Conviction is the Enemy of Time to Innovation

  • September 17, 2020

It has never been more important to make customers central to business transformation. While it is not an easy goal to attain, it is possible. In a recent webinar, Dr. Suleman, Vice President of Cloud Transformation at NTT DATA, and Jon Collins, GigaOm VP of research, discussed time to innovation and how to drive customer centricity through digital agility, highlighting how technology foundations can help businesses meet evolving market demands and changing customer expectations.

Learn more: Watch the full webinar here.

Drive Customer Centricity Through Digital Agility

Understanding the Customer

A challenge to business transformation driven by customer-centricity is having a clear understanding of customer needs and desires, and how they change over time. Yet, one of the things that the hosts agreed they often see is organizations caught in a loop where they guess, decide, act, and then guess again. Simply said: guessing and conviction are not effective tools to business agility or business success.  

Rather, digital tools are critical to helping the business understand its customers. It can help you consume, measure, and analyze vast amounts of customer data, revealing nuances that no guess or gut instinct or could unearth. With this level of customer data available, organizations can effectively employ the OODA Loop, (for background on the OODA Loop, read Dr. Suleman’s Forbes article here) observing and orienting to massive amounts of market and customer data. An agile digital platform can help aggregate and assess data quickly and efficiently, allowing the business to speed the OODA loop, gaining competitive advantage with each iteration.  

Getting Closer to Customers 

No matter what business you are in, there is always more you can learn about your customer and there will generally be a way to shorten the path to the customer. For example, there is a trend emerging in the life insurance industry toward marketplaces. With just a mobile device, users can access an application, receive a quote, and purchase life insurance – all within minutes. While this is extremely beneficial to the customer and meets market needs for greater agility and flexibility, the impact to insurers is grave. Acting as a marketplace, the application moves the customer relationship away from the insurer, making its role that of a manufacturer. Insurers lose access to customer feedback – those who chose to buy life insurance and, just as critically, those who do not.  

Fewer customer observations slow down the OODA loop, making the business less responsive to customers. Imagine, for example, a manufacturer who ships product to retail. It gets an order of how many to units to ship each week but lacks insight into changing consumer behavior. It simply receives orders but never hears why a consumer chose – or didn’t choose – its product. At a time where consumer behavior differs by the week, in a blink, the manufacturer’s customer base could be entirely different. Today, customer behavior doesn’t take years to change and as a result, if a business does not know what its customer needs or desires, the business would have little idea that it is at risk. 

A Positive Example  

PepsiCo quickly saw market disruption as an opportunity to grow closer to its customers. Seeing changing demand for snacks during the pandemic, it launched and, two eCommerce sites that sell direct-to-consumer. These sales create an even tighter feedback loop between the consumer and PepsiCo, helping to influence new product innovations, ensure customer satisfaction, and build long-term loyalty. According to media reports, the two sites went from concept to production in a mere month’s time, underscoring the need for an agile technology platform to deliver ideas quickly to the market.  

Moving Forward

In the past, access to customers was expensive and logistically challenging, so conviction and ideas were valued. However, today we have the advantage of digital tools that allow us to collect customer intent data and feed it into the OODA loop more easily. While data allows companies to observe and orient, a digital platform allows them to decide and act. Without a digital platform that supports quick velocity, the business will be unable to act in a reasonable timeframe.  

For example, a large financial service organization with several billion in market cap was being chased by a hot startup. The startup had innovative ideas that were gaining traction in the market, to the point where the established company was starting to lose market share. Within the large company, an idea was hatched that would allow it to take advantage of its legacy solution and existing market share and customer relationships. When the product team approached the internal IT team about bringing the idea to market, the answer they received was, ‘this isn’t possible.’ The second answer given to them was, ‘this will take two years.’ 

By the time they pivoted to the point where they had worked through technology and culture slowdowns enough to launch a working product, the market had sensed the company’s slowness of movement. The time to execute on the idea was such a long path, that in just a couple years the company lost half of its stock value. 

It Does Not Have to be a Bang 

The lesson here is that if the organization has an idea, it must have a digital platform that allows it to act. A digital platform gives businesses the critical capability to reduce cycle times, cut waste out of the technology delivery pipeline, and deliver more quickly and in smaller increments. These capabilities will, in turn, help the business experiment faster. Note, that experiments don’t have to be a big bang release.  In fact, smaller tests that facilitate learning and improvement can be just as (if not more) valuable.  

Ask yourself: If an employee had a great idea today, how long would it take to start working on it? How long would it take from a minimum viable product to move through to production? For many organizations, it’s on the order of months. The competition won’t sit around and wait. And, nor should you. If you don’t have an agile technology platform that is customized to the needs and goals of the business, get started today.


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Aater Suleman

Aater Suleman, Ph.D. is Vice President of Cloud Transformation at NTT DATA. He is a recognized thought leader and a frequent speaker at events including AWS re:Invent, Dockercon, TechWell and O’Reilly and regularly conducts corporate workshops on digital transformation. He is a Technology Council Contributor for Forbes. Dr. Suleman actively puts his background in technology and experience as a professor at the University of Austin to work designing systems for continuous improvement at the world’s leading brands.

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