It was not so long ago that companies viewed the digital experience as a subset of customer experience. While internet-born companies had a solid digital experience agenda, many brick-and-mortar companies kept it part of their CX portfolio. For many, it was one of their channels.
COVID-19 made it the only channel. While it is true that digital experience was gaining in importance, especially with B2C players, it was the pandemic that made it critical to all companies in all industries. The digital experience future became now.
Newton Smith, vice president for digital business and technology for Asia and the Middle East at Cognizant, sees the surge in digital experience interest as a result of monetizing the value chain.
The sudden surge in digital experience demand comes down to monetizing the value chain. “All businesses have a value chain. And in that value chain, they look for opportunities to create value and to charge for value. And there are obviously points where value can be eroded. And all that is determined by how you connect and engage with your customers. It is why that [digital experience] is the starting point for digital transformation,” Smith observes.
This value chain sits at the apex of a pyramid. Underneath lies how a company is looking to deliver on this value chain “which is not just about your end customers but also about your own employees these days,” adds Smith.
Digital technologies that enable companies to deliver on this value chain, consumer-grade software, along with intelligence and analytics, come next. At the very bottom, holding the entire pyramid together lies the data infrastructure. When a company decides to do something about its digital experience and drive value chain initiatives, it needs to begin with the data.
“So, digital experience describes what you need to do across all those elements of software, intelligence, data, and infrastructure to support that customer experience,” says Smith.
To deliver on digital experience, you need a platform. Why? “Because you can’t do [digital experience] in isolation,” Smith explains.
When it works, the change in experience can be industry-defining. Netflix offers an example of how engaging a company can get with its end customers with a digital experience platform.
“What enables me to use my Netflix service seamlessly from one device to another device? What enables them to recommend three or four different shows that I might want to watch? That is the power of understanding my behavior and having software that enables the experience and engagement to occur,” says Smith.
A robust digital experience platform is also as good as the data it works on. It needs to bring together the data that already sits within the company and make it accessible to the analytics engine and decision-makers.
“But if I can’t access [the data], if I don’t know what to do with it, and if I can’t use it to predict or drive behaviors, then I’m not going to get the benefit. So having a digital experience platform that brings together software, intelligence and data, in a structured way, is absolutely vital,” Smith reasons.
WATCH Newton Smith explain how digital experience changed with COVID-19.
What makes for an excellent digital experience platform? For Smith, it comes down to the software and application portfolio or your digital experience stack.
Building a stack is an enormous challenge for bigger companies with a large portion of their software built on legacy monolithic architectures and with older code language. A single change request can take weeks or months and restricts the agility of the organization. In a digital-first world where customer behaviors shift in seconds, it is time you cannot afford.
Companies are working to address legacy architectures through containerization and microservices. While they offer architectural benefits, in the end, companies still need to make the hard call of changing their software architecture for future-proofing.
Data infrastructure poses a more difficult challenge. In many companies, data is tied to servers. Larger companies centralize these servers in data centers. But not all data is equal, and the increase in the importance of unstructured data is stressing older data architectures originally created for holding structured data.
Smith calls for data modernization. “It offers an answer on how to bring together all that structured and unstructured data from various applications in a meaningful way that enables [a company] to start building models and better engage with my end customer,” he explains.
Data modernization will be crucial as all emerging digital experience applications, like artificial intelligence, ingest huge volumes of data. “It’ll be food for everything you do,” says Smith.
WATCH Newton Smith offer new insights in driving digital experience success.
One example is an airline that is looking to improve the way end-customers book online. And with the pandemic impacting the airline industry, inconvenience can dry up potential revenues.
So, the airline decided to engage end customers before they fly and recommended entertainment options and other services. The airline transformed into a journey experience consultant, while at the same time driving their core business, which is selling airline seats.
“But the point I’m making is to enable that, you need to be rich in data and to have the right data structure. And at the core of that is what I would call the foundational element,” says Smith.
This foundational element is about looking at the data and building a strong data strategy. The right strategy allows you to access the right data, analyze it and build models or algorithms.
Data modernization is not new. But in the past, an unclear ROI case stopped or slowed projects like master data management and other data initiatives. Failures made it even harder for chief data officers to argue for its deployment.
COVID-19, however, influenced many sitting on the fence to see the real value of having a modern data platform, which is streamlining the digital experience and creating new ones. Companies quickly understood that without a modern data infrastructure, their business will be outcompeted, outmoded, and made irrelevant.
“So, the business needs to understand that they have to invest in data because it will be an investment that will deliver for them over the next five to 10 years,” says Smith.
WATCH Newton Smith explain the role of a digital experience platform.
For Asia Pacific companies, the digital experience is a serious endeavor. But Smith explains that not all are beginning their journey from the same starting lines. Each company differs on the digital maturity scale.
Cognizant studied digital maturity for Australia, China, India, the Middle East, and Singapore. The conclusions show how culture and people impact digital maturity as much as the solutions and architectures.
Many Asia Pacific companies have just begun their journeys. Having chief digital officers to drive the digital agenda and empowering them to meet their objectives is a step in the right direction, said Smith. Many CDOs are also seen as catalysts for driving the digital experience mandate.
Companies are also becoming more familiar with agile methodologies and are not shy of bringing together cross-functional teams to create squads focused on digital experience or data problems. These squads, which include both technical and business expertise, can improve digital maturity within the organization.
Essentially, the digital experience is not a digital issue; it is a business one. It is the clear theme that came out from all digital maturity studies. “It needs to be led by the business leaders in an organization. At that level, there needs to be an active agenda to drive that thought into a company,” says Smith.
But it is still early days. The maturity studies show that companies are still feeling their way through their digital experience journeys. Smith admits it will be a challenging one and “a work in progress at the moment.”
Winston Thomas is the editor-in-chief of CDOTrends and HR&DigitalTrends. He is always curious about all things digital, including new digital business models, the widening impact of AI/ML, unproven singularity theories, proven data science success stories, lurking cybersecurity dangers, and reimagining the digital experience. You can reach him at [email protected].
Image credit: iStockphoto/BlackSalmon