Insight

The Digital CIO: Mastering the Nuance of Digital Delivery

by Michael Colombo
Date
Feb 28, 2019

For CIOs, the ask from the business is to turn a C130 Hercules into a fighter jet…while it’s in the air. It sounds like magic. Even if the mechanics were well understood, perfecting the execution might take years or decades of practice to pull off. Stepping in to support marketing in a digital transformation initiative often feels like an attempt against similar odds.

Digital transformation is about building world-class customer experiences, but there are so few organizations with a real understanding of the mechanics involved, let alone the flight hours needed to succeed. Building digital tiger teams with specific backgrounds and a nuanced set of technical skills is the first step toward reorganizing IT around the customer experience. These nuanced skills can mean the difference between delivering the fighter jet or just a pile of parts.

The skills between the skills.

At a glance, digital transformation programs look familiar. Requirements and Architecture, Screens and Flows, Development and Integration, QA and Deploy. You’ve been down this road a million times, right? Well, not exactly. The difference comes in shifting the priority from delivering a feature set to delivering an experience. And while nailing a feature set is difficult, delivering it within a world-class digital experience is where all the nuance lives. Mastering the nuance has big implications. An IT team with new digital skills in between the traditional IT skills and a proven ability to execute on experience moves them squarely into the growth strategy of the business.

I believe in innovation and that the way you get innovation is that you fund research, and you learn the basic facts.

Bill Gates

Requirements

To effectively document requirements, you need a new kind of business analyst. Going to business stakeholders, understanding their needs and how they apply to the bigger picture of the business strategy, and documenting those requirements and their system implications for a technical team is not enough in the context of digital experience. The nuance here to the traditional business analyst role is that they should now be able to communicate all of the facts of the User Experience. Business intake and competitive research resulting in a User Requirements Specification (URS) should be accompanied by traditional UX deliverables, such as User Flows, Information Architecture, and even rough wireframes and prototypes. Your business analyst should be able to help during concept testing as well as the QA process, as they should have a strong vision for the quality of the experience that is being delivered. The requirements that the new business/UX analyst delivers need to have the users at their core and be directly translatable to digital execution teams.

Project Management

Project managers, like business analysts, need to know that they exist entirely in an experience-first context. It is not enough for them to deliver on the functional requirements of the system. I can’t state that more strongly. Development and project management teams that have forever judged success based on a “Does it work?” mantra are not poised to successfully deliver world class digital experience. Instead of, “Does it work?” they need to start asking, “Does it deliver an industry-leading experience?” If they are not asking that question, then they are not focused on the right result.

Project managers who have never delivered customer-facing products have a steep learning curve. They will need to begin forming their own vision for the experience they are delivering, and consider how closely they match that vision as their primary success metric. That it “works” is a given, but delivering an experience that technically “works” but nobody likes is a failure. It’s a setback to the business, not an advancement. It’s prioritizing an MVP over an actual ROI. Everyone on the team needs to internalize this reality.

Infrastructure

While the big shift in IT toward cloud, agile and DevOps are improving the flexibility of what can be delivered inside the enterprise, the underlying point of these advances can sometimes be lost. Putting things in AWS isn’t a win on its own. Spinning up GitHub doesn’t mean you’ve got a modern development organization. The goal is speed, pure and simple. The number one enemy of the enterprise - when it comes to long term competitive threats - is the amount of time it takes to innovate and iterate. If the systems you are buying and putting on AWS are not making you faster, then they aren’t going to help you compete with digitally native companies.

If the DevOps tools you are setting up aren’t actually helping you respond in near real-time with new products and features, then you aren’t getting what you need out of them. If the focus is not entirely on speed, then you aren’t focused on the right thing. The shift in focus to user experience also shifts the business model of IT. While cost is always an important determinant of IT maneuvers, speed to market is your new primary metric. And speed to market with better digital products and services is about new revenue opportunities and increasing the lifetime value of your customers. In this context, IT is core to the brand and the growth strategy of the company.

Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.

Steve Jobs

Development

OK, here’s where the rubber meets the road. We all know that you can have the best requirements, the most diligent and focused project managers, and an infrastructure humming like a fighter jet…but if you can’t reproduce a design comp, you’re toast. “Reproduce a comp” may not even be in the IT vernacular yet, but it should be. Delivering a world class digital experience is brain surgery. It really is. And if you’re treating it like a routine procedure, you’ve got no chance.

The demand for good development talent couldn’t be higher. Some estimates have it at about 5 jobs for every 1 developer. So, just getting good talent in the door is difficult enough. However, changes in the B2C and B2B application space is torrential, so most times any ‘ol “full stack” developer won’t do. You need specific developers with nuanced skills. Frameworks and technologies on both the back end and the front end take years to master, as do the excess of marketing and sales technologies running behind the scenes of the user experience.

Bringing all of these pieces together into a flawless UI is impossible to do with “any ‘ol” guy or gal. (The interface, by the way, is a specialty just like the rest of the stack. HTML and CSS are not passive skills and are advancing rapidly like everything else. They are core competencies of digital tiger teams.) Each area of the application requires expertise and focus. You have to be able to put every pixel in its place in order to get the ROI that the business is looking for.

fighter-jet

Partnering with marketing on digital transformation initiatives means signing up to deliver world class user experience as a repeatable capability. Everyone inside and outside the organization has a standard for this level of work staring right back at them every time they pick up their phone, their tablet or a laptop. It’s all around us. We all expect it to be great, and we all immediately recognize when it isn’t. But because the demands are so high, and the needs are so vast, delivering Digital Transformation has become one of the hardest things to do in business. It takes a clear strategy and an experience-first focus, and then a rethinking of core IT skill sets. Flying the C130 while turning it into a fighter jet is the ask. Understanding the mechanics involved and the skills required to pull it off are the first step.


Photo credits: Johnson BarrosPavel Vanka

Mike is the founder of Maark and has served as the agency’s strategic, creative and technology lead in programs ranging from complete digital transformation of Fortune 500 clients, end-to-end relaunch of category-leading brands, and strategy, design and development of new digital products.

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