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CIO Authors: Jason Bloomberg, Jeffrey Abbott, Charles Araujo, Adrian Bridgwater, Ed Featherston

Related Topics: Cloud Computing, Agile Software Development, Change Leadership Journal, CIO, SOA Best Practices Digest, Microservices Journal

Agile Development: Blog Post

The Digital Disconnect By @TheEbizWizard | @CloudExpo [#Cloud]

If your customers want a coherent digital presence from you, wowing them with better branding won’t cut it.

I'm sure many of you reading this Cortex are aware I also write a regular column for Forbes on digital transformation. What you don't know, however, is how the Forbes sausage comes to be made. But as it happens, a recent article caused quite a stir behind the scenes - a story in itself.

Normally such a kerfuffle wouldn't be worthy of note, but in this case, there's an important lesson about digital transformation to be learned here. So let's peel back that natural pork casing and take a peek into the motley assortment of ingredients that go into such an article.

The Story Is the Story
On a recent briefing call with a vendor, they mentioned that they could set me up with an interview with the AVP of creative and digital strategy at one of their clients, a large, well-known technology and financial services firm. (I won't mention the names of any of the players, as I'm sure I'm stirring the pot of sausage stew quite enough as it is - but of course, you can always follow the link above to the article in question.)

Typically, such interviews lead to glowing praise for the vendor in question - but that's not what I was looking for. Rather, I wanted to hear their customer's digital transformation story. I told the vendor that I would only mention them if their name came up in the conversation.

I also expected a well thought-out success story, as why would they agree to be interviewed for Forbes otherwise? But strangely enough, that's not what I got. Instead, this company had begun the initiative they considered to be their digital journey, but still had quite a ways to go. The story the AVP told was about their digital challenges, not their digital successes.

I agonized all weekend over how to approach the article. After all, writing an article about challenges can generate consternation among the hapless participants. No amount of consternation, however, deters this intrepid member of the Fourth Estate. Onward I plunged.

To add some context to the AVP's comments, I decided to include some quotes from their CEO and CMO that I had found online. These particular comments referred to the importance of agility and innovation at their company - clearly relevant to their digital struggles, or so I thought.

Then I ran the draft of the article by their PR folks, who circulated it for feedback. I incorporated the feedback - including a request to provide event more context for the CEO and CMO quotes - and published the article. My work was done, right?

Not so fast. In all of two minutes flat, all hell broke loose. It turns out the aforementioned circulation didn't include the CEO and CMO, who were livid that they had been quoted in the article - or at least, that was what the PR rep said. Perhaps they simply didn't like the article. So they asked rep to ask me to make further changes.

Don't Confuse Digital with Digital
Here's where the story gets strange. "The major issue is with the context of the article," the PR rep said. She claimed that it was very important that the article distinguish between their website and their real-time platform, going so far as to request that I add a disclaimer to that effect, because "it's a very important distinction."

The thrust of the article, you see, was about how they were in the process of cleaning up a number of public-facing web sites as part of a larger rebranding effort. In other words, their digital effort was focused entirely on marketing.

One important differentiator between what passed for digital back in the dot-com days and today's notion of digital is the role mobile plays. Yes, this company had a mobile site, and they had what the AVP claimed was a "mobile first" plan for their web content, but as yet they had yet to roll out any responsive design. In the final analysis, their digital effort up to this point boiled down to little more than better brochureware, a la 1990s web redesigns.

But more significantly, what was entirely missing from their digital achievements (although the AVP did indicate that it was a roadmap item) was pulling together their real-time platform or any of their other software-based products and combining them with the marketing effort that to date is the sum total of their digital effort.

As a result, when I quoted the CEO stating that their core business had to be innovative, they felt that the quote was "taken out of context for this piece and isn't in reference to the focus of this piece," according to the PR contact. In other words, they were suggesting that their digital efforts weren't core to their business, and thus didn't have to be innovative.

They also took issue with the CEO's final quote in my article. Discussing the lessons he's learned during his career, he explained to Fortune, "We always have to confront brutal reality. That could be a reality we like because it's what we thought, but it could easily be, and most times is, a different reality than we perceived, and we have to be agile about responding to that."

Even though he was responding to a question about general lessons learned, the PR rep still insisted that the quote applied only to their core platform, and not to their web site.

The irony inherent in that claim is why I decided to write this follow-up article. This company is facing the reality that their marketing-centric perspective on digital is merely scratching the surface of what digital transformation will eventually mean to them.

And yet, even though the CEO has learned through his career the importance of being agile when confronted with such realities, they nevertheless took the active step of avoiding confrontation with precisely that reality.

Needless to say, I didn't change the article.

The Intellyx Take: The Critical Digital Take Away
The fundamental take away from this article is that digital is more than skin deep. Yes, branding is important, and having a brochureware web site can be a useful part of the marketing mix. But if you have a digital offering - that is, if the products you put in front of customers are technology-enabled - then your digital effort comprises both your marketing and your products themselves, whether you like it or not. Why? Because your customers are demanding a coherent digital experience from the companies they work with.

The company I'm talking about in this article is in reality an entirely digital enterprise - and they have been since their inception. Every product they put in front of customers is a digital product. And yet, when they decide to clean up their web sites and undergo a rebranding initiative, they define those activities alone as constituting their digital initiative.

Don't make the same mistake. More and more organizations today are digital companies like this one - banks, media companies, insurance companies, publishers, the list goes on and on. Your marketing department may be driving the initiative you call digital today, but don't confuse the frosting with the cake.

In reality, never forget that your customers are actually driving your digital story. If they want a coherent digital presence from you, wowing them with better branding and a cleaned up web site won't cut it.

Intellyx advises companies on their digital transformation initiatives and helps vendors communicate their agility stories. As of the time of writing, none of the organizations mentioned in this article are Intellyx customers. Image credit: She Paused 4 Thought.

More Stories By Jason Bloomberg

Jason Bloomberg is a leading IT industry analyst, Forbes contributor, keynote speaker, and globally recognized expert on multiple disruptive trends in enterprise technology and digital transformation. He is ranked #5 on Onalytica’s list of top Digital Transformation influencers for 2018 and #15 on Jax’s list of top DevOps influencers for 2017, the only person to appear on both lists.

As founder and president of Agile Digital Transformation analyst firm Intellyx, he advises, writes, and speaks on a diverse set of topics, including digital transformation, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, devops, big data/analytics, cybersecurity, blockchain/bitcoin/cryptocurrency, no-code/low-code platforms and tools, organizational transformation, internet of things, enterprise architecture, SD-WAN/SDX, mainframes, hybrid IT, and legacy transformation, among other topics.

Mr. Bloomberg’s articles in Forbes are often viewed by more than 100,000 readers. During his career, he has published over 1,200 articles (over 200 for Forbes alone), spoken at over 400 conferences and webinars, and he has been quoted in the press and blogosphere over 2,000 times.

Mr. Bloomberg is the author or coauthor of four books: The Agile Architecture Revolution (Wiley, 2013), Service Orient or Be Doomed! How Service Orientation Will Change Your Business (Wiley, 2006), XML and Web Services Unleashed (SAMS Publishing, 2002), and Web Page Scripting Techniques (Hayden Books, 1996). His next book, Agile Digital Transformation, is due within the next year.

At SOA-focused industry analyst firm ZapThink from 2001 to 2013, Mr. Bloomberg created and delivered the Licensed ZapThink Architect (LZA) Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) course and associated credential, certifying over 1,700 professionals worldwide. He is one of the original Managing Partners of ZapThink LLC, which was acquired by Dovel Technologies in 2011.

Prior to ZapThink, Mr. Bloomberg built a diverse background in eBusiness technology management and industry analysis, including serving as a senior analyst in IDC’s eBusiness Advisory group, as well as holding eBusiness management positions at USWeb/CKS (later marchFIRST) and WaveBend Solutions (now Hitachi Consulting), and several software and web development positions.