In a pre-COVID-19 world, Australia was already lagging behind the world in digital rankings. The World Digital Rankings revealed Australia slid down from ranking 9th to 14th in 2019 with especially disappointing scores in future readiness and business agility. COVID-19 has brought into sharp focus what that score means for many businesses — realizing they can’t email their users, make fast data-driven decisions or modify automations that don’t make sense in a self-isolating world. Australia has a unique set of circumstances that make this even harder than our counterparts in other countries. So, what can we do to ensure we don’t continue slipping?

Improve company agility by fixing departmental misalignment

Australia ranked a staggeringly bad 45th in business agility, and it seems a lack of alignment between departments is largely to blame. Often the CMO battling with the CTO, working within their own bubbles and failing to collaborate. This creates a bottleneck preventing the organisation from becoming truly agile and flexible. A culture of flexibility and achieving business agility needs to be embraced at CEO level and filtered from the top down. The businesses with Chief Customer Officers are typically less siloed due to all business units focusing on the customer rather their own internal politics.

Ensure flexibility and speed to market are key growth objectives

Flexibility in technology can be defined as choosing a solution that allows for maximum reusability and extendibility — not to be confused with innovation which is very different. A good example of tech flexibility is the growth of headless solutions over single channel solutions; or centralised customer data versus siloed collection and storage processes. Having an org-wide view of all usages of platforms can be a struggle, but it shows the value of high-quality enterprise architects.

Invest in capability (people and process) before technology

The key to driving change is pivoting the focus from throwing technology at your business problem and thinking it will solve it, to being strategic in building capability. Make the most of your existing technology investments, use what you have and build capability first. Through that process, the needs for new tech investment will evolve and become clearer. Choosing technology before you know what you want to do with it is a common recipe for disaster.

If you want to drive innovation and company agility, there are clear questions that need answering prior to investing in technology:

  • Define the goals: are we clear what we need this tech to do for our business? (not just ‘we want it to run personalisation’).
  • Do we have the right skill sets to drive the technology so it helps achieve our goals?
  • Do we have clear processes in place to ensure smooth operations?
  • Who’s going to ‘own’ it? Who’s going to maintain it? How is it going to integrate it with other solutions?
  • Do we have the right data ready to power the platform? Is it in the right format? Can it be integrated?
  • Does any of our current tech allow us to do most, if not all of the what this new tech can do?
  • Is this actually providing new/better functionality or is it just a shiny new toy?

If you need to buy, do not rush your decisions

Australian businesses have it harder than our populous international counterparts. The implementation costs of a piece of technology are largely the same whether it’s servicing 200,000 people or 2 million people. Therefore, unless you’re a national brand with mega audiences, you need to be more strategic in how you choose your vendors. With nearly all vendors shouting that their solution will make your business more agile, profitable and data-driven — businesses need to find a way to sift through the hype to find the actual value.

For Australian businesses, the way to do this is to invest in strategy and planning first — as the cost of a good strategy outweighs the losses from making a bad decision. Features and functions are obviously important, but Australia needs to place more emphasis on ensuring investments are low risk or have easy exit plans.

Some smart strategic tactics:

  • Proof of concepts are a great example of testing before buying. Trying the free or reduced cost trial periods can further reduce risks.
  • Putting performance clauses into tech contracts is useful to provide an exit avenue if the sold dream doesn’t match reality.
  • Prioritising open, integration friendly solutions even if they are missing a few features may pay dividends. Those extra features are useless if you can’t make that platform talk to the rest of your stack.

Tackling skill shortages whilst building capability

There are very specific skill shortages across the market. Skills alone, or roles alone do not tell you whether a person is cut out to be strategic or problem solvers. For example, you may hire a marketing automation developer that knows the platform you have, but whether they can also think outside the box and find creative solutions is another thing. There are no strict learning pathways into these roles, and where training exists, it only teaches basic skills not problem solving.

For those in senior positions — one lesson is to value those staff that have both skills and creativity. Those are the people that will be the difference when you need to overcome Australia’s additional challenges. If you can’t find those people in the first place, this is where specialised consultancies and agencies are of particular value. They help fill any in-house skills shortages, build capability, all whilst helping businesses find new ways of achieving success.

One of the interesting ways COVID-19 is affecting the landscape is sadly displacing many of these skilled and strategic professionals…so if your business is in a place to hire, there are great people on the market.

The greater challenge = The greater reward

Australia definitely has additional challenges, but that only makes it sweeter when our people, processes and technology all come together to realise the true value of success. Building digital agility and capability is like a never-ending puzzle — while it’s never fully finished, we can still get a lot of satisfaction from completing key sections.

If we are having to solve extra complicated problems and find creative solutions every day, that holds Australian digital professionals in a great position globally. It will be the strength of our strategy and our problem-solving agility that’ll be the differentiator for long-term success.

About The Author: Ben Desailly, Senior Martech Advisor at The Lumery.

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