Articles tagged digital

Posted by Michael Colombo

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For CIOs, the ask from the business is to turn a C130 Hercules into a fighter jet…while it’s in the air. It sounds like magic. Even if the mechanics were well understood, perfecting the execution might take years or decades of practice to pull off. Stepping in to support marketing in a digital transformation initiative often feels like an attempt against similar odds. Many fail, many more underperform expectations.

Digital transformation is about building world-class customer experiences, but there are so few organizations with a real understanding of the mechanics involved, let alone the flight hours needed to succeed. Building digital tiger teams with specific backgrounds and a nuanced set of technical skills is the first step toward reorganizing IT around the customer experience. These nuanced skills can mean the difference between delivering the fighter jet or just a pile of parts.

The skills between the skills.

At a glance, digital transformation programs look familiar. Requirements and Architecture, Screens and Flows, Development and Integration, QA and Deploy. You’ve been down this road a million times, right? Well, not exactly. The difference comes in shifting the priority from delivering a feature set to delivering an experience. And while nailing a feature set is difficult, delivering it within a world-class digital experience is where all the nuance lives. Mastering the nuance has big implications. An IT team with new digital skills in between the traditional IT skills and a proven ability to execute on experience moves them squarely into the growth strategy of the business.

“I believe in innovation and that the way you get innovation is that you fund research, and you learn the basic facts.”

Bill Gates

Requirements:

To effectively document requirements, you need a new kind of business analyst. Going to business stakeholders, understanding their needs and how they apply to the bigger picture of the business strategy, and documenting those requirements and their system implications for a technical team is not enough in the context of digital experience. The nuance here to the traditional business analyst role is that they should now be able to communicate all of the facts of the User Experience. Business intake and competitive research resulting in a User Requirements Specification (URS) should be accompanied by traditional UX deliverables, such as User Flows, Information Architecture, and even rough wireframes and prototypes. Your business analyst should be able to help during concept testing as well as the QA process, as they should have a strong vision for the quality of the experience that is being delivered. The requirements that the new business/UX analyst delivers need to have the users at their core and be directly translatable to digital execution teams.

Project Management:

Project managers, like business analysts, need to know that they exist entirely in an experience-first context. It is not enough for them to deliver on the functional requirements of the system. I can’t state that more strongly. Development and project management teams that have forever judged success based on a “Does it work?” mantra are not poised to successfully deliver world class digital experience. Instead of, “Does it work?” they need to start asking, “Does it deliver an industry-leading experience?” If they are not asking that question, then they are not focused on the right result.

Project managers who have never delivered customer-facing products have a steep learning curve. They will need to begin forming their own vision for the experience they are delivering, and consider how closely they match that vision as their primary success metric. That it “works” is a given, but delivering an experience that technically “works” but nobody likes is a failure. It’s a setback to the business, not an advancement. It’s prioritizing an MVP over an actual ROI. Everyone on the team needs to internalize this reality.

Infrastructure:

While the big shift in IT toward cloud, agile and DevOps are improving the flexibility of what can be delivered inside the enterprise, the underlying point of these advances can sometimes be lost. Putting things in AWS isn’t a win on its own. Spinning up GitHub doesn’t mean you’ve got a modern development organization. The goal is speed, pure and simple. The number one enemy of the enterprise - when it comes to long term competitive threats - is the amount of time it takes to innovate and iterate. If the systems you are buying and putting on AWS are not making you faster, then they aren’t going to help you compete with digitally native companies.

If the DevOps tools you are setting up aren’t actually helping you respond in near real-time with new products and features, then you aren’t getting what you need out of them. If the focus is not entirely on speed, then you aren’t focused on the right thing. The shift in focus to user experience also shifts the business model of IT. While cost is always an important determinant of IT maneuvers, speed to market is your new primary metric. And speed to market with better digital products and services is about new revenue opportunities and increasing the lifetime value of your customers. In this context, IT is core to the brand and the growth strategy of the company.

“Design is not just what if looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

Steve Jobs

Development:

OK, here’s where the rubber meets the road. We all know that you can have the best requirements, the most diligent and focused project managers, and an infrastructure humming like a fighter jet…but if you can’t reproduce a design comp, you’re toast. “Reproduce a comp” may not even be in the IT vernacular yet, but it should be. Delivering a world class digital experience is brain surgery. It really is. And if you’re treating it like a routine procedure, you’ve got no chance.

The demand for good development talent couldn’t be higher. Some estimates have it at about 5 jobs for every 1 developer. So, just getting good talent in the door is difficult enough. However, changes in the B2C and B2B application space is torrential, so most times any ‘ol “full stack” developer won’t do. You need specific developers with nuanced skills. Frameworks and technologies on both the back end and the front end take years to master, as do the excess of marketing and sales technologies running behind the scenes of the user experience.

Bringing all of these pieces together into a flawless UI is impossible to do with “any ‘ol” guy or gal. (The interface, by the way, is a specialty just like the rest of the stack. HTML and CSS are not passive skills and are advancing rapidly like everything else. They are core competencies of digital tiger teams.) Each area of the application requires expertise and focus. You have to be able to put every pixel in its place in order to get the ROI that the business is looking for.

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Partnering with marketing on digital transformation initiatives means signing up to deliver world class user experience as a repeatable capability. Everyone inside and outside the organization has a standard for this level of work staring right back at them every time they pick up their phone, their tablet or a laptop. It’s all around us. We all expect it to be great, and we all immediately recognize when it isn’t. But because the demands are so high, and the needs are so vast, delivering Digital Transformation has become one of the hardest things to do in business. It takes a clear strategy and an experience-first focus, and then a rethinking of core IT skill sets. Flying the C130 while turning it into a fighter jet is the ask. Understanding the mechanics involved and the skills required to pull it off are the first step.

Michael Colombo is the founder and CEO of Maark where he oversees the overall direction and development of the agency as it continues to build its brand as a leading marketing and innovation engine for its customers. He has served as the executive lead in programs including corporate rebranding, solution marketing, sales enablement, digital transformation, and new product design for Fortune 500 companies around the world.

Photo credits: Johnson Barros, Pavel Vanka

Internet video is pretty much on its way to becoming, well, the Internet. Cisco says Internet video will account for 84% of all U.S. Internet traffic in four years, up from its current 78%. According to YouTube, more than 400 hours of video content were uploaded to its platform every minute last year. And, of course, marketers have a lot to say about the topic. Here’s a mess of stats around it.

But I bring it up here not so much to talk about Internet video, but to talk about video on Facebook, which if Zuckerberg and Co. have their way, is also headed to being, “well, the Internet.”

Facebook seems to be changing how we consume video, in both small and large ways. For instance, here’s a surprising stat: 85% of video watched on Facebook is without sound. That’s right, Facebook is sending us back to the silent film days.

From a certain perspective this makes sense. We’re on the Internet approximately 100% of the time, but not always alone with it. Video sound popping up at work or on the bus or while watching TV is annoying to us and rude to others. So I can see us silently checking out the video, reading the closed captions, and moving on in our perpetual Internet grazing. But I also wonder how much of that 85% is just autoplaying video on devices with the sound turned down already (because who knows when random video ads will start playing on any tab we have open). Facebook users could be playing the video without even knowing it as they scroll through their feeds.

But it’s not just that Facebook is causing us to watch video without sound. Facebook wants us to skip ahead to the good parts…on live video. They’re doing that with their Facebook Live offering by measuring the comments and emoji reactions to the stream. When a part of a live stream gets a lot of reaction, Facebook marks it as a “good part,” and lets latecomers to the stream jump right there without having to sit through the boring bits.

And then of course, there’s Facebook’s heavy investment in virtual reality, what with the Oculus Rift and all, which will change video in ways that we can’t yet foresee.

But what these changes point to is that Facebook is making video more consumable. The worst thing about video on the Internet is that you have to consume it at the pace of the video, while the rest of the Internet is consumable at your own pace.

Now if we can only figure out a way around starting a video with a video ad.

Photo credit: Travis Ekmark

Posted by Jason Ocker

Three years ago on this blog (three years!!), in a post called Sticky Pages, we looked at what seemed to be at least a lull in the U.S. ebook market. Before that point, the market had been rising fast enough to draw the comparisons to the fast digitization of music and, well, everything else on the planet. However, the Wall Street Journal article explored new findings that people were buying less ebooks and then were not always reading the ebooks that they were buying.

Now, new stats have surfaced in the UK from the Publishers Association that have caused some commotion online. The association found that last year ebook sales fell in the UK for the first time since they started tracking them, while print sales have risen for the first time in four years.

There has been quite the varied reaction to the news:

Simon Jenkins at The Guardian, says that the resurgence of books was inevitable and that only the “technodazzled” thought that ebooks would replace them.

Nate Hoffelder at The Digital Reader says that the stats don’t give a full picture since they only cover 75% of the market and believes the findings would change if indie and self publishers were included.

Rich Johnston at Bleeding Cool says that the findings makes sense to him since comic books have also flattened out when it comes to ebook sales.

Author Damien Water says on his blog that this is only that moment for physical books when the sinking ship pauses before starting to sink even faster.

And I’m still watching with rapt attention. All of these writers bring up interesting points. For instance, that much of the dead tree growth was due to the sudden interest in adult coloring books (our definition of book is almost so wide open it doesn’t have a spine). On the other side, even Amazon itself, which is mostly responsible for the rise in the ebook, just opened its first physical bookstore this year in a planned chain of them. And ebook-only publisher Samhain recently went of business due to a “steady decline in ebook sales.”

Meanwhile, very few in those circles are talking about the fact that audiobook sales rose 29% in the UK in 2015…without a single adult coloring book inflating that stat.

Photo credit: Lucas Combos

See (Through) the Future of Digital Storage

The digitization of information has changed our society in fundamental and positive ways, allowing us to store massive amounts of it in tiny spaces, copy it without effort, and disburse it to more people more easily. However, there’s always been a nagging concern about it…digital information has no stable storage media. Digital media degrades faster and becomes obsolete faster than any other storage media in history.

Basically, I can look at a cave painting created thousands of years ago thanks to the durability of rock, but my laptop doesn’t have an optical drive for CDs from this year.

So, overall, it’s a dangerous place to store stuff. And we’re relying on it for everything, from the most trivial blog post to the most important historical and medical data.

Of course, it’s one of those, “I’m sure somebody somewhere is solving this” problems, and it turns out it might be Hitachi.

The company unveiled today a medium that can store digital information for millions of years. The thin sheet of transparent quartz is also waterproof, fireproof, and, because it stores the digital information in simple binary form, can be read with a basic microscope and any past, current, or future computer.

Right now, the prototype stores 40 megs per square inch, and the Hitachi researchers are confident that will be further improved.

Just keep Arnold Schwarzenegger away from it.

Maark at the Movies

Yesterday, we had a Maark outing. We rented out a local theater, ordered up some catering from Red Bones in Somerville, and then sat back for a double feature.

It started with a presentation by our CEO on some of the exciting future developments for Maark, which we’ll be talking about here on the blog soon, and then we settled back for the second show, a new documentary called Side by Side.

Directed by Christopher Kenneally, Side by Side investigates the current melee that is happening in the movie industry with the inevitable shift from the entrenched, century-old use of physical film and the changing-every-week invasion of digital technology.

If you’re into movies, it’s a pretty awesome doc, since it involves Keanu Reeves using his star power and close industry relationships to secure candid interviews with an amazing array of directors—Scorsese, Cameron, Lucas, Nolan, the Wachowkis, Lynch, Soderbergh, Schumacher, Rodriguez, Fincher—in addition to interviews with people whose job titles you usually only see in the credits: cinematographers, editors, cameramen, color correctionists, and camera designers.

And while it’s fascinating to watch knowledgeable insiders debate the merits and detriments of film and digital from both an artistic and business point of view, the documentary has much larger implications.

What’s happening there with movies is a microcosm of the drastic change happening within every single industry on the planet, as every product, service, and endeavor becomes a software one and where digital innovations occur fast and furiously. That frontier is where Maark is gunslinging every day, and it’s an exciting, terrifying shift, one where the businesses that don’t find their places in this software-ruled world will eventually be relegated to irrelevancy.