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[A] Podcast: Confronting Digital Change

Interview With Lisa Welchman

Explore the challenges that organizations face when confronting digital change.

Bio

Lisa Welchman is the President of the Digital Governance Practice at ActiveStandards and author of "Managing Chaos".

Transcript

Cruce: Good morning everybody. This is Cruce Saunders, and I’m here with Lisa Welchman of ActiveStandards. She is the President of the Digital Governance Practice, and she is the author of Managing Chaos. We’re at Information Development World where Lisa just gave the keynote speech opening of the day and she got everybody singing a rousing round of “Row Row Row Your Boat.” Lisa, can you talk a little bit about the prism of that exercise, what it kind of tells us about collaboration within enterprises?
 
Lisa: Sure, thanks a lot. I think people don’t really understand how much we have internalized standards and how effectively standards govern what we do. Having people, a group of a few hundred people, sit together and spontaneously sing “Row Row Row Your Boat” in a round is just symbolic of how easy it is to collaborate with one another spontaneously when there are standards in play.
 
Cruce: And you’ve been working with lots of organizations over many years on adopting new digital technologies as a part of their overall enterprises, not just marketing, not just IT, not just any particular silo. Can you give us a quick overview of some of the biggest challenges that organizations face when they’re confronting a digital change?
 
Lisa: I think there are a couple of things really. One of them is making sure that the overall organizational and business objectives are actually linked to what’s happening online. Oftentimes there’s a disconnect between the C-Suite and what the business wants to do strategically and the types of applications, content, information, data, apps, social media, moderation interactions, what gets put and is happening online. So there’ a gap between those two things and it’s often a challenge for people in middle management to pull those two together and there are a lot of different reasons for that. 

I think that’s one of the key challenges and, absent that strategic agenda, that leads to really the second pervasive problem, which is just kind of discord in the trenches. There’ a lot of non-synchronous behavior happening as it relates to content, and that makes it really hard to do some of the sexy things that we want to do, like multi-channel content delivery and responsive design and things like that.
 
Cruce: You talked in your book some about the organizations that are more successful and you used the term digital progressive. Can you talk a little bit about the culture in organizations that are either digitally progressive or more conservative and the difference between the two?
 
Lisa: A digital progressive is someone who is actually embracing digital channels and not just necessarily embracing them wholeheartedly, right there embracing them with a strategic objective in mind and actually understanding and being open to altering their business—sometimes core aspects of their business—because of the advent of digital. They’re looking very openly at this new technology set, these new platforms and opportunities and ingesting them, and so digitally progressive leaders are really going to be accepting of that. Conservative leaders are usually less likely to adopt a technology. 

But I don’t want to make it seem as if it’s a good or a bad thing. You can have a digitally conservative leader who might be slower in adopting new technology and they might be spot on. They might be working in a sector where their organization hasn’t been as richly disrupted by digital. They might have a different set of business objectives. They might be late adopters or even laggards. There might be fiscal reasons why they’re conservative as well. So I think it’s not really whether or not you are progressive or conservative, it’s whether or not you’re appropriately progressive or appropriately conservative about the channel, about the digital channels based on what it is that you want to do.
 
Cruce: And what are you finding are some of the features of organizations that do a good job of bridging the gap? They’ve made the commitment, but they now need to start to develop organizational structures to sustain digital operations. What does that look like?
 
Lisa: I’m not quite sure what you’re asking, but I think if you’re asking how someone sort of puts into place really clear governance mechanisms and operational mechanisms, they’re really the four factors that I talked about this morning in the keynote and that I talk about extensively in the book, which is making sure you understand who is touching your digital channels, and that means understanding who is on your team. In all aspects of that team, not just the super-special ones in the centralized corporate department, but also the people who are more distributed throughout the organization, including any external vendors that you might have. 

Once you understand the structure of the team, you also have to understand who on that team is being accountable for policies, who on that team is being accountable for making sure that there are standards in place and, probably most importantly, who is establishing that digital strategy overall.
 
Cruce: So defining the team is a big deal, and when you’re defining a team like that, what are some of the traits of digital leaders that are effective?
 
Lisa: I’m not sure what you’re asking.
 
Cruce: If you’re in a C-Level position and you’re needing to start to staff an organization and you want to recruit in digital leaders—we talked about this Chief Digital Officer for example—what are some of the traits that you would look for in candidates to lead digital initiatives?
 
Lisa: Digital leaders are hard to find. I was just talking about this with someone yesterday. I think what you need first and foremost is someone who is sort of ego-free or can be ego-free in the environment. Obviously strong leadership qualities, but also somebody who understands from a left brain and a right brain perspective, so that’s your IT side as well as your marketing communication side, what it is that digital can achieve, and they understand how it works. I say “ego-free” because they need to be able to pull together disparate stakeholders inside the organization and make sure that they’re all working well together. And that can be a challenge. 

They also need to be able to communicate effectively to the executive suite, because in order to do really strong initiatives or big initiatives inside the enterprise, you’ve really got to be able to sell it up into the executive suite so that it can be properly funded and enabled.
 
Cruce: You talk about bridging gaps between organizational silos and somebody needing to be ego-free to bridge those. In a lot of organizations, we’ve seen a gap in particular between marketing and IT. Marketing has content strategists and clear objectives for elements of the customer experience, they’re depending on IT to help to manifest those and there’s not a lot of good connective tissue between them. How do you help to solve some of those problems of connective tissue?
 
Lisa: Well, one aspect of the digital team that I didn’t mention before is working groups and committees. One of the biggest challenges around digital is this horizontal collaboration, things that cut horizontally across the organization, and that’s your whole online presence. 

So you’ve got these sort of silos of expertise, IT, marketing communications, and then actual business domain expertise out in the business departments or programs. Actually pulling those things together is a real challenge, which is why you really need to have three mechanisms of collaboration. One at the executive level to make sure that everything is properly enabled and funded at the top. One in the middle which will be your sort of pure play digital experts—from IT to marketing communications to domain expertise, knowledge expertise, policy standards—all of those areas need to be communicating in working groups for developing standards, for writing policies and for just overall communications. And then the third level is really just sort of a community of practice for anyone who has an interest in digital insight in organizations.
 
I think one of the things about digital right now is it’s still so relatively new in the enterprise. A lot of those mechanisms aren’t in place, or if they are in place, they’re in place fairly informally and they’re not well funded and supported.
 
Cruce: The funding and supporting all starts at the top ultimately, with boards and CEOs, COOs, or is this something that, if you wanted to create a digitally progressive organization and you’re a CMO, do you have the fiat to be able to move on your own? What are you seeing are ways to involve the C-Suite and get more funding for the complexity of digital initiatives which really do involve a whole enterprise, not just one group, and how do folks in one group tow that responsibility?
 
Lisa: I think you do it with metrics and numbers. I talk to a lot of executives in the work that I do, and I don’t know any executive that would not effectively fund a program that would make money for the company. What usually happens, though, is people who are digital practitioners come to executives and they ask them for money for best practices, not for something that’s actually going to create an actual business result. I think the way to really get that moving is for people who are digital practitioners and IT marketing communications, content generators, to actually sort of mature their own practices and understand how the work that they do is actually going to make the company money and present that business case.
 
Cruce: One thought that has really been resurfacing for me recently is this idea that content is actually a digital asset. It should be a balance sheet asset. It’s not just a function of IT or marketing, that content and data assets should be on the balance sheet and therefore a part of the corporate wealth in the same way as intellectual property is and the same way as goodwill. There are a lot of intangibles that are reflected in balance sheet, and I think if corporate leaders understood that, we might start to see more sponsorship. Do you think that there might be a world in which content assets start to get valued in that way?
 
Lisa: There already is a world. I mean there’s the media. People have been owning content and information for a while. There’s magazines, there’s newspapers, there’s television. I think what you’re talking about is the information that’s in the enterprise. I think maybe looking at some of those models and understanding how they’ve managed might be useful. But I also think that there is a sort of intangible quality to that. 

I think what really ought to be valued are the people who’re able to orchestrate content and information such that it makes the company money. That’s the real value there, because the information will come and go and become more or less valuable depending on what an organization is trying to achieve. Something the information that was on the books 20 years ago maybe not be valuable now, but the person who is actually able to find the information and position and structure the information so it makes the company money, that’s the asset.
 
Cruce: That’s beautiful, and I love the idea of using a media company as the analogy. It seems like there is some media company-like effects of even corporate enterprises now where they’re becoming media companies in a lot of ways, creating and managing a lot of assets. But that takes people and it takes organizational structures and standards. 

Can you talk a little bit about customer experience management, particularly there are a lot of folks who are interested in personalization projects, and you talk about this some in your book. But personalization is kind of tricky and it usually involves a lot of collaboration. Do you have any examples or stories from what you’ve seen working within organizations about successful personalization initiatives and what might have helped them to be successful? What are some of the things that have made customer experience management projects where targeted content is happening successfully?
 
Lisa: I run into those types of use cases intimately in the work that we do and they’re the obvious ones out in the world, the Amazons of the world. I think there are some newspaper publishing models where they’re pushing relevant content as well, but the case where I do see them in the enterprise actually is on the intranet, with employees, creating a portal or an interface for an employee to aggregate the information that’s relevant to them inside. They’re logging into their intranet and they’re being able to access their HR related information, their benefits and those sorts of concerns and also understanding where they fit organizationally and feeding the organizational news feeds and those sorts of things. But that has a less tangible result, because the customer in this case is your internal employee.
 
So you’re talking about getting to retain that employee, and in some sectors employee retention is a really big deal, particularly in really competitive engineering types of environments. I’ve seen some really progressive things happen in some organizations where they’re really doing that on their intranet.
 
Cruce: I think this is actually an important reminder you’re bringing up which is that digital is a lot more than just what we publish out to the world. It’s also a reflection of the internal operations of an organization.
 
Lisa: I think that’s true and then there are other factors as well. It’s not just marketing and when we talk about customer experience management, oftentimes it’s focused on marketing. There are a lot of really interesting things going on in healthcare. So, wearable devices. I gave a talk at a conference once where they were talking about embedded heart monitors and mobile apps integrating with data that’s about how much you’re exercising and your heart rate or measuring your blood pressure. 

There are all these sort of more intimate types of models that are less about “I’m trying to get you to buy something” and more about “I’m actually trying to help you. I’m trying to keep you alive.” I think there are really a lot of robust use cases, and I think we’re really very early on in understanding how we’re going to use and leverage that technology. There is probably some emerging use cases in education as well.
 
Cruce: I love your long-term perspective. Twenty plus years in the industry to see that we’re really still at the early stages. I also want to make sure our listeners understand the depth that’s reflected in Managing Chaos. Your book has a whole lot of case studies. I found that very helpful to read just how many environments are so messed up and how they can be fixed. That there is light at the end of the tunnel for organizations struggling with digital change. I thought that your book did a great job of walking through that. As we wrap up here, can you give our listeners an overview of your book, how to find it and also how to follow your work online?
 
Lisa: I blog at www.activestandards.com and you can find my book at www.digitalgovernance.com. I would like to say in closing just to reiterate what you said really quite early. I think that people, particularly those who are practitioners in this space, really underestimate the impact that they can have on what happens in the future. I have a talk that I gave around “We Are the Architects,” and we really are architecting the Information Age right now. So, using the excuse that the executive doesn’t get it and, therefore, we can’t do good work isn’t really a good one I don’t think. I hope that all of us who’re working in this space will just continue to contribute in positive ways, and when we’re looking back later on, be really proud of what it is that we’ve built.
 
Cruce: Wonderful note to end it on. Thank you so much Lisa. I appreciate your time at the end of the show. And good luck with all of the rest of your endeavors. We’ll be interestedly keeping track on what you do next.
 
Lisa: Thank you.
 


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