Google and the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) recently partnered to study how global companies successfully approach digital transformation. Explore key research findings with insights straight from BCG executives — and get inspiration from how Open Universities Australia took the leap with digital.
Senior business leaders are keenly aware that we’re in a new era of digital consumption, one that’s been rapidly accelerated by COVID-19. If the past few years have shown us anything, it’s that companies must be ready to move quickly to stay ahead of the pace of change. This has familiarised many marketing teams with a new catchphrase: digital transformation.
A company’s ability to quickly scale digital solutions allows it to realise value from digital transformation.
Embracing digital transformation means integrating technology into all aspects of a business, from creative and strategy to websites and apps, to deliver value. Since 2018, BCG and Google have been partnering to explore digital transformation as it’s evolved from a relatively nascent concept to a business imperative. Most recently, we teamed up to better understand why some companies are able to generate significant value from digital solutions — and why so many others still lag behind.
Our approach was to study the digital proficiency and maturity of 2,000 global companies, and we found that the value companies get from their digital solutions is inextricably linked to their ability to scale those solutions at speed. Achieving scale is what transforms digital pilot programs from interesting experiments into drivers of significant value. Companies that are able to do this faster than the rest of the market hold a considerable advantage.
This became an important factor for the study. It differentiated the “digital leaders” — roughly 30% of companies generating significant value from digital — from the others. Our research showed that digital leaders achieve 3X higher revenue growth and cost savings and have an accelerated time to market that’s 2X as high as companies unable to gain value from digital.1
By taking a closer look at the digital leaders, we were able to identify three key factors that allowed them to successfully scale their digital solutions.
Let’s dive into the pillars of digital success and explore how a local organisation — Open Universities Australia — set the stage for winning campaigns.
1. C-suite alignment
Becoming a digital leader begins at the top. Companies are successful when digital transformation isn’t just the remit of one executive but when the entire C-suite aligns on a common strategy and road map. Once they’ve set the North Star, CxOs must work together to galvanise the entire organisation to execute the vision from the top down.
According to our research, 72% of digital leaders say that consistent C-level collaboration is essential,2 and a full 82% claim to align across the executive suite on digital vision, investment, and other resources to drive the agenda forward together.3
When Open Universities Australia, a not-for-profit dedicated to helping Australians access higher education, started enhancing its digital capabilities, its leaders knew getting on the same page was critical to unlocking success. As Chief Commercial Officer Catherine Reynolds said, “What we tackled first on our digital maturity journey was leadership-level alignment on how everything connects to the ‘why.’”
For Open Universities Australia, this came to making higher education easier to access and navigate for all Australians. The organisation offers people access to more than 710 online degrees and 2,560 subjects from leading universities. While this unlocks a world of possibility, it can be overwhelming for prospective learners to pinpoint what courses work best for them.
That’s why Open Universities Australia’s leaders decided to focus on effectively empowering prospective students with the information and inspiration they need to connect to universities across the country — regardless of their location or study goals.
Once Open Universities Australia’s C-level executives were fully aligned, their next steps for enhancing digital strategies and capabilities became clearer. Each decision needed to focus on experiences delivered to all customers of the marketplace, students and universities alike — and one of those steps was ensuring its marketing campaigns were genuinely student-first.
Once Open Universities Australia’s C-level executives were fully aligned, their next steps for enhancing digital strategies and capabilities became clearer.
Figuring out — and aligning on — a guiding pillar for your digital agenda will lay a strong foundation for change. But that’s just the start. Bringing meaningful digital transformation to life comes down to embracing agile ways of working. Leaders and teams can’t work in silos if they plan to cascade strategies and targets down to local business units.
Chief Operating Officer at Open Universities Australia Anthony Elliott said, “Executive teams will often talk about what they’re doing individually. But to truly succeed in a digital transformation journey, you need to collaborate and ideate on a higher level about the best decision for the whole business.”
Flexible planning and budgeting processes are critical, and the whole C-suite must look beyond their own teams and be more involved in tech, data privacy, and analytics to follow a successful digital road map.
2. Build capabilities
With C-suite alignment in place, digital leaders then invest in whatever helps their businesses gain value from digital. To effectively understand this question, companies need to build their first-party data capabilities in a privacy-safe way. Our research shows almost 50% of digital leaders use first-party data to glean insights to create more valuable customer experiences, compared to 5% of companies that lag behind.4 That’s why Open Universities Australia sought out better ways of using its first-party data to ensure it shows up at the right moments when students are considering their options.
“Integrating our first-party data into our campaigns enabled us to understand how different channels in our media mix work and how they can better connect us to future students at crucial moments of consideration,” Reynolds said, adding that the new strategic approach enabled Open Universities Australia to boost results with automation. “Post-data integration, we saw a 30% decrease in cost per prospect through our Google performance channels.”
Building cross-functional teams with skills ranging from HR and legal to finance and tech is critical to making the most of first-party data and generating business-wide insights. “The first-party data we needed didn’t live within the marketing team’s remit alone, so we needed to ensure we were working cross-functionally to be able to access different expertise, capabilities, tools, and platforms,” Reynolds said.
Building cross-functional teams that include skills ranging from HR and legal to finance and tech is critical to making the most of first-party data.
Although upskilling and de-siloing in-house teams helps better address priority business needs, research shows many digital leaders seek out partnerships to round out their businesses’ expertise and capabilities. For instance, to level up its analytics and digital strategy, Open Universities Australia teamed up with Google to set up offline conversion data integrations.
But the partnership goes beyond technical support. “We work with Google on our goals and objectives, and our partners challenge our thinking and bring in fresh perspectives,” Reynolds said. By elevating your in-house capabilities and working with strategic partners, you can build more resilient business models.
3. Always-on mindset
Rather than viewing digital transformation as a one-time project, digital leaders steer with an adaptive, always-on mindset to improve and scale pilots as the landscape changes — and prove their ROI. Open Universities Australia knows first-hand that embracing continuous change fosters growth. “We’ve increased our total provider revenues through the Open Universities Australia marketplace by 49% since we began our digital transformation journey five years ago,” said Reynolds.
Just as technologies, markets, and consumer behaviours constantly evolve, so too will your approach to digital transformation. A cultural reset is required to get comfortable with constant pivots. Digital leaders continually test and learn, invest in flexible planning and budgeting, and develop cross-functional teams, starting with the C-suite.
Just as technologies, markets, and consumer behaviours constantly evolve, so too will your approach to digital transformation.
It’s also clear from our research that digital leaders have embedded these behaviours into their company culture. As C-levels align to invest in a digital foundation, they become adept at using internal data as a decision-making tool for operational challenges.
Open Universities Australia has taken this to heart by integrating experimentation and agility into its organisational DNA. “We built a transformative culture that never stops adjusting to insights, rather than embarking on a one-off transformation that took us from A to B,” Elliott said. “We’ll never end our digital transformation journey because we’re always trying to find ways to maximise our impact against our purpose.”
This adaptive, always-on mindset also increases businesses’ ability to reimagine customer experiences. By working cross-functionally, digital leaders are better able to determine which customer-centric opportunities to quickly scale and which unsuccessful or slow-moving initiatives to cut.
It’s clear that digital transformation delivers outsize value to digital leaders. All companies can expect to realise similar value if they’re willing to commit to change. By embracing necessary success factors — an aligned C-suite, capabilities-driven investment, and an always-on approach — any organisation can become a digital leader.
Further your business’ transformation by exploring the full BCG research report.