Over the last few years there has been a marked acceleration of the impact and pace of change of digital technologies on businesses in the ‘real world’.

From e-Commerce, marketing automation, social media, mobility, Cloud, Internet of Things (IoT), Bring Your Own Device (BYOD); new and disruptive technologies are everywhere – and so is the demand from customers and employees to use them. Digital technologies help drive productivity and improve the satisfaction of your customers and employees.

Always on, anytime, anyplace, anywhere.

But expectations are rising. Customers expect to be able to interact with you at any time and through the medium of their choice. Businesses are expected to operate 24 hours and have global reach. Competition is fierce and the rate of change is only set to increase.

What is Digital Transformation?

‘Digital Transformation’ is the process of incorporating new digital capabilities into established ‘analogue businesses to enable them to compete in the modern digital era. It’s also about changing the way businesses are organised and operate to maximise the value from the new capabilities and opportunities offered by digital. Businesses that are ‘born digital’ (such as Appliances Online) can rapidly grow. Conversely, businesses that fail to spot, react and adapt to disruptive trends (such as Polaroid, Kodak and Blockbuster) can quickly fail.

Brian Solis describes this as ‘Living in an era of “Digital Darwinism”, a time when technology and society are evolving faster than the ability of many organisations to adapt’.

Be not afraid of digital; some (companies) are born digital, some achieve digital, and others have digital thrust upon them.

So defining and executing a digital strategy is important, but where is the best place to start your digital transformation journey with the myriad of back end systems and processes that have been implemented, acquired, developed and evolved during the lifetime of your organisation? One thing that hasn’t changed with all this whizzy new technology is that successful companies tend to have a strong focus on their customers. Therefore, building a ‘Customer Portal’ is a great way of providing a customer-centric view of your business.

What is a Customer Portal?

A Customer Portal provides bespoke, relevant and targeted information about all the services you offer to your customers in one place. It should be accessible anytime, anyplace and have a consistent look and feel across any device used to access it. Portals can help orchestrate information flows to customers from across your business, providing them (and you) with a single view of all the activity going on within their account. Portals can also help customers self-serve, driving automation of some of the simpler tasks that previously would have required human intervention to complete.

A well-executed Customer Portal is a great way to create customer value and differentiate your brand. As Forrester points out:

“A great digital experience is no longer a nice-to-have; it’s a make-or-break point for your business as we more fully enter the digital age.” To a greater extent, customer’s impressions of a business are established through digital engagement forcing businesses to recognise that “software is the brand”.

How does a Customer Portal help drive Digital Transformation?

Building a Customer Portal is a great way to kickstart your Digital Transformation.

The modular nature of Portals make it easier to rapidly launch new technologies (whether social, cloud or mobility) whilst maintaining a consistent customer experience at the front end. And the more services you provide, the richer your customer experience becomes. Portals should always be deployed on an expandable architecture, enabling you to scale to meet the demands of the always-on Digital Economy.

How does this work in practice?

Blake Cahill, Philips’ Head of Digital and Social Marketing, uses their newly launched Customer Portal to monitor e-Commerce activity and customer sentiment via social media channels. The portal offers a consolidated view across different markets, lines of business and products in a single location.

Cahill says, “For me, consistency is crucial. If you can build a coherent operating model in digital, then when the ‘next big thing’ comes along – whether that’s Google Glass or augmented reality – then you already have a plan of action to follow. You can say: “OK, this is what we’re doing” and everyone knows how they’re expected to deliver against the goal you’ve set them. The biggest challenge is just keeping up with the pace of digital change and to do that you’ve got to have an [underlying] system”.

Opportunities provided by ‘Business Moments’

Gartner says Digital Businesses will spot opportunities in a matter of seconds. They’ve introduced the concept of ‘Business Moments’, transient opportunities that exist for a finite amount of time.

For example, if a customer buys a new car, there is a short window of opportunity to sell the car insurance (which will only come up again once a year, when the insurance is due for renewal). This concept really takes off when you start putting sensors in inanimate objects and connect them to the Internet of Things. ‘Business Moments’ will blossom as the sensors indicate a specific need (part failure, service requirement and yes, more milk if it happens to be your fridge).

Cisco estimates that more than 50 billion things will be connected to the internet by 2020, translating to a $14 trillion industry. What sort of things? Mobile devices, parking meters, thermostats, cardiac monitors, tires, roads, cars, supermarket shelves…the list is endless.

Only businesses attuned to spotting and acting upon these opportunities will be able to benefit.

Transforming Global Flows

McKinsey describes the movement of goods, services and finance as ‘Global flows’. While the last era of globalisation was driven largely by sourcing low-cost production, the next era will centre on the rise of the global knowledge economy.

McKinsey says that digital technologies, which reduce the cost of production and distribution, are transforming global flows in three ways: through the creation of purely digital goods and services, “digital wrappers” that enhance the value of physical flows, and digital platforms that facilitate cross-border production and exchange.

Conclusion

The Digital Economy is changing the way we do business.

It’s more important than ever that you have a Customer Portal infrastructure in place to delight your customers and track activity in ‘your very own digital command and control centre’.  A well-executed Portal creates customer value and differentiation for your brand. It can be used to kick start your Digital Transformation and provides some preparation for the explosive demand that will be generated by the Digital Economy.

Rob Wells is the Head of Digital Customer Engagement for KCOM. He shares his insights and expertise on his blog about customer portal strategy at http://robwellsblog.wordpress.com/

References:

  • Digital Transformation is the most pervasive force in business today http://bit.ly/1kYv8eb
  • Brian Solis: “Digital Darwinism”, when technology and society are evolving faster than many organisations can adapt. http://bit.ly/1uQivpU
  • The future of corporate IT: Surfing a digital wave, or drowning? http://econ.st/1uQhDle
  • Global flows in a digital age | McKinsey & Company http://bit.ly/1nMO7Io
  • Gartner Says Digital Businesses Will Spot Opportunities in a Matter of Seconds http://gtnr.it/1sAIu2D
  • How Big The Internet Of Things Could Become? http://bit.ly/1sBH9Zv
  • How Many Internet Connections are in the World? Right. Now. http://bit.ly/1sBH9Zv
  • Digital command and control: The CDO’s agenda http://bit.ly/1iDqxsE
  • Forrester: Digital Experience Delivery Makes (or Breaks) Firms http://onforb.es/1fbJyb0
  • Digital Business is Everyone’s Business  http://onforb.es/1uBkCh