RECENTLY, a SMALL BUT INTERESTING study of 146 marketers' views on the challenges of 2021 was published. It provided, among other things, insight into how marketing is hard-pressed for extra time and bigger budgets. Marketing has entered 2021 with a host of challenges, in fact 18 different challenges according to the study. However, the biggest challenge that marketing faces in 2021 did not even make the list: the cultural change of digital transformation.
Digital transformation is fundamental and a matter of putting new technology into functions where improved companies' productivity and workflows. That process has been called the fourth industrial revolution, so of course it takes a long time to implement. Actually, it makes more sense to portray the digital transformation as a sea of waves washing in towards us. Again and again and again.
It's OK if you've heard plenty. This is understandable. Digital transformation seems to have been worn out by overuse. But in fact, you need to talk more about digital transformation than ever before. Because if there was one thing that the year 2020 taught your workplace, it was that the digital transition is swinging back at us - again. Working from a distance, from the home office, was the most visible image of the present digital transformation.
Digitisation, in 2020, became almost palpable. It attains status as a cultural phenomenon, not just a technological phenomenon. But let us not forget that the digital transformation is also a cultural change that, for example, requires massive upgrading of skills. Thus, the digital transformation is not just something that takes place in the caches and servers of the IT department.
The digital transition is affecting us all, and perhaps marketing in particular. It must not take place in a closed off circuit. It must be nurtured across departments, and it requires upgrading skills of all employees. It requires input from all of us. This is why digital transformation is a cultural change that might as well be regarded as the biggest challenge in 2021.
The automation of everything from workflows to meeting the customer in all kinds of channels has long been tested in marketing departments. Not everything has transformed the way it was supposed, and even today, marketing has a lot of tasks that are repetitive. Many marketers do the same thing over and over again. Those tasks can be largely automated.
There are huge savings associated with that change. There are considerable opportunities to improve time to market in the marketing department. And automation ensures that people remember to work accordingly. So in itself, automation can increase employee satisfaction.
And then there is the other dimension. By leveraging technology to improve and automate, we are actually releasing resources physically as well as financially. We can use those resources to be creative.
So we should not fear automation, on the contrary. But we must recognize that it takes time, because we need to be trained and onboarded while the transformation is taking place. It is a challenging task, technically and culturally. But there are real gains awaiting that we should pursue, because the gains will both impact the bottom line and improve the work culture.
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There is a very strong business case in automating. But we tend to forget how big a process this is. According to an analysis from the MIT Technology Review, there is great interest in automating and not least in creating new workflows based on the help of artificial intelligence. However, it's a huge change process to boost automation, explains senior vice president of enterprise analytics at Emirates Group, Dirk Jungnickel.
“Implementing AI or machine learning in a business at scale is a huge change-management challenge.” (The Global Agenda - In Brief, October 2020)
As such, the digital transformation is also a matter of change management; we can not implement automation without regard to the culture of the company. Therefore, it is important what narrative we use. Automation is not about removing jobs, but about freeing up time for what is important and what creates value. It is important to look at automation as an aid, not an alternative to human activity.
Data insight will be crucial to the strategic direction marketers set for 2021. We simply want to work smarter. But if we focus solely on goals, and forget the process, then we lose the crucial cultural rooting that must drive forward the digital transformation. On that note, 2020 was actually a bit of an eye opener, because it became clear to everyone that the digital transformation is affecting everyone in the company.
Now, digital transformation is not just a subject matter for IT or the CEO. The transformation towards all digital requires input from you and many others in your company. For it is, among other things, the marketing position, so much closer to the customer, that should dictate a number of the changes that will attain greater competitiveness and optimal time to market.