Does IT mean ‘digital’? Not with these five key differences

Published on the 15/03/2017 | Written by Lee Stevens

Digital is in danger of becoming an arbitrary, meaningless term as it continues to be overused, writes Lee Stevens…

Let’s put the word digital in there. Then it must be digital. Surely?

This week, I read a well-crafted press release from a recognised IT company which had won a deal to ‘digitally transform’ a well-known FMCG company.

This being an exciting customer, I read eagerly, searching for the point it would reveal what digital tools and techniques were being used and how this was solving customer problems.

Sadly, that bit wasn’t to be found. There weren’t any digital tools.

What the IT company had done is sold some infrastructure and networking services, and pumped the article full of keyword phrases that included ‘Digital Strategy’ and ‘Digital Transformation’.

I want to get a couple of things out of the way.

1) Digital simply cannot happen without IT. That is absolutely stating the obvious.

2) This article is in no way a dig at IT or the people that work in IT, in any way.

I don’t doubt that the services the IT company provides will underpin the customer’s digital strategy. The question, however, is this. Does delivering new infrastructure underpin a digital strategy? I’m not sure about that. So let’s look at the five major differences between the two:

1) Digital spans multiple platforms and technologies

A digital strategy should be agnostic and use the best systems that solve the customer problem. Mitre 10’s ‘Easy As’ Campaign is a perfect example of how companies use many platforms as part of a digital strategy.

Many traditional IT strategies focus on the technology first – and then look at what it can be used for.

2) You can interact with digital

I have a strong view on what digital is: “Digital is connecting with your staff, suppliers and customers through any electronic touchpoint.”

Digital is tactile. It is things that people can use, touch, feel and hear (and in some cases smell). The Air New Zealand Coffee App is a great example. Can you do that with all technology? Probably not.

3) Digital connects people, not systems

Technology alone does not make the connection happen. Companies like Whittakers Chocolate use Facebook pages to connect with their customers and interact about new products and complaints.

4) Digital solves a stakeholder problem – not an IT problem

Whilst I hate having to pay for parking, it’s a fact of life, living in a city. It’s great being able to ‘start and stop’ parking using the Parkmate App. I never have any pocket change and the credit card slots don’t always work, so the app solves a distinct problem.

Your stakeholders (customers) don’t care if your servers are ‘virtualised’ or if the application is hosted ‘in the cloud’. What they do care about is convenience and ease of use.

5) Digital combines a variety of skills, not just technical ones

Last week, Simon Tong, the CEO of Fairfax Media announced he was resigning to take up a position at ASB Bank as Head of Technology, Innovation and Payments. That’s an example of how anyone with a digital remit soon will typically offer a combination of operations, marketing and IT skills.


Lee Stevens is a digital strategist and founder of Brighter Days, a company which helps NZ businesses grow with technology.

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