Three Characteristics of a Winning Digital Strategy

The right digital strategy needs to be specific to your organization, but a good one will always have these three traits.

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Digital Leadership

As organizations rely increasingly on digital technologies, how should they cultivate opportunities and address taking risks in a fast-moving digital market environment?
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Three years of research consistently highlights the single biggest predictor of a company’s digital maturity as the existence of a clear and coherent digital strategy. In 2015, MIT Sloan Management Review’s collaborative research with Deloitte found that more than 80% of respondents who rated their companies as digitally maturing said that their organizations had a clear and coherent digital strategy, a sentiment felt by less than 20% of respondents from less digitally mature companies.

Given the central importance of strategy to digital maturity, you may be surprised to learn that this article is not going to help you or your company develop a digital strategy. Developing an effective digital strategy is something that must be tailored to the organization and involves a careful assessment of the competitive environment, your organization’s capabilities and resources, the state of relevant technology, and a host of other possible variables.

Entire books have been written on particular types of digital strategies, and many of these are quite good. For example, George Westerman, Didier Bonnet, and Andrew McAfee offer a nice treatment of how large companies are using digital to gain strategic advantage. David Rogers of Columbia University penned a volume on how leaders should update their thinking for a digital age. Marshall Van Alstyne and his colleagues wrote a book just for strategies for platform businesses. I can even recommend my colleague John Gallaugher’s textbook as perhaps the most consistently up-to-date discussion of digital strategy out there — he updates the material yearly.

Given the diversity represented in these texts alone, there are likely many different digital strategies that may be effective in a given setting. Digital tools can be used in many different “right” — and surprising — ways to add value to an organization.

Despite the many differences between the nature of digital strategy at digitally maturing companies, our research demonstrates that these strategies still share a number of common characteristics.


Digital Leadership

As organizations rely increasingly on digital technologies, how should they cultivate opportunities and address taking risks in a fast-moving digital market environment?
More in this series

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Comments (3)
Hanne Shapiro
From my own analytical work here in Denmark- and in the EU focusing in particular  on SMEs I found that if the digital strategy is to bring the business beyond efficiency gains it is important to  allow for experimental pilot projects around new technologies to fully explore their potentials. Access to risk capital and family boards are here two typical pitfalls. Second- engaging front end employees as a genuine resource right from the pilot phase- involving them as co-designers help   supporting the transition to new roles and work tasks, and it motivates front end employees to engage in digital incremental innovations.  It raises the question whether countries with strong education and training systems for skilled and semi-skilled  workers are more likely to have more SMEs that are successful in the adoption of digital strategies, which are transformative  in nature. Would be interested to learn from anyone who have studied this empirically
Cam Brown
As an agency owner, I found this article to be both daunting and true. Developing digital strategies is not "set it and forget it" and requires ongoing work. Smart evaluation of client channel potential is critical. It would be foolhardy and likely impossible to test every new innovation for every client. But as Mr. Kane suggests, we really do need to develop strategies looking years down the road for how a company’s business will be impacted and how they must be ready to serve their customer needs by anticipating them years in advance.
Srikanth Katuri
"Instead, it involves fundamentally rethinking how one does business in light of all of the digital trends occurring both inside and outside the organization. It involves identifying potential new services, sources of revenue, and ways of interacting with employees"

The  4 most important lines for all digital leaders and laggards.