There is no such thing as digital strategy

There is no “digital strategy” anymore, just strategy in a digital world

Bud Caddell

Digital is more than digital

The word “ubiquitous” means everywhere, and aptly describes our experience with digital technology these days. The inventions of the internet and smart phones have created a world in which we can be connected to everyone and everything all the time.

But its sometimes difficult to understand what’s really going on when you just look at the surface of something. The cover of the book doesn’t reveal the core message of the author, and neither do the obvious manifestations of digital reveal its essential nature.

Digital is 3 Russian cyber dolls

You know those hollow wooden dolls that are nested in one another? They are called Russian dolls, and digital is 3 of those nested in one another.

1. Digitalisation: from atoms to bits

The inner-most doll is digital encoding; the encoding of atoms into bits. The first “cyber doll” of digital converts the informational essence of something material into a digital form. Because a bit has no size or weight and can be instantly replicated at no cost, digital encoding allows encoded content to be much more readily shared and remixed.

2. Computerisation: from bits to intelligent machines

The middle doll is digital computerisation; It takes encoded digital bits and manipulates them.

An expert is someone who understands how to reliably understand and manipulate the “content” of a particular area of the world. Together with encoding, computerisation enables us to extract the knowledge of experts and transfer it into inexpensive “expert systems”. Computerisation opens the potential for digitised brain-power to become more readily available to humans.

3. Connectivity: from intelligent machines to a global nervous system

The outer-most doll is the digital connectivity of the internet; the third doll of digital connects all things digital. It takes both the encoded content and programmed intelligence from the first 2 cyber dolls and makes it available to every digital device, and every person with a digital device. Digital allows us to connect with other people and the power of computers to help us think and interact further and faster.

Leveraging and accelerating our capability

Collectively the power and potential of digital is acting as an extension of humanity to scale and leverage our capabilities; to enable us to go smarter and faster and further. The 3 “Russian cyber dolls” of digital result in greater speed, smarts and reach.

1. Tracking and more data

Digital encoding enables us to convert information into a digital form that is readily accessed. This unlocks many opportunities including the ability to capture and track information about people and their behaviour. We cannot intervene in a world we do not see, and therefore the more we can see about our customers and how they behave then the more powerfully we can helpfully intervene. Digital encoding is the first doll of digital and the extent of its “view” creates a horizon that limits the potential for the other 2 “dolls”.

2. A better quality of information

In every moment of our life there are different types of gaps that we are trying to close. For instance, the gap between what-is-important and what-is. The gap between someone’s needs and their available capability. More data from tracking enables us to see more and more of different aspects of the world, however the potential to close these gaps is constrained by the limited processing power of our brains; we are drowning in a sea of data.

Computers provide us with the ability to supplement our own brain processing power with the additional capability of a computer. Digital creates better actionable information by enabling us to understand what data is salient. With the rapid acceleration of machine learning we can increasingly build tools that are personalised and even change our understanding from one which is diagnostic (after the fact) to one which is predictive.

3. More reach

The weightlessness and replicability of digital means that once it has been created it can be effortlessly and inexpensively shared with anyone and everyone. This makes digital the ultimate medium for accessibility and reach as well as providing a low cost of delivering a product. As we move to a world where digital devices are more and more ubiquitous, digital becomes an increasingly compellingly medium through which to connect with our customers, and in turn connect them to other key stakeholders.

Where to next?

Digital makes a coercive argument for itself as a powerful vehicle through which to deliver our products. But if we don’t know where we are going then any path will take us there, and goodness knows where we’re end up. We need to better understand the territory that we are operating within and we need a map to help us navigate there.