User-centred innovation delivers digital transformation and resilience in a fast-changing world

Posted on: 08/07/2022

By Danny Bluestone, Founder and CEO of Cyber-Duck

When we talk about digital transformation, it’s easy to think of tech innovations – whether video conferencing or the cloud – as ends in themselves. But digital technology, no matter how exciting, is only ever a tool to help us do business better.

Digital transformation is what happens when we take digital tools and combine them with a user-focused mindset to act as a catalyst for brand, operational and business initiatives. Enabling organisations to create new user experiences to meet changing customer, market, and company requirements.

Take Domino’s Pizza, in near bankruptcy at the end of the 2000s. Its brand promise of delivery in “30 minutes or less” had been beaten by competitors. It had to lean into the user insight that when it comes to ordering pizza the user experience (UX) demands convenience and speed.

So, Domino’s then-CEO Patrick Doyle tasked his tech people with an incredible ask: make it possible for a customer to order a pizza (out of a 34 million potential combinations!) in the time it takes to wait for a traffic light. A mere 17 seconds.

The answer was a mobile-first “build and order your own pizza” app. Followed up by connected device ordering, drone delivery and autonomous vehicle delivery in Houston. Operating more like Amazon than a food company. And the scalable technology stack they’ve chosen is designed to continually integrate new user experiences and demands. A great example being the car-side delivery it introduced in 2020 to cope with Covid-19 personal distance restrictions.

Of course, every business has its own unique set of users, including a combination of clients and customers, internal teams, external suppliers, franchisees, and partners. But in every scenario, user experience is how efficient, accessible, inclusive, and enjoyable it is to use a business’ digital interfaces and products. Digital transformation normally involves integrating your whole tech stack to meet the business’ brand vision and objectives.

It’s not optional. It’s forecast there will be 30.9 billion internet connected devices by 2025, up from 6.3bn in 2016. Connectivity drives choice, which all businesses, whatever their size, can take advantage of, meaning all must work harder to retain customers. Globalisation also makes competition fiercer – and opportunities broader – a trend accelerated by Covid-19.

In addition to these macro trends, there are also some fundamental shifts in global consumer behaviour which are critical to consider when thinking about user needs.

What’s often called the ‘unreasonable consumer’ and ‘instant gratification economy’ expects businesses to make idiot-proof products with near instant delivery, at low price points. Users expect satisfaction and are not shy about telling everyone about their disappointments. Online reviews can amplify the positive or leave long-lasting reputational damage. Consumers are increasingly purpose-driven, wanting to purchase from companies aligned with their values particular on diversity and inclusion and climate change. Yet, tech can negatively impact a business’ performance in these areas. Embedded videos increase the carbon footprint of a website, touch screens can exclude the blind and contactless payments exclude those without bank accounts. Striking the right balance is challenging.

It’s a daunting context against which to conduct business. So, what is the key to successful digital transformation?

Well, as Domino’s CEO recognised, it is a relentless focus on user needs and the art of imagining what’s possible through user-centred innovation. To deliver this in practice requires a combination of different factors:

  1. Brand strategy – a clear, user-centred brand purpose, with laser sharp focus on what your users need and creative ways to satisfy them.
  2. Data – a robust data strategy to ensure both quantitative and qualitative data is of the highest quality and can be leveraged innovatively and effectively to help meet users’ needs. Artificial intelligence and machine learning can then empower organisations to go from static to personalised data, adding value to both workers and external stakeholders.
  3. People – transformation needs to be driven by dedicated resources senior enough to make change happen (e.g. a Chief CX Officer). Without it, digital transformation often fails.
  4. Culture – a user-centric culture that facilitates this innovation, requiring training and internal communication to roll out the brand purpose and up-skilling teams on new ways of working. You can implement the best technical solution possible, but if your team won’t embrace the transformation, it simply won’t happen.
  5. Technology – the most appropriate tech available that can automate complexity, provide high levels of security and compatibility with legacy and new systems, improve efficiency as well as scale and adapt to changing business realities. Open source, in particular, offers access to wider talent and support from extended communities.

It’s clear, when looked at this way, that digital transformation flows from people, behaviours and process, which can then be implemented through the best technology. Users inside your business need to understand why transformation projects are taking place and what sort of behaviours they need to adopt to achieve them. And the benefits of new products needs to be made crystal clear to external users. Otherwise, you end up with a beautiful looking, but unused app, intranet or website. User research is critical to achieving this.

Then, just like at Cyber-Duck in our own accredited working practices, the organisation must implementLean and Agile mindsets and methodologies, so that teams can test ideas, explore edge case scenarios and ensure that no audiences are excluded. These methodologies allow for experimentation and failing fast, to rapidly learn, adapt and come up with new and improved ideas to prototype and trial.

The benefits of following this user-centred digital transformation approach are enormous. Helping organisations rapidly respond to consumer trends, changing competitive landscapes and shocks to the global system like the invasion of Ukraine and Covid-19.

A great example of this is our work for Sport England. With their brand purpose of keeping the nation active, when lockdown hit shutting gyms and sporting activity, we were able to help them swiftly adapt the flexible digital platform we’d built for them, to the changing user needs of the general public and their sporting organisation partners. Delivering a virtual activity finder and sports sector online hub for guidance and funding opportunities within a matter of weeks. Which were then pivoted to in-person activity finders and start-up funds as lockdown ended.

In 2022, it feels like we need to be ready for almost anything. And with the right user-centred digital solutions implemented to give the utmost strategic flexibility, working together we can all deliver the digital transformation to help tackle that challenge