A How-To Guide for Digital Transformation Laggards (Yes, You)

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In this special guest feature, Vimal Vel, Vice President and Global Head of Master Data Solutions at Dun & Bradstreet, offers six key steps that will jumpstart your digital transformation process, starting with a key individual and ending with full self-assessment. Vel leads an Enterprise Information Management solution portfolio that helps businesses navigate the challenges and opportunities surrounding the explosive growth of data. He previously led the company’s global alliances strategy and has experience monetizing data assets in the capital markets, fintech, and sales and marketing spaces while also helping define Dun & Bradstreet’s Data-as-a-Service (DaaS) strategy. Vel holds an MBA from the University of Chicago, Booth School of Business and an MS in Electrical Engineering from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Here’s a story that will make you either nod your head in understanding or shake your head in frustration.

You’re a B2B supplier. At 9:00 a.m., a current customer visits your website and begins looking at product pages. Your salesperson, who is currently logged into your CRM, immediately receives an alert indicating that one of their accounts is viewing their website and is actively looking at products. Exactly 46 minutes later, your customer experience team and customer support front desk receive a product ticket from that same customer. Success – a purchase.

It’s the same day, and your marketing team is gearing up to launch a campaign focused on that same product. In fact, they’ve spent weeks organizing creative materials, copy and audience segmentation – and at 2:30 p.m., the campaign goes live.

This is where the story becomes a choose-your-own-adventure. There are two options:

  1. You’ve implemented sufficient levels of automation and technology at your company so that your marketing team already knows about this key customer purchase from 9:46 a.m. As such, they’re able to automatically and efficiently remove that customer from the soon-to-launch campaign – or better yet, alter creative so that you can up-sell or cross-sell to that customer. Not only will you save advertising budget – you’ll also appear coordinated and digitally savvy to that customer and potentially gain more revenue.
  2. Your technology and data management efforts are subpar, and your marketing, sales and customer support teams are still operating in a siloed environment. Since you’re unable to extract insights from user activity on-the-fly, your marketing team isn’t alerted to the customer purchase at 9:46 a.m. The customer remains in the campaign, leading to poor synchronization, wasted budget and a missed revenue opportunity.

If you’re the former, you’re nodding your head in understanding and can stop reading this article now. If you’re the latter, you’re shaking your head in frustration and should continue reading carefully.

The mindset of digital transformation brings about increased efficiency and more opportunity. We all know that. But the execution of digital transformation requires a reworking of the nature of your organization’s data content and flow.

Putting the D, A, T & A in Digital Transformation

Many start and stop thinking of data at the dataset, but what’s just as important is the connectivity of multiple datasets within an organization and its teams.

Master data, a concept that refers to the single source of truth within an organization, is what connects the information from your website to all your internal systems and provides structure to the data in all your applications or functions. This is how you create efficient enterprise-level workflows, which are a key component of digital transformation. They allow you to automate processes that touch multiple departments and functions in a seamless way, so you can engage customers and suppliers in a very consistent and coordinated manner across the organization.

An easy way to understand master data plan in practice is web activity—the SEO, digital advertising and other campaigns that draw visitors to a website. High web traffic may be your goal, but how many of your visitors are existing customers? How many visitors are already in your lead systems and marketing systems? Without the right master data foundation, you’ll struggle to find out.

Turning Concept into Reality

Here are six key steps that will jumpstart your digital transformation process, starting with a key individual and ending with full self-assessment:

  1. Figure out your organization’s digital transformation leader. That’s likely the CIO – but it could also be the Chief Data Officer or Chief Digital Officer. Regardless of title, this is the individual responsible for seeing all business functions through the lens of automation, mechanization and computerization.
  2. Identify the critical business systems, applications and functions that you depend on to serve the needs of your customers.
  3. For each of those systems, conduct a similar procedure of accurately and consistently identifying every one of your customers in each of your business processes. It’s easiest to start with one function – say, sales or finance – before moving onto the entire organization.
  4. Impose structure on your data. Most companies will discover that even their vital and basic data such as customers’ names will be structured and spelled differently between systems. The standardized structure provided by Master Data typically includes an identifier and a standardized taxonomy around how you define entity names, addresses, industry categorization and components, which is associated with that entity in every business function.
  5. Map your data journey. Figure out your data inflows, outflows and start building organizational readiness for a new data process.
  6. Identify your maturity level through an industry-accepted framework that assesses your business’s ability to take on digital transformation. Hint: you’ll need to address data first, then digital transformation.

In addition to those tactical steps, you’ll need to embrace a company-wide change in mindset and culture that promotes a robust and living data foundation. Since different parts of your organization will have different levels of readiness, you need to figure out who’s most primed for success and then carry that inertia through to everyone else.

If you don’t start somewhere, you’re destined to leave behind a company full of broken connections, siloed systems and missed opportunities. It’s time to choose structured success and true digital transformation instead.


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