Archive for the ‘strategy’ Tag

The Coming Disruption in Professional Services

Is there a way for advisory service companies, which provide accountants, lawyers, consultants and marketing experts to other businesses, to adapt to changing demands?

Some pundits, such as the Harvard scholar Clayton Christensen, have questioned whether traditional consulting firms will get less work as more innovative business models emerge.

I think challenges bring opportunities and that firms which change with the times will remain relevant and flourish.

Like many other sectors, the advisory service industry has had its ups and downs. Its current slowdown may herald the start of a darker period thanks to three significant trends:

1. Democratization of information

Prior to the Internet, advisory service firms offered clients knowledge and insight, which they couldn’t find elsewhere. Now, a lot of information is available for free, or at low cost on the web, and that includes expertise through freelancer portals like guru.com. To find critical facts and figures on market trends, customer research, or industry costs, organizations no longer need to hire a traditional advisory firm.

2. Fewer intermediaries

It used to be that if you needed top talent to address a business issue, you paid the price and dealt with a blue chip firm or hired a leader in the field. Today, a manager has many more options, often with lower costs and faster turnarounds. The rise of the freelance and sharing economy allows companies to find talent and knowledge as needed on a global basis.

3. The rise of machine learning

Machine learning, also known as artificial intelligence, has the potential to disrupt many facets of the professional services industry. Using machines for rote and even complex tasks can reduce the need to hire firms to do mundane tasks, or for an expert’s analysis, judgment and time. For example, judges and lawyers are increasingly resolving small claims through “e-adjudication” as opposed to using the expensive and time-consuming legal system.

Power of disruption

Despite these disruptive forces, traditional firms aren’t going away any time soon: the fact that they have a wide-range of services and expertise to offer, the changing regulatory and technological environment and fickle customer needs will ensure it. However, they need to evolve if they want to stay relevant to their clients, outflank competitors and maintain juicy margins.

Terry Donnelly, chief marketing officer for Canada of New York-based MDC Partners Inc., an advertising and marketing company, agreed.

“The traditional ad agency model is dying,” Toronto-based Donnelly said. “Marketers want leading edge, unique and practical solutions that drive measurable results and provide a durable and sustaining competitive advantage. MDC Partners recognized the ‘new normal’ early on and built a unique portfolio of agencies that retains the visionary founders as partners, motivated to do great creative work, versus the staid multinational agencies that regularly lose their best people.”

Advisory service leaders who want to better assist their clients and avoid disruption might want to consider these strategies:

1. Become a virtual provider

Companies can leverage their strengths such as client relationships and a trusted brand to create their own, on-demand virtual offerings as a complement to their traditional business. This model could mean acting as an online skills, data or problem-solving hub, and delivering of the best services to suit a client’s needs.

2. Get more involved in execution

While people and expertise may be plentiful, that’s not the case for excellent execution. Advisory service firms can offer follow-through and even take on line responsibilities through a shared service model. This could go beyond being an outsourcer to actually embed adaptable and skilled individuals and tools directly into the client’s workflow process.

3. Focus on capability building, not projects

Advisory services should focus their work on addressing long-term projects and needs instead of short-term contracts that deal with a specific issue. They could help clients build strategic capabilities to ensure competitiveness. One way to do this is to train people to do the work themselves.

As an example, a lawyer would not just draw up a contract based on the client’s needs and then walk away, rather they could give the client tools to become somewhat proficient in their own right.

In addition, companies could provide regular advisory support to make sure long-term goals are met.

Mitchell Osak is managing director, strategic advisory services at Grant Thornton LLP.

Mitchell.Osak@ca.gt.com

Twitter.com/MitchellOsak

Traditional media companies reboot

When I was growing up, watching TV was a family affair. We gathered around one cathode set at the same place at the same time to watch the same shows as everybody else. How times have changed. Nowadays adults spend more time online and on mobile devices than they spend watching TV, listening to the radio or reading the printed word.

Yet some things have stayed the same: We’re still watching TV shows. Only now we’re not necessarily watching the same shows, or watching them at the same time, or even watching them on TV. This trend, which shows no signs of abating, has significant implications for traditional TV cable and content providers, says David Purdy, Rogers Communications Inc.’s senior vice-president, content.

“We’re playing in a market now that has a solid mix of traditional cable subscribers, a growing group of ‘cord shavers’ — those who are tuning in less to traditional cable and more to online sources for TV and movies — and ‘cord nevers,’ many of which are Millennials.”

The move toward the digital consumption of television content is spurring a series of watershed developments in the industry, such as:

  • The rise of high-quality original programming exclusively available on streaming services (e.g. Netflix)
  • Increasing competition from vendors that historically haven’t offered professionally produced content (e.g. YouTube)
  • Increased crowd sourcing to determine which shows get produced, cancelled or resurrected (e.g. Amazon)

Traditional media companies and cable providers should be concerned. All of these developments reflect the fact that more consumers have relinquished cable and forgo live programming, opting instead for cheaper online services.

Rogers is transforming its business to address these shifts, says Mr. Purdy. “We recently partnered with Vice Media to bring more compelling content to the Canadian market. We also invested in and launched Shomi, a video-streaming service.”

How will these trends change advertising?

Online video is changing the way people interact with each other and relate to sponsoring brands. As a result, media companies are facing flat — and in many cases reduced — advertising spending, as ad buyers shift their dollars from well understood TV to new (and unproven) digital formats.

In some ways, however, advertising will become more valuable as TV watching becomes more, not less, social. For example, a growing number of people are having real-time conversations on Twitter about the shows they’re watching. Some viewers have even begun purchasing products they find appealing right from a show, with eBay and other sellers offering apps that enable viewers to browse and buy items related to what they’re watching.

But in other ways viewers are becoming less engaged with programming, and thus with ads, as fewer people watch the same shows (with the notable exception of live sports and a few big television productions such as Canadian Idol). This could translate into more complicated ad buys, more fragmented marketing strategies and harder times ahead for traditional broadcast media companies.

For more information on our services and work, please visit the Quanta Consulting Inc. web site.  Follow me on Twitter @MitchellOsak

Digitally disrupting your company

Disrupt or be disrupted. This is the stark choice with which many senior managers are faced as emerging technologies and corresponding behaviours continue to reshape the marketplace.

Given the choice, most would understandably choose the former. The problem, of course, is that many organizations are crippled by organizational inertia. Market leaders and public companies are particularly vulnerable, as they tend to possess deeply entrenched operational structures, revenue models and cultural values. Either they don’t see the change coming or, more likely, can’t muster the organizational willpower required to do anything about it.

Case study: OLG

Five years ago, Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. found themselves in this position. Senior management observed that Millennials are less interested than previous generations in gambling the old-fashioned way. Natives of the Internet and accustomed to the conveniences afforded by smartphones, many were turning away from corner-store kiosks and toward online poker and other “casino-style” games that can be found easily, if illegally, on the Internet.

At the same time, the OLG found itself struggling to hold on to its existing customers. Not only were fewer Americans visiting their casinos, U.S. competitors were also making inroads in luring Canadians south of the border. Both trends spelled a slow slip into irrelevance for the crown corporation.

So they decided to do something about it.

Rather than merely mitigate risk, senior management sought to develop a digital strategy that would enable them to capitalize on these trends. They began by asking the following questions:

  1. What business are we in?
  2. What business should we be in?
  3. How can technology facilitate this transformation?

What they concluded was that they are in the lottery and gaming business, not (merely) the casino and scratch-card business. “OLG’s goal is to provide the games our customers want to play where they want to play them,” says Tom Marinelli, OLG’s acting president and CEO. “As we transform, our advances in technology are giving us a new opportunity to continue to be relevant to our customers.”

In response to changing customer needs and demands, the OLG began work on an online lottery and gaming hub. Set to launch this year, PlayOLG.ca will provide online gaming and sell digital lottery tickets. The idea is that by matching or exceeding the experiences offered elsewhere on the Web in a manner that is both secure and legal, the OLG will be able to attract younger adult customers and fend off illegal international competitors.

The execution strategy for PlayOLG.ca was informed by paying close attention to how the Internet and mobile technology are affecting the gaming and lottery business at large. In doing so, they identified and implemented a set of best practices. Here’s what they came up with:

  • Place technology-savvy leaders at the forefront. For the OLG, this meant selecting Mr. Marinelli, who has a background in both IT and operations, to lead the transformation.
  • Consider change holistically, involving all stakeholders. Because the lottery and gaming industry is highly complex and regulated, all aspects and implications must be considered when implementing any kind of change. The concept of “responsible gambling,” for example, must be applied to all customer-facing products.
  • Communicate plans regularly to employees. With up to 30% of the OLG’s 8,000 employees unionized, poor communication could very well spell disaster.

Even with these pivots, the future of the OLG is uncertain. Currently they’re seeking new ownership, with both Bell and Rogers rumoured to be potential buyers. But whether the OLG stays public or goes private, going digital will surely go a long way toward ensuring the long-term viability of the organization.

Takeaways

Many of the lessons learned by the OLG can be of value to other organizations similarly faced with disruption. To undertake a digital transformation initiative of your own, you should begin by asking yourself the following questions:

  1. How can a new technology help improve operations or better serve customers?
  2. How difficult will deployment be, and at what long-term cost?

To answer these questions, you’ll need to develop a 360-degree view of both your organization and the market in which you are situated.

  • Where are we going as a company?
  • What capabilities and organizational model do we need to adopt in order to capitalize on the new technology?
  • How will customers and other channels be affected by the new technology?
  • What is the potential economic impact of the new technology?
  • What can we learn from other firms’ experiences?

Regardless of what your answers are, any digital transformation of a scope similar to that of the OLG will require the following: support from the board, enterprise-level expertise in adopting and managing emerging technology, a clear understanding of where profitability comes from and a functioning capital and resource allocation process. Above all, however, a successful digital transformation requires just two things: strong senior management and a willingness to change.

For more information on our services or work, please visit the Quanta Consulting Inc., web site.

6 traits of great cultures

Several studies confirm the correlation between corporate culture and financial performance, employee engagement, levels of innovation and customer satisfaction. Companies such as P&G, Southwest Airlines, FedEx and Starbucks have been able to differentiate and excel in highly competitive markets in part by developing and sustaining healthy cultures. By the same token, the toxic cultures of firms such as GM, Blackberry and Air Canada have contributed to declining market performance.

In short: culture matters. But what exactly is culture?

A culture can be defined as the norms, practices, history and values of an organization — in other words: “how things are done around here.” The health of a culture is generally quantified through employee engagement scores, with Canadian companies averaging 40-50% engagement.

These days, companies are looking to enhance their organizational life without turning their company inside out. While the differences facing each firm often call for unique approaches to cultural renewal, best practices cut across different sectors and organizational structures and are always based on inspiring leadership and skilled management. Below, I’ve identified six tips for developing a highly successful corporate culture.

Lead by example
Leaders don’t work on culture, they work in it, tracking it, modelling the right behaviours and communicating core messages. Savvy leaders look beyond yearly employee surveys to regularly gauge sentiments and enlist feedback during weekly chats or informal events. David Agnew, CEO of RBC Wealth Management Canada, undertakes frequent branch visits, meets directly with clients and regularly and directly communicates with all of his team, as well as rank-and-file employees.

Tell your story
Every company has a story. Great leaders capture and articulate this story in an inspiring way in order to develop a powerful mission or ethos that serves as an organizational “North Star” (or guiding principle). A good example of a North Star is Google’s inspiring mission to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

Provide purpose
In a healthy culture there is an implicit — if not explicit — awareness of the connection between mission (what value you deliver), values (what inspires your activities), actions (what needs to be done day-to-day) and behaviours (what becomes second nature). Employees within these cultures tend to strongly identify with their company’s purpose, values and goals, improving both engagement and satisfaction.

Solicit feedback
Internal practices, tools and policies play a vital role in promoting or hindering desired behaviours. These practices need to be regularly reinforced and tweaked as necessary to ensure high performance and adaptability to new conditions. Some proven steps include having monthly town hall meetings, encouraging interactions outside of work and utilizing knowledge management systems.

Inculcate and reinforce
It is easier to attract and build an esprit de corps and promote the right behaviours when the firm has effective mechanisms to manage human capital. RBC Wealth Management Canada has extensive on-boarding and training programs for new hires, culture-reinforcing performance management systems and ongoing practice management for seasoned professionals. “It really helps us to attract and retain the industry’s best people,” says Mr. Agnew.

Embrace differences
Healthy cultures are not homogenous. Numerous studies have demonstrated that higher organizational performance and innovation come from diversity, not uniform workforces. Though RBC has a dominant ethos, it does not seek out one specific kind of employee, believing diversity of talent and style can help contribute to continued growth. “There are no shortcuts to establishing and maintaining a positive culture,” says Mr. Agnew. “It requires an investment of time, effort and resources at all levels of the organization.”

For more information on our services and work, please visit the Quanta Consulting Inc. web site.

Maintaining a winning customer experience

A customer experience strategy is an amalgam of practices, systems and values that guide interactions with customers and prospects across different sales channels, platforms and geographies. In an increasingly competitive and commoditized marketplace, creating a ‘wow’ customer experience is one of the few tools left for companies to retain customers, sustain margins and build a long-term competitive advantage.

Elements of a good customer experience strategy include customer-centric process design, passion-driven employee engagement, coherent interactions across multiple touch points and operational integration. Companies as diverse as Nordstrom, Lexus, Disney and Singapore Airlines have built industry-leading market share, profitability and shareholder value by consistently delivering ‘wow’ (i.e., higher than expected) customer experiences at every interaction.

In many cases, however, designing the ideal experience is the easy part, particularly if it is built on a foundation of product, brand and service excellence. The tougher challenge is maintaining this capability over time. Companies can preserve their winning customer experience by (1) developing real-world measurement systems, (2) institutionalizing key values and (3) staying close to changing customer needs and requirements.

Dropping the ball

Ten years ago, my company worked with the functional teams of a large IT solutions company to develop a customer experience strategy for their sales, support and professional services. The model was developed by working backward from their desired client interaction, and tailored to their different segments, customer types and channels. The new customer service strategy embraced every touch point, from the sales teams scripts and customer on-boarding practices to support triaging and billing processes. After only 12 months in market, the new model was credited with boosting loyalty as well as cross selling rates.

Three years out, however, the firm’s growth stalled. The metrics showed declines in customer satisfaction, online engagement and service levels. A deeper analysis indicated that their customer experience had degraded due to a variety of factors: changing client requirements and expectations (they went higher); a lack of organizational continuity (increased turnover of front-line staff prevented the inculcation of customer experience values into new employees); and clumsy integration of new enterprise software (which reduced service levels and complicated processes). Ultimately, a gap had developed between the initial customer experience strategy and its supporting capabilities.

Sustaining your customer experience strategy

Companies can preempt these issues by better institutionalizing their customer experience management practices and values. Some ways to do this include:

  • Frequently research your customers to stay in sync with their dynamic needs and requirements as well as ensuring your customer experience is consistent through new sales and support channels.
  • Make cultural fit and internal alignment a priority. Every customer-facing employee must inculcate customer experience purpose and values (e.g., ‘the customer is always right’). Rotating customer ownership through senior leaders in key departments is a good way of keeping focus and alignment.
  • Develop early warning systems to track progress, identify problems and generate learnings that can improve existing programs. These systems should track actionable metrics that align to each department’s and individual’s performance goals.
    A Canadian leader

One company that does a good job of maintaining a compelling customer experience is Sun Life Financial. The insurance and wealth leader did all the right things when they designed their customer experience in 2012, such as linking the program to key business metrics and adopting a global and holistic business view. Moreover, Sun Life Financial did not leave the program on auto-pilot.

To ensure focus and follow through, Sun Life Financial created a global working group made up of senior leaders from many departments, including marketing, finance and operations. This group meets often to track and review a variety of customer metrics, including net promoter scores and how they are tracking against improvement measures across all lines of business, as well as to review the latest customer and brand research. Importantly, they are not a corporate rubber stamp body: Their strategic mandate includes exploring opportunities for scale economies, sharing learning between regions and businesses and recommending changes in tactics (if necessary) so that customer needs are placed first and foremost.

“Our customer experience program reinforces the philosophy that the customer is at the centre of everything we do,” says Mary De Paoli, Executive Vice-President, Public & Corporate Affairs and Chief Marketing Officer, Sun Life Financial. “Delivering exceptional customer experiences requires a commitment to asking your customers, regularly, how you can improve the products and services they depend on from you. We believe this is the number one driver of the long-term success of our business.” Although it is still early days for the working group, the program has been credited with creating a winning online experience and better enabling the channel (e.g., plan sponsors, brokers and consultants) experience.

For more information on our services and work, please visit the Quanta Consulting Inc. web site.

The dangers of outsourcing

Conventional wisdom says companies should outsource manufacturing and operations to take advantage of lower wages and faster operational scalability. Aside from the question of whether this strategy (particularly when it involves offshoring) always delivers the promised benefits, you may also wonder whether outsourcing makes long-term strategic sense. The demise of Kodak, the iconic U.S. photography company, suggests organizations need to be wary of outsourcing strategic business activities. Outsourcing has been occurring for decades, based on the idea that moving labour-intensive work offshore would significantly reduce cost, without jeopardizing a firm’s competitiveness.

Kodak’s fall shows this is a dangerous assumption. Companies can unknowingly reduce their competitiveness when strategic work such as manufacturing and product design is outsourced. In other words, they stand a good chance of loosing the secret sauce that drives meaningful differentiation. Moreover, outsourcing accelerates the diffusion of knowledge and talent to outsiders thereby lowering barriers to entry. The result is higher levels of competition and a lower return on invested capital.In addition, many operations that were once performed more economically offshore can now be in-sourced at a similar cost and much lower risk.

Founded in 1893, Kodak was the dominant player in the camera, film and processing business with a strong reputation for product and manufacturing innovation. Ironically, Kodak developed the world’s first digital camera in 1975, yet was never able to leverage that early success to take advantage of the market shift to digital photography. Instead, the way Kodak expanded its digital business sowed the seeds of its demise. In 2013 the firm declared bankruptcy.

Harvard Business School Professor Willy Shih had a front row seat, having served as president of Kodak’s Digital & Applied Imaging business through the turn of the 21st century. “Much of the camera technology was invented in the United States, but U.S. companies gave it all up,” Shih said. He contends that when Kodak moved pieces of their operations overseas many years before, they lost technical expertise, product innovation and manufacturing skills. When digital cameras became the rage, Kodak had lost the ability to put together a compelling digital camera solution. As a result, they were unable to compete in this rapidly growing market. Coincidentally or not, other companies such as Dell, Blackberry/RIM and HP saw their fortunes decline during the same time they aggressively offshored major parts of their value chain.

From a strategic perspective, manufacturing a product can trigger new ideas that lead to improved operational efficiencies and product innovation, especially when there is close contact between users and designers at the production level. Maintaining key operations also allows companies to retain vital research and development, support and manufacturing knowledge, which are key to producing next-generation products. These long-term spillover effects can explain why successful consumer technology companies such as Apple and Google limit outsourcing to manufacturing, and keep product design, branding and customer support in-house.

Outsourcing need not be a risky strategy. The following are three things leaders should consider in deciding which activities are performed internally and which can be left to others:

Focus on what’s important

Many of the managers we speak with do not know what makes their organizations tick. Leaders need to know the key capabilities (e.g., assets, brands, people, knowledge, and resources) that deliver their unique value proposition so they can safeguard them.

They also need to understand what new capabilities (e.g., digital competencies) are required to generate growth three to five years out.

Double down on the core

Continue or increase investment in your differentiating, core capabilities that drive your market position and return on assets. These areas would include innovation, brand building, customer service or employee training.

Take steps to in-source strategic activities (those that are needed for growth) from external vendors.

Optimize existing relationships

For the foreseeable future, outsourcing is here to stay. It is unrealistic for companies to do everything in-house. In other cases, it is essential to unwind outsourcing arrangements or build up internal capabilities.

For these ‘sticky’ deals, managers should review and optimize their existing relationships to: Insist on and enable providers to deliver continuous improvement in terms of innovation, service levels or cost savings; ensure the company has mechanisms to capture the same learnings in areas such as product manufacturability and process efficiencies as their outsourcer; consider a dual outsourcing and in-house strategy for some activities to maintain flexibility and knowledge accumulation.

For more information on our services and work, please visit the Quanta Consulting Inc. web site.

Consumer Good’s dilemma

Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) has always been considered a solid, recession-proof business. After all, people always need to eat, wash and look after their households. However, steady demand does not mean firms can afford to be complacent. A number of developments are producing significant headwinds – and opening up new opportunities for growth. How CPG leaders navigate these waters can make the difference between building or losing market share.

The CPG industry is facing many challenges, including:

  • Weak growth

Times are tough. Unemployment remains high, incomes are flat and a recessionary mindset continues to influence consumer behavior in terms of higher coupon usage, increasing market share of deep discounters and the growing popularity of lower cost private label brands.

  • Margin pressure

Margins are under siege tracing to rising input costs and limited pricing power due to retailer consolidation and pricing pressure from discounters. Emerging market growth was supposed to offset this funk. However, emerging markets have become more competitive due to slowing growth rates and the rise of viable, more competitive local brands. Profit risk comes at the same time as managers need to boost their capital and marketing spend to drive product & manufacturing innovation and next generation IT capabilities.

  • Growing role of regulators and activists

Governments are getting more involved in what goes into our bodies and households. Increased oversight has important implications in terms of regulatory compliance, product development and marketing tactics. Some regulators are trying to levy higher taxes on products that are considered unhealthy, introducing measures to improve product safety, scrutinizing product claims and labels, and discouraging marketing to children. Moreover, there is increasing consumer demands for transparency on how companies perform when it comes to sustainability and corporate social responsibility as well as where products are made.

These are not easy challenges but the future need not be grim. Leaders should consider the following strategies to cope with this ‘new normal’:

  1. Embrace digital transformation

New digital technologies and devices have fundamentally changed consumer behavior in many categories. Winning companies will skillfully embrace digital transformation to more tightly connect their brands to consumers, and demand to their supply chains.

Yet, most firms we have researched have been cautious in embracing digital business. They do so at their own peril. Many companies need to quickly become proficient at digital marketing; adapt to new information gathering & mobile buying practices; leverage Big Data insights and; recognize the role of social networking in driving word of mouth referrals, awareness and community-building.

CPG firms have a variety of emerging technologies at their disposal. They can use location-based services to deliver personalized promotions or content based on their physical location. Companies can also leverage a smartphones or tablet’s camera functionality to directly enhance the customer experience. By scanning QR codes on a product, consumers can get more information, such as advice on how best to use a product or which complementary products to buy.

On the operational side, cloud services plus “agile” development practices give companies the ability to shorten the product innovation cycle, reduce infrastructure costs and rapidly scale functional capabilities.   Mining Big Data insights can help organizations better identify consumer preferences and trends, improve marketing ROI, refine pricing and deepen relationships with retailers.

  1. Refine brand strategies and portfolios

The difficult economic climate requires brand managers to refine their targeting and value propositions while holding down cost. In particular, companies will need to have distinct strategies to address an increasingly stratified market of affluent and lower-income consumers as well as seniors and ethnic groups. Multi-category firms should think about pursuing complexity reduction initiatives to cull poorly performing and costly sizes, variations and brands as well as streamlining operations and maximizing scale economies.

  1. Optimize channels

According to a 2013 Deloitte study, U.S. consumers consider 2.5 channels for their CPG purchases across 28 food, beverage and household goods categories. Consumer migration to both on and offline channels for selling and support creates operational, IT and marketing headaches around integration, alignment and efficiency. To profitably serve consumers with a consistent experience, firms need to balance their reliance on traditional channels like retailers and wholesalers with the need to follow consumers into emerging channels (e.g., mobile computing) and deliver them more personalized service, products and information. In 2014, the ‘holy grail’ of brand strategy has become delivering the omni-channel customer experience.

  1. Tweak supply chains

Many companies can do more to squeeze more flexibility, predictability and efficiency from their supply chains. For example, Big Data and Predictive Analytics combined with advanced IT systems can better match supply and demand in real-time, minimizing inventory levels, improving service performance, and reducing stock-outs.

For more information on our services and work, please visit the Quanta Consulting Inc. web site.

Digital transformation’s first step

Most leaders we speak with are considering how to use digital technologies to improve business and financial performance. Research shows that digitally transforming a customer interaction or operational process can significantly improve bottom-line performance and enhance competitiveness. To exploit the potential of digital technology, the optimal strategy is to identify high-potential/low-risk opportunities, find enterprise-wide technological solutions and learn as you implement.

Digital business can be a game-changer. According to a multi-industry McKinsey study, digitizing the customer experience can boost sales and profits an average 20% over five years. From an operational perspective, leveraging digital technology can drive cost reductions, leading to a 36% improvement in profits after five years.

Digital technology can impact every facet of a company’s business model. Two areas in particular can yield significant value:

  • Improve the customer experience: Digital technology enables customers to get information and tools when they want it, as they want it. For example, the rapid rise of mobile computing has triggered major changes in buyer behaviour. Banks have responded by delivering their products and services through “always on” and data-driven mobile channels — and enabling more targeted and timely cross-selling of complementary products.
  • Automate manual back-office tasks: Digitizing boring, repetitive and error prone tasks can reduce cost and improve cycle times. One of our clients reaped major efficiencies by automating basic-level customer service (through enabling customer self-service) and the review and payment of expense reports.

Every sector can benefit from enabling digital technology. In fact, some of the necessary ingredients are already in place. Specifically, many firms already incorporate digital technologies like Big Data analytics, ERP systems, and cloud services. Unfortunately, these tools are often deployed selectively within a line of business or functional silos with little consideration paid to the bigger enterprise-wide impact, standards etc.

Nominate champions

Digital transformation can be the most difficult business shift many companies face; it is part technology adoption, part process redesign and part behavioural/cultural change. This transformation should be not undertaken without strong leadership at the C-suite and board levels; it is vital that these mission-critical initiatives have senior champions who possess an organization-wide and holistic customer view. Some firms have gone so far as to create the role of a Chief Digital Officers to lead digital efforts.

Understand the impact

The return on your digital investment can be compelling — and difficult to accurately estimate. Firms can not rely only on aggregated numbers like McKinsey’s; they need to undertake a wide-ranging business-case analysis that considers the full range of benefits including cost savings, improvements in customer satisfaction and higher cross-selling rates. The business impact should be measured through digital targets to evaluate progress and influence future investment and roll-out decisions.

Take an end-to-end view

Maximizing the value of digital requires a consideration of scope and scale that cuts across the firm. For example, automating sales activities will have important implications for inventory availability, product design and marketing channels. Managers also need a 360-degree view of organizational issues like available skills, cultural impact and change requirements.

In the above areas, we have found that companies need a detailed view of user needs and behaviour as well as formal and informal workflows. Digital transformation will often precipitate a need to refine processes, the nature of the service, and in some cases, the operating structure.

Carefully choose your opportunity

Leaders need to prioritize what to digitize. Trying to bite off more than you can chew may ruin the business case, quickly bog down implementation, and lead to conflict over scarce resources. On the other hand, having too narrow a focus may leave significant value on the table. Whatever the choice, managers must ensure the potential business value is compelling, the selected initiatives align to business priorities and they have the right resources and partners to execute. Leaders also have to accept that over time, some lines of business, activities or jobs will be displaced by digital technologies; these shifts — often sudden — can have important organizational ramifications.

Going digital is a journey. Hype may turn transformation into a sprint but in reality it should be seen as a marathon. Starting with a digital pilot is prudent for the technologically risk averse or inexperienced. In some cases like iTunes or Netflix, digitally transforming a product may call for a totally new business model. Managers will maximize digital’s value when they: select “low hanging fruit” opportunities, prudently invest based on the right risk/reward profile, get their workflows optimized and ensure the right resources and change methodologies are employed.

For more information on our services and work, please visit the Quanta Consulting Inc. web site.

Getting started with Big Data

Leveraging Big Data can help every company significantly improve competitiveness and financial results. At the same time, poorly conceived and executed initiatives can lead to wasted investment and organizational distraction. Not surprisingly, the question of how best to reap the benefits of Big Data is triggering extensive deliberations in many companies. What is ‘best practice’ in launching a Big Data strategy?

Big Data is a set of activities for collecting and analyzing various types of data located within and outside the organization. The insights derived from this analysis are used to enhance business performance such as boosting advertising efficiency, improving supply chain responsiveness or improving service levels.

Most large companies are already in the Big Data business. The amount of data collected is growing exponentially thanks to the digitization of virtually every customer and operational interaction. In a typical Fortune 500 firm, terabytes of data are being amassed through regular business activities such as point-of-sale transactions, barcode tracking, web traffic or social media communications. This data torrent – when properly mined — affords management a valuable opportunity to learn about consumer behaviour or internal operations, enabling them to optimize tactics for better performance. At the same time, realizing the Big Data vision presents significant technical and organizational challenges. These challenges can increase the chances that managers will embark on expensive or poorly designed initiatives – or become paralyzed due to complexity.

In our experience, the best way to get into Big Data is to start with a sensible roll out plan and leverage best practices. This plan should consider four key elements:

1.  Data

Any plan should begin with a review of the relevant internal and external data, according to the 4 Vs: volume (the amount of data and its location); variety (types of data, both structured and unstructured); velocity (how quickly the data changes) and veracity (the accuracy and availability of the data). In many firms, data is siloed by function or business line; is not standardized and; it comes in various stages of completeness. Getting quality data can be difficult and time-consuming. It may be desirable to outsource this data integration and clean up to specialist firms who can make it ‘analytics-ready.’

2.  Hypotheses

It is easy to get side-tracked if you dive right into analysis without any strategic guideposts. Not all insights are equally important. Like other major initiatives, it is essential the Big Data effort links to business priorities and metrics. One way to do this is to start with a limited number of pilots based on specific hypotheses that directly impact strategic goals. Successful pilots can generate early wins that justify further investment, and can produce important insights around the business, as well as test out first generation capabilities.

3.  Analytics

To effectively and efficiently mine the data, the team should carefully choose the appropriate analytical methodology or model for each business problem. The analytics will vary whether the goal is workflow optimization (e.g., minimizing inventory levels, delivery times) or predictive analytics (e.g., anticipating consumer behaviour, forecasting events). However, managers can easily over-speculate on solutions, choosing costly and complicated tools that require expensive or scarce talent. Judicious CIOs will take a “great is the enemy of good’ approach to choosing their models and depth of analysis.

4.  Capabilities

Many IT environments are not conducive to quick or easy Big Data deployments. These infrastructures can be a heterogeneous mix of new and legacy hardware & software, lacking in data standardization and centralized control. To exploit Big Data opportunities, firms will need a unique combination of data experts, software tools and management capabilities as well as supporting governance practices. This capability should be developed with practicality in mind. Initially, CIOs could outsource Big Data needs to a cloud-based analytics service limiting upfront investment and accelerating time to value. Over the long term, the organization can look to develop world-class capabilities through employing specialized talent, bespoke software tools and private cloud architectures.

As with other strategic initiatives, a prudent way of getting into Big Data would be to start small and target actionable insights. Ongoing attention should be paid to ensure the learnings are understood by the staff and implemented into existing workflows. Where necessary, new processes or practices may be needed to fully leverage the insights. Learning by doing will prompt managers to connect different analytical models together to address wider problems that span functions and business units.

Firms that are winning with Big Data are often the quickest out of the gate with a practical plan, based on a thorough understanding of their data, staff and IT environment. Big Data will be a game changer for companies who can deploy the right analytics and capabilities against their most pressing business issues.

For more information on our services and work, please visit the Quanta Consulting Inc. web site.

Blockbuster innovation

Companies could learn much about innovation from the Spanish general, Hernan Cortes.  In 1518, Cortes was instructed to sail to Mexico and overthrow the Aztec empire. According to the story, he proceeded to scuttle his boats after putting down a mutiny of some of his staff. This sent a powerful message to his soldiers that there was no retreat. They would conquer Mexico or die in their efforts. History judged his decision successful (if not immoral). His small army of 500 soldiers conquered the country in a mere two years.  What management lessons can be gleaned from this historical episode?

An “all or nothing” strategy seems counter-intuitive when looking at the best way to commercialize risky innovations.  Conventional wisdom says that launching small, measurable experiments or pilots is the best, lowest risk approach to introducing new products or technologies. Though this seems like a prudent tack, it has not necessarily produced market wins. Numerous studies show that the success rate for new products has stubbornly hovered around 10-20%. Fortunately, there may be a better way to commercialize innovation.

A professor at Harvard Business School, Anita Elberse, has studied creativity-driven industries like music, sports, movies and publishing.  In her book Blockbusters, Elberse found that the companies with superior financial returns had strategically focused their efforts and capital on producing movie blockbusters, recruiting superstar athletes or signing popular authors. To use a baseball metaphor, these firms always swing for the fences instead of playing it safe trying for singles and doubles. According to her data, these industries exhibit a ‘winner take all’ dynamic; less than 10% of projects, teams or entertainers produced more than 90% of industry revenue and profit.

In “winner take all” markets, the best strategy is to singlehandedly aim for blockbuster products.  The best way to do this is to focus investment and management attention on proven entities, assets or projects, like a movie sequel, a superstar free agent athlete or a popular book franchise.  Funding a limited number of major innovations is not enough. You also need to front-load your sales and marketing effort to boost initial channel distribution and trigger word-of-mouth effects. Elberse considers a blockbuster strategy a lower risk approach because it improves the odds of success early on and enables firms to cut their losses if results do not pan out.

Applicability to other markets

While Elberse studied the creative and sporting industries, other information-driven sectors may experience similar blockbuster dynamics. Industries with high fixed costs, a low marginal cost (when producing more) and a high marginal profit (on each additional sale) can quickly evolve into “winner take all” markets, particularly when digital technologies reduce customer search costs and eliminate the need for physical proximity between the buyer and seller. There are many reasons for all CEOs to consider this approach for their business:

Rallying the troops

Big innovation bets focus employee and supplier attention, create positive urgency and prevent individual or departmental agendas from stealing resources. 

Reduces complexity

Many R&D projects, particularly small ones, can develop institutional momentum making them difficult to cancel.  Managing this portfolio can generate significant complexity, increasing organizational cost and diffusing effort.  A blockbuster strategy eliminates these wasteful costs plus allows managers to best leverage scale economies in areas like media buying and raw material purchases.

Satisfy real customer needs

Movie studios concentrate investment and time on stories, actors and directors with proven consumer appeal (e.g., a sequel).  The discipline of only targeting key customer needs in profitable segments with real innovation improves the chances of market success.

Elberse’s learnings are relevant to many other industries including education, training, professional services and software. However, not every firm is a good fit. We believe enterprises should have three characteristics:

1.  Self-awareness

Companies that are good at placing the right innovation bets tend to have a good sense of what their core competencies are and where they need to partner or bypass.

2.  Decisiveness

Though having a good innovation evaluation process is important, management still needs to make tough calls quickly in periods of uncertainty.  Moreover, following a blockbuster strategy requires firms to have a culture and performance measurement system that is tolerant of failure.

3.  Nimbleness

Rigid plans lead to risky, binary decisions. Even in the movie industry, extensive consumer research still takes place.  Producers don’t hesitate to make edits or change endings based on focus group research.

Utilizing a blockbuster approach goes against conventional wisdom.  However, there are many examples of hurting companies like AppleIBM and Xerox that followed this strategy and have re-emerged as winners.  Managers should understand their operational dynamics, consider the strong financial business case, and analyze the impact of digital tools like search bots or recommendation engines that create “winner take all” effects.

For more information on our services or work, please visit the Quanta Consulting Inc. web site.