While nearly every executive today spends at least some time thinking about digital transformation, it’s my experience that no two people agree on exactly what digital transformation is. Yet we can likely all agree that it’s essential to organizations that want to stay relevant in a changing world.
In this piece, I hope to do two things: first, to establish that digital transformation is not a set of tools or strategies but rather a mindset that lets businesses adapt and adjust to ensure that their products and services continue to make their users’ lives better in a changing world.
And second, to explain how prioritizing digital experience in digital transformation projects can make those adaptations and adjustments more successful.
What Is Digital Experience?
I define digital experience as a combination of user experience (UX) and user interface (UI). UX refers to a user’s response to any interaction they have with a digital asset (app, website, kiosk, wearable, voice-activated device, etc.). UI refers to the screen itself and how it functions.
Broadly, think of digital experience as the way a customer or user interacts with your brand through digital means.
Apple products offer famously good digital experiences.
From the start, Apple aimed to make computers intuitive to any user. For example, instead of having to type in lines of code, users of early Apple computers could use a mouse to point and click at things on the screen.
While Apple wasn’t the first to offer a mouse, the company’s attention to UX made computers accessible to a wider audience. The success of early Apple computers – and Apple products we use today – was the result of putting user needs first and devoting attention to design and the design process.
To this day, Apple is in a constant state of digital transformation such that its digital experiences – that is, its UX and UI – continue to set the bar for everyone else.
But don’t worry: your company doesn’t have to be an Apple to engage in meaningful digital transformation or to create an exceptional digital experience. Let’s look at how.
Before Transforming, Understand the Current State
There’s often a lot of urgency in conversations about digital transformation. The world is moving fast and executives feel the pressure to keep up. That urgency can lead organizations to jump ahead in the process, looking at specific solutions before they’ve taken the time to understand the problems they’re trying to solve.
When we work with organizations on digital transformation projects, we always start by understanding the current state. Without that, it’s very difficult to understand what the end goal(s) should be. What’s more, the current state gives us a benchmark we can measure from and use to define what success looks like.
Think about it: you wouldn’t choose a place to get coffee without first knowing your starting location and your bigger-picture goal. The city’s best cafe is not a good match if it’s an hour from your home and your goal is to fuel up before your meeting in 15 minutes.
Similarly, your industry’s leading software may not be a fit given where your organization is today and what it’s trying to accomplish.
Here’s an example: I worked on a project to help an organization migrate its green-screen computer interface to a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) design – i.e., a redesign to that of contemporary software and applications that we all use on a daily basis today.
Before diving in, though, my team and I took stock of the organization’s current state. Many of its employees had been there for decades, using that green-screen interface. They were extremely skilled at it and were largely unfamiliar with WYSIWYG software.
Still, the organization’s leaders knew that if it wanted to keep up with its competitors, it had to build better tools that let it integrate more easily with third-party systems and reduce costs related to fixing and patching dated software.
What’s more, they knew that if they wanted to attract new talent, they had to update the interface. After all, they couldn’t expect their current workforce to stay forever.
We developed an interface designed to let both experienced and future employees maximize productivity:
This ensured that the business could operate profitably and expect to do so as its workforce changed. We met them where they were and moved them a bit further along the UX maturity scale.
What’s Good for Users Is Good for the Business
As the above example suggests, to get digital experience right, you have to talk to end users. That requires an upfront investment of time and money.
Because of the urgency I mentioned earlier, some business leaders are reluctant to do this step. Maybe they have an existing customer survey they rely on. Maybe they have a binder of extensive (and expensive) customer research from a third-party firm.
The kind of research required to create great digital experiences is different from both of those.
It involves having conversations with users, showing them mockups and prototypes, getting their feedback, and iterating fast to get closer and closer to a thing that will make their lives better.
If my team and I hadn’t spoken to the users of that green-screen software, we would never have thought to make the WYSIWYG functionality accessible via command lines. But for that particular user base, that functionality made for a much better experience.
What’s more, if we hadn’t included that functionality, there’s a good chance some of the company’s most experienced employees would have walked out rather than learning the new software. That would have been terrible for business.
This is why it’s so important to consider digital experience when engaging in digital transformation. More and more, users and customers have choices. If they’re not happy with their experience with your organization, they’ll leave for something better.
Digital Experience Matters on Day 1 (And Every Day After)
The shortest answer to the question this blog post poses is that digital experience fits into every part of digital transformation. The follow-up to that is that asking what end users want throughout the process of making changes – whether to the way you store data or the look and feel of your website – is the way to ensure that you’re incorporating digital experience considerations at every phase.
Hopefully, after reading this, you’re wondering what a digital experience lens might tell you about the changes you’ve been considering or that you already have in the works.
I’d love to talk with you about that and about how to tackle digital transformation projects in a way that ensures end users have a fantastic digital experience so that they keep choosing your organization again and again. If you’re interested in that conversation, get in touch!