What is Digital?

I think "Digital" is a whole lot more complex than what we're calling Digital Agencies. It's almost the new "I.T."
October 22 2015

A few years ago I started hearing this term ‘Digital’ being thrown around.  I’d hear it mainly from recruiters and see it in their ads ‘Do you want to work in Digital?’.  It had me stumped because I had no idea what working in Digital actually involved.  I generally felt that ‘Digital’ was just the latest buzzword the marketers had made up to sell software, but as I looked more it seemed that wasn’t the case.  I asked a few people at work and they too had couldn’t give a solid response.  There was a lot of ‘umm’ and ‘ahh’.  The best I could tell it was about web sites and design, and selling things.  Yet blog articles were still referring to cloud and digital in the same breathe.  Was it just a case of cashing in on the latest buzz words?

I’ll be honest, I began to resent the use of ‘Digital’ and the images of people hip connotations I felt were associated with it.  Someone Digital with all its design and its coolness was taking the process and the engineering out of making software.

For the better part of 5 years I’ve been out of the ISV (independent software vendor) scene and working at digital agencies, using my engineering experience to make web sites and web and mobile applications at scale.  During the last couple of years I picked up that a Digital Agency does some or all of the following activities:

  • Web Sites
  • Web Design
  • Print Design
  • Mobile development
  • SEO, SCM, and content authoring
  • ‘Digital’ strategy
  • UX

In my experience these activities at aimed at businesses selling things, like eCommerce stores, or signing people up to newsletters and mailing lists or other very small goals.  Some sites are less about selling and more about presenting information, such as web sites in the public sector, allowing people to download forms and requests services.  Really? Download forms? In this day?

Last week I considered the phrase “going digital” and what it means to companies.  Let’s say a CEO mandates the company is going to be ‘digital’, or ‘paperless’ in the old language.  They’re looking at digitizing their process end to end, with the goal of using technology to provide improved efficiencies and have a positive impact on their bottom line.

Take a hardware store chain as example.   ‘Going digital’ means more than just an eCommerce platform and a web presence.  They’re going to need a digital strategy for starters.  That is, a plan to take them form where they are now, perhaps using an antiquated inventory system on their PC with a server in the room out the back, connected to the Point of Sales system, to a store that can make best use of modern technology to make sales. 

That might include:

  • Migrating their existing inventory and POS systems to cloud based solutions.
  • Building a web site and eCommerce store that personalises the experience of shoppers and helps build a loyal customer base of returning customers.
  • Using augmented reality and tablet devices to navigate their large store and enable the customer to find the product that best suits while they’re in the physical store.
  • Much more.

Once these end goals are brainstormed the strategy needs to include a roadmap and to get there and research to show how and to what level this will benefit the client.

Are current Digital Agencies equipped to do this?  I don’t think so.  There are larger ones that could probably handle the digital strategy at a high level.  Current Digital Agencies could do the eCommerce site, they could market the business, but could they gather requirements for inventory and point of sales software and build a modern solution to meet the needs of this hardware chain?  I am very doubtful.

“Going Digital” is a whole of IT exercise.  It involves all the roles of traditional software companies as well as the current Digital Agencies.  It involves strategists and ux experts and true business analysts.  It involves project managers and architects and software engineers.  It involve cloud specialists and network engineers and database administrators and experts. 

I think “Digital” had now replaced “IT” and the Digital Agencies of today are just a segment of what Digital Houses of tomorrow need to be.

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus