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The top 8 digital business priorities for executives in 2015

Charlene Li

As we settle into 2015, I thought I’d share what I’m seeing as top business tech priorities for companies in 2015. This is based on many conversations I’ve had with leaders so far this year, supported by Altimeter’s research.

1. Invest in understanding your customers’ digital journey. While many organizations will profess to be more “customer-centric” in 2015, our research found that only 25% of companies have a fully-mapped customer journey. That means without that journey, you are guessing – rather than knowing – what your customers are doing, thinking, and feeling. And if digital is a key focus of your strategy – you need an even deeper understanding of how different digital touchpoints impact the journey. Get started by creating a simple digital customer journey map – then follow up quickly with field-based research to confirm and refine the map. (Learn more)

2. Know who your digital customers really are. There is the rising expectation that you know it’s me when I walk into your store, and that my digital, social, and mobile activities are recognized. As a regular user of Amazon Fresh and Google Express, these companies know it’s me when I begin my shopping experience. Companies like Safeway are making good headway with iBeacon technology that deliver great in-store experiences. Meanwhile, taking social data and appending it to your customer database is a top priority for many organizations, but all too often these initiatives are put into a holding pattern while waiting for the ultimate big data and social identity disambiguation system. In the meantime, I often see customer service teams tracking social identities and customer accounts via Excel spreadsheets – which is utter madness. At a minimum, start appending your customer and email databases with readily available social data via identity providers like Janrain, and look into creating social scores with vendors like Appreciation Engine. A top priority for 2015 is to get started because it’s going to take a lot of time to figure out which data makes the most sense for your business needs. (Learn more about Big Data and Customer Identity)

3. Make context king. Knowing who your digital customers are is only the first step -- putting that information into context so that you can act on it is key. Business time is now dictated by empowered customers, who expect near real-time relevancy. Everything from advertising and customer service to context-aware security will need to tap into rich, fast insights, now readily available to business decisions makers. As my colleague Rebecca Lieb writes, “Context, in other words, takes not only the ‘who’ into account, but also the when, where, why, and how.” Welcome to the age of “contextual marketing” where organizations will tap data such as physical location, perhaps down to the store level. Or take into account that it’s raining outside or you are stopped at a stop light. Marketers will need to figure out what context is most important to understand in a customer’s journey, and then focus on the platforms needed to act on that data in near real-time. (Learn more).

4. Make smartphone apps smart. A key tool for enterprises is the mobile-enabled workforce -- but the so-called "smart" devices most of us carry aren't that smart. A top priority this year is to make our smartphones actually become smart, enabling them to understand and connect context and data between apps to create unique, personalized experiences that help us get work done. For example, my phone knows my location and knows where my next appointment will be -- and using a mapping app, know that I’m a 25 minute drive away. On my way out the door, I should be able to look at my next appointment, see a rich social profile of the person I’m meeting with, and also see the latest activities from my email and CRM platforms. I can do this to some extent with apps like Refresh but it should be seamless and inline with my calendar experience. It should feel like mindreading. To do this, organizations must anticipate the connections and deep linking to enterprise data needed to create these experiences – both internally for employees and externally for customers – to create better mobile experiences. (Learn more).   

5. Define digital ethics. In the context of real time data and analytics, customers and employees alike will want more than assurances that their data is being used appropriately -- they will demand transparency on what you know, when you know it, and how you are using the data. My colleague Susan Etlinger just published a new report on the challenges of big data, writing, “Where we get our data, how we extract and enrich it, how we mix it with other data, how we use it and how we communicate about what we're doing — all are open to scrutiny.” Enterprises will be on the hook to report what they track, from the first click to the latest tweet being monitored. Build this into the growing list of enterprise security priorities, because if/when the hack does happen, you better have that customer relationship defined and in place. (Learn more).

6. Focus the “marketing cloud” on experiences, not technology integration. A current hot technology topic among executives is the promise of an integrated “marketing cloud” offering from enterprise tech vendors like Adobe, IBM, Oracle, and Salesforce as well as upstarts like Sprinklr. The problem: The utility of such an integrated platform extends far beyond the walls of marketing, impacting sales, customer service and even recruiting and predicting the supply chain. This is because the Empowered Customer expects to have a seamless digital experience with the company. Organizations should prioritize technology selection and integration based on their ability to deliver on the digital customer journey -- and make customer experience the centering point for decisions.

7. Create a transparent workplace to engage not just millennials, but all your employees. With employee engagement hovering at 13% worldwide, the issue of employee engagement has become a C-level and Board-level topic. At the core is the growing recognition that strong employee relationships are essential to creating great customer experiences. While some organizations look at digital engagement through the lens of attracting and retaining millennials, it’s applicable to all employees because it requires organizations to think through how digital enables a new way of getting work done. This is more than just putting in place the latest enterprise social network or collaboration platform -- it requires that leaders think through how digital engagement creates greater transparency that eventually leads to new relationship and engaged employees.

8. Become engaged digital leaders. College graduates from the class of 1994 are now rising into the ranks of executive leadership in their organizations -- and they have spent their entire professional careers in the digital era. These wired leaders don't shy away from digital and social engagement -- and yet their organizations remain mired in traditional notions of leadership. Enterprises must develop a new culture of digital leadership that not only allows but encourages executives to engage via digital and social channels, both internally and externally. (Learn more)