Friday, August 23, 2013

Is digital a product-oriented shift for enterprise IT?

Traditionally, enterprise IT has largely organized itself to deliver services to business units. While consumer interfaces did exist, particularly in terms of portals etc., there was limited focus in making these truly engaging consumer channels.
What is changing in the digital world is the primacy of digital channels and their growing share in customer interactions. This deep exposure to the consumer requires a substantial shift up in the capabilities of enterprise IT.
In the new world, IT has a substantive responsibility in consumer engagement: attracting new customers, managing existing relationships and providing relevant/ targeted offerings. This requires a focus towards understanding digital consumer preferences, effectively managing their engagement (how many corporate portals today manage UX effectively?), creating digital brands that ensure consumer mind-share, and over time managing the portfolio and life-cycle of digital consumer interactions.
From being a support function that focused on ensuring service levels to business processes at an optimal cost structure, this shift towards consumer and revenue-centricity requires a shift in enterprise IT's organization. In the old world, it was enough to have business relationship managers and SLAs to manage interactions with business units. In the new digital world, where millions of end-consumers with varying preferences need to be engaged, these are ineffective constructs.
Therefore, I would argue that a shift towards greater product orientation is an imperative for any enterprise IT team planning to make strides in the digital world. Digital product managers are a requirement in the new world, to work closely with their traditional business brethren in designing, defining, launching and managing digitally-aligned offerings. It also implies a focus on digital branding and other visual communication elements that address consumer engagement. And it also implies a focus on the continuous management of digital product portfolios, much like traditional non-digital ones.
This does not mean that traditional paradigm of service orientation goes away. In fact, service orientation is essential to ensure effective product outcomes. But that service structures need to be aligned to deliver to digital product constructs.
But this change is not easy. Traditional enterprise IT folks often have a mindset that draws boundaries between IT and business responsibilities. Often one hears viewpoints such as "Oh, that is business. They need to bother about consumers and business processes. I am just technology guy.". This needs to change. In the digital world, the boundaries between the roles and responsibilities of business and IT have blurred. IT needs to understand business functions and consumers deeply, and vice-versa. I believe that this change in mindset will be the biggest barrier in moving organizations to a digitally-centric world.
In the digital world, it is not enough for IT to align with business imperatives, as it did in the past. IT needs to increasingly define and drive business imperatives. And product orientation is an essential construct that enterprise IT needs to realign towards.