Lawrence De’Ath, Head of Product & Technology at Digital Works Consulting gives his perspective on the challenges faced by big businesses when developing successful new digital products.
Sophie: What do you see as the specific challenges in digital being faced by big businesses?
Lawrence: Digital is new for many successful larger businesses. They are starting to realise that to compete, digital is not just a ‘bolt on’ – it’s a transformation.
Common issues we are seeing are:
1. Digital is different
Digital runs on IT but it doesn’t run like many internal business system
2. Digital development is different
It may look like print media – but the development needs are very different, and needs to be approached in a different way
3. Digital: it’s personal
Critically, how customers engage is different with digital; it’s unpredictable because customers are closely coupled to the “Digital Product”
Sophie: Often when we think of successful digital companies, we think of agile start-ups, but does this mean that big businesses should adopt the same methodologies?
Lawrence: The start-up community is so dominated by digital because they can create their business model from scratch – they have no legacy systems – and with no historic commitments to meet. Equally start-ups have no established customer base or reputation – this gives them more freedom.
In many cases start-ups have nothing to lose – that’s why they are disruptive to markets.
This might not suit larger businesses as they often want to continue their corporate journey – which is what brought them success in the first place. That history brings fantastic knowledge embedded in internal systems or loyalty in historic connections.
Adopting digital benefits from a learning and adaptive approach because good solutions often have elements which are “new to the world”. This means that customer reaction is unpredictable and it doesn’t make sense to leap-in with a large scale, comprehensive solution. Start-ups know this and they innovate in a different way.
Large businesses can learn from lean or agile methodologies, where you can start with pockets of innovation and progress incrementally. The management and control of product development needs to be quite different in digital. However, that doesn’t mean firms should abandon all of their proven and valuable product development or new business creation skills.
We see digital product development as part of digital transformation for larger businesses – helping organisations to learn and adapt to managing a new technology or new ways to engage with customers.
Sophie: What do we actually mean by digital product development?
Lawrence: Digital product development has changed hugely over many years. Software as an example has changed more than any other in the last 10 years. It started as programming, in the same way that jewellery design started as a craft.
Bespoke jewellery may still be designed and built by craft jewellers but producing a repeatable product to a budget that each customer will cherish needs a wholly different approach. It involves more people, in more places with everyone connected and each doing a more specialist job than the multi-skilled jeweller.
Digital product development has been through the same cycle. The “digital revolution” has changed how products can come about – from a single multi-skilled craftsperson to specialist teams making focussed, skilled contributions. Start-ups have been first to get it – they are great net-workers – but large firms have the resources to catch up – if they know where to direct them.
Sophie: What’s in a digital product development process?
Lawrence: As software increased in complexity, businesses put methods in place to emphasise control of development – in the expectation of getting predictable outcomes. The process was: Start with a specification so you know what you will get, plan the sequence of development, integrate the components and then test.
Digital product development still does include software development and implementation of IT, but often these are actually the more straight forward parts of the process.
Digital product development usually involves drawing on a substantial base of existing software; established internally or cloud-based platforms. There is an important task to choose which of these is appropriate for the digital product and to fit with existing business systems.