Crawl, Walk & Run: How do I understand where my organisation can strategically adopt digital or whether it’s a false positive?

Crawl, Walk & Run

Crawl, Walk & Run: How do I understand where my organisation can strategically prioritise its investment into digital?

You crawl, you walk and then you can run. Nope, not the stages of growth as a child – but an analogy used in big analogue enterprise that is looking to disrupt the norm internally and experiment with technology over an extended period of time. 

A key challenge in delivering innovation around digital transformation is weighing up where the value exists for the firm and how quickly it is able to be unlocked. Taking on a large organisation wide programme is challenging, particularly when an organisation may have hundreds of employees, multiple markets and a vast product range. Like all things, you need to start small, address the quick wins and scale a digital transformation operation – taking with it new ways of workings, an alternate culture which allows quick failures and a recognition that training or external resources are needed to close skills gaps.

It’s an analogy that ‘makes sense’ to me and many of the partners we speak to, especially those who recognise that digital investment is required but struggle to identify where and how they can start their journey, so I wanted to share the top-line ethos of this with you. 

First, you learn to crawl. You start by moving slow, then suddenly your crawling fast trying to stand upright. 

This typically takes form by focusing on internal areas where technology can quickly create efficiencies, normally in the form of cost savings by looking at automating internal processes that are typically prime for error, data heavy and routine. Starting with small teams with KPI’s separate day roles a team can break down departmental tasks into activity trees to start identifying where bottlenecks exist. The exercise will quickly identify the processes most prime for optimisation and you probably won’t have to look very far if this is the start of your digital journey.  

Creating a problem statement clearly defines the focus area, allowing a model to map associated ROI to be delivered to c-suite for buy in where any investment can be rationalised, increasing the likelihood of stakeholders buying in to the project. It is particularly useful in a large analogue business where processes and job roles are consistently being optimised for and taking a step back is rare. 

The delivery of a digital solution and deployment of it from there on in is typically the easy part. Post deployment measurement helps monitor the impact and effectiveness of the investment and suddenly your organisation can see the real value that digital can deliver. 

At this point, the organisation is crawling.

Learning to walk is a slower process, sometimes the transition can take years to fully master.

Once you have realised on a small scale the upside of digital transformation from a cost saving or efficiency perspective, the transition into understanding how it can impact your product offering and wider business decision making processes can be a longer process. Structural change needs be realised before external impact can be felt.

As the initial project scales outwards it faces many challenges ranging from stakeholder objection, resistance internally or simple infrastructure demands.  At the start of walking external parties will still be playing a role in projects as external expertise will be needed in the form of product managers or developers. To fully start walking on your own two feet internal knowledge and expertise needs to be built, whether that’s from training, external companies building and handing over resources or hiring. A focus on changing culture needs to accompany these new skills. Both of these processes take time as skills & culture do not happen in week or even months.

Dominos Pizza is a good example of an analogue business that didn’t need to take a tech-first approach as they were a profitable analogue business that had a very strong position in the market. However looking forward they needed to stay ahead and set a strategic vision to re-imagine themselves as a digital first business that serves their customers through e-commerce and capitalises on the data that accompanies it. 

Two senior digital leaders in the business proposed to the board that to thrive in the coming decade they needed to realise that whilst they can operate successfully as an analogue business, to thrive they needed to become an e-commerce business with a tech function at the heart of operations. By starting with development of an ordering system any pureplay e-commerce business would be proud of, over period of time this led to them building a team of 400 engineers, data scientists & digital project managers in their head office. Recently their Operations Director shared that Artificial Intelligence has been helping them predict what toppings and types of Pizza’s are about to be ordered, meaning your pizza is being cooked and prepared before you’ve even paid. Quite the journey and one that has paid off.

Making and delivering pizza is a business that had no reason to double down on technology investment – they had achieved operational excellence – but they recognised to really thrive they needed to build internal expertise to externally break new ground in service delivery and worked from the core outwards.

Once fully upright on your back two legs, adding some speed is easy, you just need to keep your balance 

A wealth of in-house digital talent, a c-suite that is fully onboard with transformation efforts and a strong infrastructure in place means within the organisation you have the talent, experience and confidence in spinning off sub-teams to ‘hack’ new ideas, experiences or products. Typically taking form as projects focused on re-thinking customer experience or innovating within the product range these really allow the organisation to evolve at pace – making use of internal product, data & engineering experts.  At this point, the organisation has passed it’s transformation efforts and is now moving quickly in the digital area. 

So how is this useful? 

Conversations in reality are often focused around the commercial realities of business (..and rightly so), it’s a mindset shift to focus on cutting costs and finding operational excellence, to increasing costs in the short term to feel the benefits long term. False positives are not uncommon when looking for applications of technology. It is important to structure any planned investment around a clearly defined problem statement, married to clear business outcomes and tangible ROI to the business so that stakeholders can recognise the value delivered.

Applying this to the current challenges created by the pandemic and lockdowns, the huge demand-led push onto digital systems has seen companies typically fall into two categories;

i) Those that had been slowly investing in transformation efforts, who found the initial transition to remote working easier and have seen the huge adoption of these systems. Partners experiencing this are now typically looking to optimise their processes and make the most of the new ways of working.

ii) Those that are now recognising the importance of investing in digital transformation in their daily operations, but need to understand where priorities should lay.

Both are faced with the same challenges around budgeting which takes me back to the opening paragraph, but whilst financial constraints are high, most organisations are realising the potential upside of digital adoption. Whichever side you consider yourself to sit on, the Crawl > Walk > Run framework is helpful in structuring how your organisation (with assumption of it being analogue-first) can strategically approach start to approach digital transformation. 


If you would like a further chat on this we work with clients to help dissect organisational challenges into clear problem statements with a tested model to understand whether a digital solution is a false positive or something that will drive real value to partners.