Three stages of digital structure for new-to-digital organisations

I’ve spent the last two weeks musing on how new-to-digital organisations develop and specifically how this is reflected in their structure. There are near-infinite nuances for each company, but I’ve attempted to boil them down to three generic stages.

Stage One – Genesis
Digital enthusiasts and champions appear in largely isolated pockets across the company and cling to each other to drive forward an agenda of digital-first ideas.

They form clusters of original thinking which is usually expressed by one or two ‘hero’ projects that are not explicitly visible to management. These projects are often experimental in nature with a clear idea of where benefits might be realised but without the mature roadmap and security of knowing exactly how or when. These projects are difficult to drive through as the organisation has no developed capability or process memory to help delivery. Each part of the project from concept and rationale as well as production techniques, methodologies, technologies are often brand new. In short – they’re hard miles.

Two – Directorate
The success (or potential) of new digital initiatives attract a senior manager or director. The organisation re-organises to centralise digital around a single unit.

Merging the digital talent into one place is contra-intuitive to today’s digitally enabled companies – but to an organisation that has no capability, strategically or operationally, it can be the right move. The emerging digital strategy can be nurtured without being challenged in the cross company forums that it wouldn’t be ready to survive in. Mistakes will need to be made, corrected and learned from.

Operationally this is doubly true. The unit needs to build a memory of how digital products and services are made. The techniques, process and skills needed need to be brought together and tested with projects increasing in size until they’re ready to be taken out to the wider organisation. Trying to get this production chain working across departments with skills that are as unfamiliar as the job titles leads to confusion or worst still territorial battles.

Three – Dispersion
The organisation accepts digital as a core skills and distributes talent into each element

Startups jump to this stage on day one. Digital skills are found in all departments across the organisation but it is in the strategic and visionary elements of the service that they show real value. Not by gratuitous overtly digital solutions – exactly the opposite. Taking digital for granted and being able to exploit great ideas for what they are with the digital strategy being driven by the customer.

The digital production chain can be distributed across the organisation without disruption. The workforce understands how to interact with it and get products and services delivered. At this point ideas, initiatives and value is generated across the organisation as the wider workforce starts to think about what digital can do for them.

This process is happening right now at a macro level in Government. The GDS (Government Digital Service) began at Genesis with the Lane-Fox review. The GDS is the directorate model right now – but you can see the transition into dispersion happening. The publication of the Service Manual for digital departments, their open approach to standards and *how* they’re doing things is showing the direction of travel.

For a non digital organisation this all needs Leadership – Top Down. With, all things are possible. Without, you’ll never get past Genesis.

People Like You

“People like you” is an theme that’s been emerging across the web. The genesis seems to have been from Google and Amazon who started with simple algorithms suggesting “people who bought/visited this also looked at this”. It’s effective because it reflects human behaviour rather than a machine guessing that because you like Kraftwerk you’d like Orbital too. But because it’s human behaviour we’re also tolerant when the suggestion is rubbish. Who are the Ozric Tentacles anyway? When the┬ámachine gets it wrong we’re intolerant and dismissive of the feature as a whole.

Networks and behaviours mined from data are common and useful. LinkedIn and Facebook have built up B2C and B2B empires based on introducing people you sort of know based on your current relationships. Very different commercial models and motivations for the customer but the mechanism remains the same. It’s not just relationships – LastFM have done it with music, reddit with social posts etc.

We wanted to take this concept further and try to guess what ‘people like you’ have been doing with their finances to offer more relevant suggestions that’d be readily accepted, but with the explicit notion that we’re offering them because of ‘people like you’. For example; 81% of people like you bought this travel insurance policy. It offers affirmation for for those in the majority, a moment of caution for others. The feedback was positive for one scenario we suggested e.g. 81% of people like you are getting a better deal on their electricity. Saving money is a strong motivator and the groups saw the value of the comparison here.

An Aussie site doing this type of work brilliantly is PeopleLikeU.

What didn’t work so well is the suggestion that customers can be segmented or categorised i.e. there are ‘other people like you’. Several times I heard ‘There’s no-one quite like me’ – fiercely protecting individuality. When probed the only aspect that they recognised was locality. They’d accept that neighbours or people living in their street are ‘like them’. In these scenarios they’d care more if someone in their street was getting cheaper broadband for example.

We also tested a webpage concept with a picture of ‘someone like you’ linking to profile and showing activity. This was strongly rejected by users as not being relevant. The key driver is users want to make the judgement if someone is ‘like them’ and not be told. If the user makes the choice then the associated messages become credible and believable. A great example of this is a vox pops video we’ve tried with real people sharing tips for saving. In testing customers decided that the real people were ‘like them’ so enthusiastically accepted the saving tips.

The inevitable first post

Ok, so I could have left it as an esoteric blog site with no posts like an online French protest play or something. Rubbish. So here’s the first post.

I’ll make no excuses for blogging about all sorts of stuff – mostly professional. Just at the moment I’m the Head of Proposition and Product Development for the Money Advice Service. Apart from having the longest business cards in the world (Who uses these anymore?) I’m responsible for designing the experiences that will hopefully change the way the UK behaves with its money.

Specifically this year we’ll be looking at behaviour change. What motivates and drives change in our target audience of low to middle income families. Then we’ll design (mostly) online products to match.

If you want to know more about me then you can find my linkedIn profile here or you can tweet me here.