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The shift to digital business

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You can’t put it off, companies must change to the digital way or they go the dinosaur way. But how should the shift to digital business occur?

Maybe a lesson can be learned from the approach taken by the boss of Axel Springer, the giant German publishing company.

He sent three of his top people on a sabbatical – they spent six months in Silicon Valley.

For Peter Würtenberger, chief marketing officer, Kai Diekmann, editor-in-chief and publisher of the BILD Group, and Martin Sinner, founder and managing director of Idealo, the digital price comparison platform, it must have felt like a strange experience.

But to tell the story of how Axel Springer began the shift to digital business, we need to start with the boss: Dr Mathias Döpfner, who had announced two years earlier that it was his ambition for the company to become the leading digital publisher in the world.

He knew that his three chosen travellers were clever, that if he could get them steeped into the ethos and culture of digital thinking, he hoped that from them a more digital way of thinking would spread.

But the shift to digital business is never easy, and for Messrs Würtenberger, Diekmann, and Sinner it must have been one sharp culture shock.

Furthermore, they were told to keep their contact with Axel Springer down to the minimum, but rather to integrate themselves within the Silcom Valley community.

And so that is was what happened, they became well known in ‘the valley’, holding meetings and learning to think like a ‘digital native’.

When they returned, they were changed men –  and something must have worked, because Axel Springer continued that approach, sending more of its workforce to Silicon Valley, albeit for shorter periods.

The shift to digital business must start with the employees.  A digital approach to business is as much a way of thinking as it is a deliberate highly engineered process.

In fact, the shift to digital business cannot be explicitly engineering in the first place – after all a digital business is about flexibility, creating a system that can change, experiment, try new ideas, reject the ones that fail and then try more new ideas.

It is also about collaboration, people working together from across a company, with different skills and different backgrounds, forming a kind of digital harmony.

And that means encouraging staff to become familiar with new digital tools –  serious business tools but social media too – as digital is about thinking and acting like a digital native, just as Axel Springer’s three Californian daydreamers did.

The shift to digital business is also about putting the customer at the core of everything. That may sound trite, all companies say that, but digital barriers have less meaning, the gap between the customer and the company should be shorter.

And there is data in everything digital, and data can provide insights on how a company can improve its offering, and what ideas it may want to try next.

Not every company can afford to send three of its most senior members of staff to California for six months, but no company can afford not to find ways of creating a digital mindset and creating a digital way of doing things.

Without doing that, the shift to digital business may get stranded, left to traipse the airport, while digitally minded rivals take-off.




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Tags: Business, Digital Transformation