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Don’t burst the bubble: How to manage innovation in the digital world

Lindsay Herbert Head of Digital (Global)

Image from our daring to be digital report

You know you work in a rapidly changing industry when 2004 felt like ‘a simpler time’. But when exactly did websites stop being just websites?

As Precedent's Global Head of Digital, having been immersed in projects of all shapes and sizes over the past decade, I think for  me the big tipping point was six years ago, leading the Precedent website build for the UK Intellectual Property Office. It was a big job and we were keen to throw everything we had at it. 

Six months later and I’d practically moved into their offices, working with patent examiners on how to use the website to automate processes, eliminate paperwork, and stop the public from flooding their call centre with questions after each episode of Dragon’s Den.

I didn’t realise it at the time, but to have a traditional government client like the IPO be so open to innovation was the signalling of a new era for digital …

Everyone finally gets it – digital isn’t just for marketing anymore. 

Since then, the transformations have got bigger and Precedent has expanded into Australia and Hong Kong to help clients tackle the unique challenges of the Asian market. 

From finance and education, to charities and travel brands, the new digital era means every boardroom has finally developed an appetite for digital transformation, but there is now a common challenge - how?

What many still don’t realise is that survival in the new digital world isn’t about technology, or even buying in new talent – it’s about people and how they work. 

For any of you about to embark on a digital transformation project, here are my top critical success factors:

So you’ve decided to digitally transform? 

1. Forget traditional KPIs and use digital to improve customer experience instead. 

Successful use of digital tackles the root of a problem. It’s so important, that Precedent’s next report, is solely about the role modern digital should play in improving Customer Experience.

When we started working with the Water Corporation in Australia, we could have used their traditional success metrics (e.g. increasing new customer sign-ups) and the new site would have been focused around delivering sales messages to meet those targets. 

Instead, our UX and strategy teams worked with real customers to identify major pain points in the customer experience, so that online tools could be created to address them head-on. 

The site now delivers a better experience and encourages transparent dialogue between both sides. Customers are happier, complaints are fewer, and referrals are up – all as a result of using technology to fix problems at the source. 

2. Break down barriers between your internal departments and external partners.

Because the final solution needs to work seamlessly across an entire business, the effort to produce it needs to be just as joined up. 

This wasn’t the case four years ago when we started working with Monash, Australia’s largest university. When we started the redesign, their central marketing team were lumbered with full responsibility for the new site, and more than half of their academic schools wouldn’t even commit to attend a planning meeting.  

We helped them turn it around by getting the University’s senior management bought-in and on-board with one unified vision. This vision was then translated into strategies spanning the whole University so the right departments would have to get involved from early planning stages. 

The subsequent site was a huge success, and we now have a dedicated team embedded in Monash, working with them to identify and prioritise digital opportunities across the entire University – all adhering to that one vision.

3. Don’t ignore legacy problems, tackle them first.

Real digital transformation means integration with existing systems – even the terrible ones. For this to work, everyone needs to be honest about constraints, and open to creative solutions before planning even begins. 

Fortunately, this happened when we started working with the British Medical Association. They were honest about their internal limitations and cumbersome 3rd party systems from the start. Replacing the old database was deemed too risky to package in with the time-sensitive website build, so our UX and technical team came up with a solution that would allow doctors to access to all systems with just one single login. We also provided design assets so other external systems could be re-skinned to look and feel like the new website. 

If the BMA hadn’t been upfront about the restrictions at the start – or worse, expected the website to resolve them, the site still wouldn’t be live. Instead it’s getting rave reviews from its members and we’re continuously rolling out new features.  

These critical success factors only skim the surface, so if you’re keen to get started, you should read Precedent’s report ‘Daring to be Digital’ for inspiration on what other organisations have done on their road to transformation, available to request on the website.

For me, I’ve seen and learnt so much over these last 10 years, I’m writing a book about it. ‘Don’t Burst the Bubble’ will be a practical guide for organisations from traditional sectors to learn the new and necessary steps to managing major digital innovation, sharing stories from around the world that demonstrate how others have managed the risks, obstacles and opportunities on their path to digital transformation.

If you’d like to get involved, get in touch.