Digital technology provides more ways of connecting with customers. Photo: LAWRENCE DUTRIEUX
"Go digital or die" is the message being blasted out to businesses. The market is awash with seminars and talkfests promising to show companies the way.
From New York to Brisbane, government initiatives are trying to inspire. Initiatives such as the Brisbane City Council's digital business strategy aim to give laggards a push down the road towards digital nirvana.
But what exactly does this brave new world of customer connectedness, superior service and increased competitiveness look like – and how do you know when you've arrived?
In the fast food sphere, it's a place where half the orders are received online and 40 per cent of those are placed from a mobile device, Domino's on-line marketing director Michael Gillespie says.
The takeaway pizza giant offers a menu of seven online ordering interfaces: desktop, a version for the vision-impaired, mobile, iPhone, Android, iPad and Facebook.
Customers who don't have a default order of "Hawaiian" can use the Pizza Chef app to visualise their creation, while the Pizza Tracker system allows them to follow the progress of their order from oven to hotbox.
Moving customers off the phone and away from counter has improved their experience and allowed stores to focus on making and delivering pizzas faster, Gillespie says.
He says Domino's aim is to increase online orders to 80 per cent within three years, and it's had to become a fully digital business in order to make this possible.
The strategy has been developed internally since 2005, a process which he believes has much to recommend it.
"Businesses should not be afraid to take risks and use their own past business experiences and customer feedback for direction," he says.
A successful plan stays focused on the latter, and refuses to be dazzled by whizz-bang ideas that don't meet their needs, he adds.
"There are a lot of cool ideas that can be executed in the digital space, but if the ideas don't add value for your customers, the success of the solution is diminished."
Most companies today use digital technologies in some capacity, says Ian Birks, chief executive of the digital advisory firm Skrib. But he says successful ones take a "holistic, transformative view" of how they can improve operations, rather than having a piecemeal dabble.
A strategy that's "a sum of disconnected parts" won't deliver the business benefits that a company such as Domino's has reaped, he cautions.
"Start by refreshing the overall business plan with an associated strategy for linking in key digital components," Birks advises.
"Look at what key leading competitors and early-adopters around the globe are doing and consider the potential value of these changes for your business."
Digital strategist at Lorna Jane, Sam Zivot, says continuous market-watching is vital for companies that want to attain and retain the mantle of being a "fully digital" business.
Three years after deciding to dive headlong into the digital realm, the fitness fashion retailer has harnessed social media to its advantage and generates sales via Twitter, Pinterest and a Facebook page, which boasts 40,000 customer interactions a week.
"The yardstick of what 'fully digital' means will always be in motion," Zivot says.
"New digital platforms, media and new technologies are popping up by the minute, so there is always something new for us to explore and invest in. Digital certainly is one of Lorna Jane's major priorities, but it is a continuous work in progress."
An insider's tips:
The road to digital nirvana is not devoid of pitfalls. IGo2 Group general manager and social business consultant Raz Chorev offers a few pointers for those starting out:
1. Work out where you want to end up before you begin. A strategic approach may take longer to implement, but the solution will last longer too.
2. Identify business challenges before looking for a technical solution.
3. Invest in governance and business processes as well as technology.
4. Don't foist new digital ways of working on staff without consultation; get them involved in the changes.
5. Don't ask for advice from a technology vendor. Do your own research, or use an independent consultant.