For anyone who’s not attended an Econsultancy Digital Cream event, it consists of three sessions of roundtables on a variety of topics, attended by marketers and ecommerce heads, who share insight and issues on the topic they’re interested in.

We thought it would be useful to share with you some of what was discussed at our Digital Transformation tables.


Up front there’s no denying that technology is changing customer habits and approaches to how they view, organise, interact and associate with our digital world.

Everyone wants to be customer/audience centric. But we still hear a lot of the discussion revolving around technology, but what about skills and culture as digital and the customer take centre stage and how do you get the mix right?

Consumers are mostly about exploring, using, choosing and amplifying, whereas businesses are about finding, winning, retaining and growing. How does this affect a companies approach to Skills, Culture and Technology? Much of this is surely about a mindset change both in the consumer and internally within the business.

The MIT Center for Digital Business and Capgemini study defined an “effective digital transformation program” as one that addressed

  • ‘The What’: the intensity of digital initiatives within a corporation.
  • ‘The How’: the ability of a company to master transformational change to deliver business results.

So this is as much about people as it is about technology.

So what was front of mind for those at the table? Although we kicked off each table with an overview of the customer and market-place; looking at Customer Experience, Content Marketing, trends etc, most of the conversation turned to internal issues, buy-in, education of senior staff, strategy, culture etc.

So the big themes this year were:


When talking to the board you need to remind them who the target audience is, stay customer centric, it’s easy for people to drift back to product since it’s more comfortable to stick to what you know.

In the industry no one wants to be ground breaking, they want others to try first then they will follow, there’s still a fear of failure which doesn’t align to all the conversation around becoming agile and iterative in order to learn fast.

We’re seeing a trend in digital transformation being driven from top down, rather than jointly with bottom up, who are often closer to the customer and have lots of additional insight to add which can be key to the development of products and services that better meet customer wants and needs.

It’s difficult getting people to articulate why they actually want something changing, it’s not always grounded with customer centric insight, it can be more about personal perspectives and not customer ones.

Do we really need a CDO (Chief Digital Officer)? It is not a long-term role, it’s an interim one that get’s them from kick-off. Whoever is driving the digital transformation bus should be used as a driver/disrupter for progress, that often means they know it’s a temporary role since they should be a disruptor.

Interestingly when we surveyed our Econsultancy user base for the Quarterly Digital Intelligence Briefing with Adobe on the topic of the most exciting opportunities in 2015 and in five years.

CX, Content and Mobile featured at the top for 2015 with Personalisation, Big data and Social featuring as exciting in five years’ time.

Yet at Advertising Week recently the latter were the hottest topics, so maybe it’ll all converge faster than we think.

most exciting opportunity


Three areas that are often forgotten about as part of any digital transformation programme are HR, legal and procurement teams. These are key roles that really need to understand digital since they’re either hiring, appointing or providing governance that’s critical to success.

Recruit people with the right cultural fit, it’s more about will than skill, the will to learn and get the job done. these are not always easy people to find and there is consolidation in the market, competition for good people, but remember this is a long-term game. There’s also the challenge of retaining good staff, companies are trying to find new ways that provide a lock in for the best staff.

What about specialist vs. generalist? There is a need for specialists in the business. Specialists can give generalists the confidence that they are doing something well.

As you become more specialist, you tend to make things more complicated, you are sometimes unable to continue to see the bigger picture and communicate with others efficiently. it’s becoming more important for people to work across functions and silos

In more mature digital companies the digital savvy people are being embedded on different teams, coming together frequently to share learnings.

There are issues in getting people to make the best use of a marketing platform, that is constantly changing.

There is also a big gap in basic business skills as you get closer to the coalface and the customer, a skill that’s key as you become more generalist and work more broadly across the business.

The importance of writing an accurate role profile, not everyone understands what’s required, this includes functions like HR as part of the hiring process.

In the Econsultancy report on Skills of the Modern Marketer the ability to embrace change, be passionate, spot opportunities and adapt strategies factored highly in what’s required of marketing staff.

skills of modern marketer


Some of the questions aligned to this included: How can we educate a significant chunk of the business around digital? Senior staff members and internal operational teams, even staff who front the end customer?

How can we change peoples mindsets across the business around digital and not just in the digital team? It’s difficult to make time for the educational piece, when you have commercial target, so its a catch 22? How do you stress the need to keep up and the damage that this will do to the brand, its not just about short term sales.

Responses including the following:

  • Get closer to the CFO, particularly if you are analytical or data driven, in fact show the board the data, especially financial data, but speak and present to people in a language they can understand, don’t just present numbers as numbers.
  • Internal department objectives can sometimes conflict against wider business objectives, so clarity of objective can help accelerate the digital transformation process if everyone knows what the objective is and how their role and objectives align to it.
  • Senior people don’t understand what digital teams do on a daily basis, they need a deeper understanding of the impact of digital. Typically they fall into 2 categories, those that try and fluff their way through and others that reach out to be educated.
  • Some mistake digital first for technology first, not only is this wrong it’s fundamentally flawed.
  • We need to build awareness of, and teams of, digitally savvy workers, there are lots of assumptions in businesses that people don’t get it, yet outside of work they clearly do.
  • Reverse mentoring can help with this, getting junior members to mentor the c-suite.
  • In the process of change you need to bring the old learnings with the new, one reason why staff retention needs closer attention.
  • You have to show not tell, if you talk too much about digital transformation or any change, people’s guards go up. They need to understand how they fit in. There’s also a danger that digital itself can become isolated and then more difficult to integrate back in.
  • People in the business need to be educated about data, it’s now fundamental to the operation and competitive advantage of the business.

Staff often feel like they don’t have the time to look at the data. They need an analyst to interpret and translate it all for them. These data analysts don’t always sit in the same area or have the same perspective, so we need to define the data skills we need and who they work with.

There obviously is a need to educate throughout the business. At Econsultancy we often find strategy and capability are at opposite ends.

The example below shows an agreed strategy of experimentation that is immediately followed by a gap in capability.

experimenting with digital

analyst capability

Structure, culture and agility

Structure came up a few times and there was a fair amount of discussion around the topic of agility, but not just agility in a tech sense but also in a cross functional sense.

Since we can’t always be in the same department or office there is a need for staff to work across functions and come together more regularly. We do more stand-ups very much like the tech dept and this seems to be working. We’ve been experimenting with hot desking but there are limits, not everyone is so positive about it, some find it daunting to greet a new person everyday or an environment that’s not familiar.

Are we evolving to a model where digital is part of everybody’s job? We’re going to need more generalists working across siloed teams, with specialists in key performance areas, since it’s unlikely we’ll ever break the silos down.

At one table only two had a CIO and only one had a CDO (Chief Digital Officer). There is a need and importance of getting digital people at board level and this needs to be extended across the board table.

Internal department objective can sometimes conflict against wider business objectives. Retail as a dept are seeing online as a competitor to online….they need to be more joined up. They need a cultural and structural change.

You can’t talk about transformation and change without the mention of culture. There are politics after Digital Transformation gains ground and becomes successful, people go to war to own it. We need to manage the internal politics around Digital transformation.

We need to try to get people to look outside their own bubble. We work in very siloed environments. Lack of innovation and forward thinking is what’s needed and environment has a lot to play in this.

We try to foster a culture of experiments. How do you source budget for this? Know beforehand what you are trying to demonstrate from an experiment. Always ask what’s the benefit? …and align to business goals and objectives.

Econsultancy’s CEO Ashley Friedlein recently posted this suggested organisational structure with a Customer Director working closely with and Operations Director.

structure around customer

In-house vs outsourcing

At the table clients stated that It’s not always cheaper or more efficient to outsource, there is a sense that the business should insource more, but that’s likely not going to make us agile.

It’s important to hone in on what you’re really good at and make decisions about how best to assist the end customer. Partnerships are definitely something that’s front of mind for many clients, disruption and fragmentation are making it harder to do it all.

In the Econsultancy report on the subject almost half (45%) of respondents said that they plan to bring more digital skills in-house in the next year, while 32% planned to do more outsourcing.

The question we asked was: Which areas of requirement for digital resourcing/upskilling do you anticipate will grow most over the coming year?


If you’re struggling with Digital Transformation in your organisation or struggling to find information on the subject, then you should check out Econsultancy’s various reports on the subject as well as our digital transformation services page and talk to to the team about how we can help.

Good luck with your transformation everyone…