What is a Digital Business?

In today’s world, the question is not whether you should or could become a digital business. Every business that wants to survive must evolve in this direction or get left behind as an analog relic. The key is to transition to this new reality in a way that preserves your core strengths and company identity.

It’s hard to remember today what the world was like before online banking. But when banks first took their services onto the Internet, many loyal customers were skeptical, if not terrified. How could moving money around without a teller’s supervision possibly be safe? How could interacting with an impersonal website replace the comfort of being greeted by a smiling employee? And how much time and effort would it take to learn the new technology?

Flash forward more than three decades, and most of us don’t even think of the word “online” anymore when we think about banking—because we now do most of our banking through a computer or mobile device. It now seems much less comfortable to make a special trip into the branch to deal with a banking matter than it does to check our balance or deposit a cheque through our phone.

Banks have become digital businesses. So have hardware stores, fast food restaurants, craft breweries, and counselling practices. So what’s holding you back?

Digital business doesn’t mean changing your business identity

Many small and medium-sized companies mistakenly believe that embracing digital solutions will de-personalize the business or turn it into something customers won’t recognize. This is the Frankenstein Myth of Digital Transformation, the illusion that “going digital” means taking random parts of a business, stitching them together with technology, and creating a monster.

It’s time to put that nasty legend aside. Digital transformation isn’t digital transmogrification. To transmogrify something means to turn radically change it into something grotesque. To transform it means to change it in such a way that it evolves into something true to itself but better.

When banks first moved online, they didn’t fundamentally change the services they offered. They just made them available in a new, more convenient format. As a result, they’ve since been able to evolve their services and expand on them. Besides checking balances, customers can now get data on their spending patterns over time. In addition to paying bills, they can schedule payments in advance. While they’re transferring money between accounts, they can also transfer money to a friend or family member. And so on, and so on.

The banking industry provides a great example of what it means to become a digital business.  It doesn’t mean abandoning your core competencies or values. On the contrary, it simply means leveraging technology to improve the way you deliver on those essential strengths.

Becoming a digital business doesn’t distract you from your path; it enables you to go faster and farther to achieve the goals that matter most to you. Committing to a digital future is also critical if you plan to stay abreast of your competition.

Digital is key to keeping your competitive edge

Imagine that a new bank has just opened up in your town or city. It looks like they offer great interest rates and some special services for businesses. But none of the bank’s services are accessible online. All transactions must be completed in person, “like the good old days.”

It’s hard to enter into that vision, isn’t it? In 2021, it’s tough to stretch the mind around the concept of analog banking. Digital has become the norm, and any organization opting out of that is difficult to picture, let alone take seriously.

In 2026, what will it be hard to picture in your industry? Already in the fast food industry it’s difficult to imagine a coffee shop or burger joint without an app for mobile ordering. In the healthcare space, it’s hard to fathom not being able to book an appointment online. In the courier industry, it’s unthinkable that customers can’t track the progress of packages through a website or app.

Whatever your competitive edge is now, five years from now, it will need to be digitally sharper than it is today. Otherwise, you’ll run the risk of becoming the analog player in a digital field.

As you consider ways to embrace digital technology, start by thinking about your core strengths and your value proposition. How could adopting digital solutions enhance those? How could evolving into a digital business build on what you’ve already achieved? How could it enhance the quality of your products, your relationships with suppliers, and the experience of your customers?

Digital business makes for smarter business

You probably don’t need anyone to tell you this, but decision-making in business environments has become much more complicated than it used to be. According to a recent survey by a leading research firm, “65% of decisions made are more complex (involving more stakeholders or choices) than they were two years ago [in 2019].”[1]

Sound familiar? The business environment is only going to get more complex, and as Gartner points out, “[t]he current state of decision making is unsustainable.”

To cope with rapid change, expanding ecosystems, and global challenges, businesses need decision-making processes that are, in Gartner’s words, “connected, contextual, and continuous.” You simply can’t achieve the required level of sophistication using analog methods.

The solution is to adopt a digital mindset, to embrace digital solutions that enable you to collect, store, analyze, and act on data. Data enables you to connect different pieces of information, view them in context, and respond to both threats and opportunities swiftly.

As a simple example, using website analytics to track your website engagement gives you data-based insights so your web development team can make changes based on real visitor behavior, not mere hunches about user interaction. Another example that’s easy to implement is email marketing software. With solutions such as MailerLite, ConvertKit, and MailChimp, there’s no more guessing about who’s opening which messages. You can get almost instant feedback on email campaigns so you can quickly adapt and redirect your messages in response to customer interests.

Whatever your industry or sector, the best way to shore up your current strengths is to start working today toward becoming a digital business. We all know that the road to business success is paved with many kinds of uncertainty. But whatever the age, size, business model, or structure of your organization, one thing is sure: its future will be digital.

[1] Rollings, M. (2021, May 4.) How to Make Better Business Decisions. Smarter With Gartner. https://www.gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/how-to-make-better-business-decisions/

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