years have seen efforts to ‘digitize’ the mothership and make digital part of the operating model and DNA of the whole business. It turns out this is not very easy either and has all sorts of challenges too: the biggest of which is a lack of speed.

One possible approach to address this problem, promoted by McKinsey, is a two-speed operating model for accelerating digital transformation.

Either this is somewhat of a bodge to avoid driving through difficult but necessary change, or it is a smart and realistic way to get where you want faster without dangerous levels of disruption.

Whichever it is, expect to see more struggles, at varying speeds, with digital transformation this year.