Part 1 of 3: What is a digital (or digitally influenced) product?

The world of digital and technology services is crowded these days. Agencies, consultancies, and systems integrators (and every combination thereof) are helping their clients figure out how to leverage digital to better serve their customers. Why? Because there’s a lot at stake. Companies of all sizes are facing competition from every angle. Digital technologies have tipped the balance in favor of the “always on” customer (The Age of the Customer, @forrester). Companies that deliver innovative capabilities to market efficiently will survive. Those that don’t, won’t. Therefore, services companies that can help their clients continuously innovate are worth their weight in gold.

So how can companies get their good ideas to market as quickly and efficiently as possible? Many services companies are pitching an approach lauded by the startup community called Minimum Viable Product (MVP for short). Popularized by Eric Ries (@ericries), author of the game-changing book The Lean Startup and the consistently awesome blog Startup Lessons Learned, the MVP approach helps companies launch the version of a new product that brings back the maximum amount of validated learning about its customers with the least amount of effort. We love this approach because it’s all about getting impactful products launched quickly so that they can iterate over time. But we don’t believe it’s a silver bullet in and of itself.

Before jumping into our perspective on how to augment the MVP approach, it’s important to start with defining what a digital (or digitally influenced) product actually is. After establishing this shared understanding, Part 2 will discuss the importance of adopting a product (vs. a project) mindset. Lastly, Part 3 provides our take on the MVP approach and how companies can best move forward.

So what is a digital product exactly? A website? A mobile app? An algorithm? The technology platforms that power the experiences? The operational structures that govern the experiences and platforms?

Most define a digital product from the customer experience perspective. The touchpoints and interactions that customers see/touch/feel represent the digital product. We agree.

Another common definition includes not only the UX, but also the technologies and platforms that power the experience. This technology-inclusive definition is important because any digital product that doesn’t consider the constraints and capabilities of the platforms in play is fundamentally flawed. Failing to include the technical components leaves a company susceptible to surprises. The types of surprises that lead to poor customer experiences.

The problem, as we see it, is most definitions stop here: experiences + technologies = digital products. The missing piece of the digital product puzzle is operations: the skill sets, supporting processes, and governing structures that power the technologies and deliver the experiences to customers and users.

Let’s use an example to illustrate what we mean. If a B2B auto parts distributor wants to deliver personalized experiences that provide promotions to customers in context, the following considerations would apply to the digital product:

  • Experience: what problem are we trying to solve and why? At what points in the customer journey does it make sense to deliver a promotion? What is the right set of interactions that make the experience easy to use? How can we tie together the eCommerce site, mobile app, and in-store technologies to deliver a contextually relevant experience that meets the needs of our customers (and delights them in the process)?
  • Technology: what platforms, data, and integrations are required to deliver this cross touchpoint experience? Is custom software required to power the ecosystem? Can we leverage packaged software to deliver the capabilities we need more efficiently? How do cloud solutions come into play?
  • Operations: who (which role, business unit, department, etc.) will own the creation and management of the promotions capability? How will new platforms that power this capability impact the existing processes – both on and offline? Will our employees need training on the new platforms? Can our organization power the experience and work with the new platforms as-is? Or do we need to hire new/different skill sets? How should existing organizational structures function with this new set of capabilities? What does success look like and how are we monitoring and measuring success? And so on…

digital-products-team

The most successful digital products emphasize technology platforms, operational capabilities and customer experiences in equal doses – Moonshot by Pactera Digital

So you might be thinking: “What is so unique about this perspective? Doesn’t everyone consider the people side of change and its role in innovation? I’ve heard the phrase “People, Process, Technology” (or a similar variation) a million times. What am I missing here?”

It’s true, few organizations blatantly disregard the operational aspects of digital change. The point we’re making here is emphasis. Most organizations (represented by the clients we’ve worked with) place a greater emphasis on customer experience. In other words, they focus on the experience AT THE EXPENSE of the technologies and operations required to power and maintain them. Don’t get us wrong, we believe the customer experience is paramount to success. But we believe true, repeatable success emphasizes the technology platforms and operational aspects alongside the customer experience in equal doses.

Experiences + technologies + operations = digital product

If a company doesn’t consider these three elements of a digital product, there’s no sense in discussing the best approaches for launching them efficiently.

In Part 2 of this 3 part series we’ll discuss the importance in moving from a project to a product mindset.

Mike Edmonds

Mike Edmonds

Managing Director, VP Product

Bitnami