At least once a week a service provider tells me about their digital transformation project. I listen and note down all the usual buzz words the industry is currently generating. Then I ask a very simple question: what is digital transformation – what’s the purpose of it?

I wait for a simple answer. All too often the speaker stops talking, pauses, and then gives me a long list of infrastructure-based improvements and organisation-centric benefits. They usually show me a diagram with a lot of boxes. But all to often on this carefully constructed diagram I’m going to struggle to find the most important element of transformation – the customer.

I then ask another very simple question: what do your customers want and how does this project help them get it?

Some service providers will still scratch their heads at this point. Others will trot out some generic requirements such as more bandwidth, lower costs and faster speeds. Very few have any real concept of what their customers are trying to achieve. Rare indeed is the B2B service provider who knows what the end customers of their enterprise customers think or want or need.

So let’s start with the basics. If your customer isn’t at the centre of your digital transformation diagram, then you’re not doing digital transformation – you’re doing IT renewal or business process re-engineering. The core of digital transformation is to change the way you do business by putting the customer first and at the heart of everything you do. It is the move away from organisation-centric and IT-centric ways of doing business to a customer-centric way of doing business.

If the customer is not front and centre of your diagram then your focus is not in the right place. It doesn’t matter that your customer is a business and not a consumer. In fact it matters even more, because that business is betting their future on the digital economy and relies on you to enable their business to survive and prosper.

Digital transformation is about working backwards from the customer, determining what processes, infrastructure and data will be needed to meet customers’ goals. It is not about trying to create an experience or a need out of the capabilities provided by IT or net ops. It’s no longer enough to just know basic details about your customer. That’s not a customer relationship, it’s a customer acquaintanceship. To be successful, you have to understand your customer’s goals, dreams and biggest fears and start from there.

Posted by Teresa Cottam

Teresa helps B2B service providers improve their commercial results and the customer experience they deliver through research, insight and analysis that builds effective strategy. She is a judge of the GSMA GloMo's for customer experience and enterprise innovation, and for the UK Cloud awards. You can follow her on Twitter @teresacottam

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