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One year later… Now, with a little more clarity

one-year cake

This past year has been an amazing start to the Digital Clarity Group journey. We have grown into an incredible team of ten strong members, all contributing to the same vision, based on a worldview we hold in common. We’re physically spread across the world, but we’ve grown into a tight-knit family, and I couldn’t ask for better colleagues.

As Digital Clarity Group celebrates its first anniversary (this past Saturday), I figure it’s high time I write about my rationale for launching this firm. We’ve been internally referring to this as our “Jerry Maguire story”, although I highly doubt anyone will make a movie out of it. If they do, I don’t see Tom Cruise playing me – I’m thinking more along the lines of James Franco or Johnny Depp. But the story line would go something like this…

We are in the age of digital disruption – a time when organizations must transform. Transform or die, some might say. That’s not an overstatement in an era where household brands are both materializing and disappearing on a near-daily basis. Technology is advancing at a mind-boggling pace, and innovative businesses are launching all the time, each raising the bar on consumer expectations just a tad higher. The average business is massively challenged by this essential transformation. Most channel Elisabeth Kubler-Ross as they long for the days of business-as-usual and mourn their way through the 5 Stages of Grief before getting motivated enough to assemble a solid plan of attack. And then they hope it’s not too late.

As industry analysts, we too have been challenged by the increasing rate of change. Charged with the responsibility not just to keep up with the disruption, but rather to get ahead of it, analysts universally struggle to keep pace from within their old paradigms. This has to change. In our industry, it is my perception that most analysts are systemically shackled by three imposed (but misguided) principles:

  1. They’re ultra-focused on technology, as if it alone could ever be the entire answer to any challenge
  2. They’re encouraged, or required (or just plain want) to focus on a single area of concentration, limiting their field of view and burdening them with myopia
  3. They focus on esoteric models in lieu of actionable, pragmatic advice

Misguided principle #1: It’s all about the technology

In truth, most analysts don’t actually believe that it’s all about the technology. In my private discussions with industry colleagues, many refer to the ‘people and process’ aspects of the challenge, but these tend to be after-thoughts. We are, by definition, asked to look at the world through the lens of technology. That myopic view can leave our audience a bit deluded, as they too end up over-valuing the role of technology. Ask yourself whether you’ve scape-goated technology as the source of an organizational challenge? Or better yet, as the answer to one?

In my years as a Lead Analyst at the Gilbane Group, I ran a lot of technology selection projects, mostly related to web content management (WCM) systems. The selection methodology I honed over the years was very detailed and highly participatory. But, as I walked away from each of those final selections, I still felt like the flip of a coin would be as good as any other predictive method as to whether or not my client would achieve their objectives. Why? Because I only helped them find the answer to one part of a much bigger problem. Likely, the technology was the least of their challenges. Worse, though, by giving it such credence, I likely supported their inclination to believe that they’d find the answer in the technology alone. Ahh, if it were only that easy.

So what is the answer? Well, there are no silver bullets, but one of our answers at Digital Clarity Group is to never conduct a technology selection without also selecting the service provider that will be tasked with implementing it. In some cases that means we’re evaluating the professional services teams of the vendors. In others, we’re looking at services partners such as agencies or systems integrators. In others still, we may be evaluating the qualifications of our clients’ IT teams. Regardless of where the team is from, we focus the evaluation on their approach, their fluency with the product, as well as their ability to empathize with our clients’ circumstances and lead them through the numerous choices they’ll have to make throughout the relationship. We believe this emphasis on service providers has been so instrumental to our clients’ success that we are publishing the seminal industry study on service providers, due out in the next couple of months.

Misguided principle #2: Myopic points of view

As yesterday’s Systems of Record are being supplemented with today’s Systems of Engagement, siloed technology classifications are no longer sufficient. Today’s categories are challenged by the collision of technologies given their expanding scopes and cross-overs into other categories. They’re all changing, rapidly. The Systems of Record were initially developed to create process efficiencies, but now they are attempting to transform into Systems of Engagement by focusing on substantiating relationships and collaboration to maintain relevance. One has to look no further than to the way WCM systems have refocused on ways to manage the audience experience and incite engagement rather than just manage content behind the scenes. Many now include web analytics, search, targeting and personalization, email management, and so on and so on. Vendors have tired of the WCM label; many now refer to their products as web engagement management systems, digital experience management systems, customer experience management systems, and on and on.

This phenomenon presents a challenge for industry analysts who have been focused on technology silos. What happens when the WCM analyst and the Marketing Automation analyst have to both evaluate in a product with overlapping features? Or, worse, when they’re tasked with writing a report on a broader topic such as Consumer Engagement? In the latter case, we see 4-, 5-, even 10-author papers being produced since no one analyst can cover the full topic comprehensively. We see analysts themselves getting confused over what is technology and what is strategy, often prescribing more technology when a modified approach would suffice (and even be better). This creates confusion in the market, and questions like whether or not Customer Experience Management is a technology are debated ad nauseam.

Misguided principle #3: Esoteric models, not pragmatic advice

Everyone loves a good chart. It takes a long time and a lot of brainpower to come up with some of the models that we see today. But, the ultimate question is always how to put that information to use. We founded Digital Clarity Group on the fundamental principle that we would always provide pragmatic, actionable advice. Whether that advice comes in the form of a consulting project, an industry study, a selection advisory or a thought leadership paper, the provision of clarity is the ultimate objective. All of our analysts are seasoned practitioners. They have walked in the shoes of our audience, and they understand the pressures of having to deliver measurable results every day.

In conclusion…

At Digital Clarity Group, we’ve shed ourselves of these shackles. We shine a light on the real challenges and opportunities within two primary areas: Consumer Engagement and the Social Enterprise. There are a lot of adaptive technologies and innovative change practices that come together to enable these phenomena. We look at it through a bit of a different lens, and focus on helping organizations make better choices. We believe that clarity, that is to say digital clarity, can only be achieved through knowledge. And that’s what we strive to provide.


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