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In a recent small roundtable discussion hosted by the B2B marketing agency OgilvyOne Business, marketing and digital strategy professionals from companies like the consulting firm Deloitte UK, the IT company SITA and the financial planning company BlackRock came together to discuss digital transformation. The event, which was covered by The Drum, explored what digital transformation means for marketing leaders, how they measure its success and the challenges it brings.

One of the stunning conclusions from the event: “Everyone is talking about digital transformation, but there is a lack of doing.” That’s because despite the buzz about digital transformation, most projects in this area are “smaller and discrete” and are not making an impact in the business yet. This is true despite the fact that enterprises see this trend as a way to cut costs, increase revenue and improve customer experiences.

OgilvyOne’s event is a reminder that for digital transformation to have a bigger impact, business leaders need to think bolder and execute better.

What is digital transformation, anyway?

Perhaps one of the reasons why many companies are struggling is because they have no idea what it is.

Brian Solis, a digital analyst and best-selling author, has done significant amount of work in this space in his research at Altimeter. He defines digital transformation as follows:

The realignment of, or new investment in, technology and business models to more effectively engage digital customers at every touchpoint in the customer experience lifecycle.

The online publication Econsultancy, offers a similar but simpler definition:

The journey from where a company is, to where it aspires to be digitally.

Projects in digital transformation are likely already underway in several departments in your enterprise. According to the Harvard Business Review, efforts in digital transformation are happening in three key areas: customer experience strategy, operational processes and business models. Digital transformation efforts are particularly visible in retail, where many companies have rolled out projects related to mobile, e-commerce and personalization.

Regardless of how you define it, the buzz about digital transformation shows an increasing interest among companies to build up their capacity to serve the changing needs of today’s customers.

Benchmark your digital transformation effort.

Digital transformation is not a one-time project. Changing the technology, mindset and processes of your company to cater to the digital customer requires a long-term commitment.

The first step in this ongoing journey is to evaluate where your company currently stands. According to Solis, there are six stages of digital transformation—from “business as usual” to “innovative and adaptive.” While these phases could overlap in many companies, evaluating your current efforts using Solis’ framework helps when setting up goals and timelines.

6 stages of digital transformation

“Collectively, these phases serve as a digital maturity blueprint to guide purposeful and advantageous digital transformation,” says Solis, adding that benchmarking is useful to mapping the company’s progress in its journey to digital literacy and leadership.

RELATED: Watch the webinar The Customer Experience Revolution for more CX insights from Solis.

Get multi-disciplinary involvement.

In addition to goal setting and benchmarks, another ingredient to digital transformation success is interdepartmental collaboration. For instance, a 2016 study released by the software company Oracle strongly suggests CFO-CIO alignment in pushing digital efforts. In the study, 73 percent of finance decision makers agreed that IT and finance collaboration is necessary to achieving financial transformation within the company.

“The digital transformation of a business requires greater levels of collaboration between every department in the organization,” Loïc Le Guisquet, president at Oracle, says about the study. “Finance should not be the ball and chain holding the company back from progress—it should be the engine pushing it forward.”

In his recent report on the stages of digital transformation, Solis also advocates for “multi-disciplinary involvement” to tackle challenges in digital transformation, including governance, analytics and technology integration.

Involve your customers.

Ultimately, success requires engagement with the same people you’re doing this for: the digital customer. Engagement is key to shaping your digital strategy, validating tactics and measuring your overall success.

“The people thinking about digital transformation are thinking about ways of optimizing the customer journey,” said Solis in a Q&A with Vision Critical. “One of the biggest opportunities is to rethink everything—just to step back and think, ‘hey, what’s the point of our website in the mobile world today, and how could we reinvent it to make it more useful and more meaningful to today’s customers?’”

Rethinking the end-to-end customer experience requires direct engagement with customers, according to Solis, because it’s how companies could harness insight that will lead to disruption.

“The idea of disruption because of customer insight and customer experience is looking at not just how you would improve customer experience, but how would you disrupt it? It’s about thinking and acting almost like a startup.”

Final thought

Many companies today want to transform their businesses by either adding more digital elements or by radically changing the use of technology in their companies. To boost their efforts, many of these companies are hiring for positions like digital marketing and digital strategy.

But as OgilvyOne’s recent event makes clear, these efforts are falling short. Despite the fact that we’re way past the digital revolution, the race for digital transformation has just begun.

How Insight-Driven Businesses Will Lead in Digital Experience by 2020

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