How Does the IT Channel Define “Digital”?
By the looks of it, managed services providers (MSPs) may have an unexpected terminology challenge ahead of them with current and potential customers. A recent report by IT research firm Gartner (NYSE: RHT) sparked our curiosity on how the IT channel views the terms “digital” and “digital strategy.” What do digital and digital strategy mean to you? More importantly, what does it mean to your customers? Are you both on the same page? If there's a difference in definition between MSPs, vendors, and customers, how can there be effective discussion on the future of the channel? We've reached out to experts in the channel to weigh in on this topic for this MSPmentor exclusive.
According to Gartner's CEO and senior executive survey, 52 percent of respondents said that they have a digital strategy — but what does that mean exactly? Gartner Vice President Distinguished Analyst Jorge Lopez questioned their understanding of a digital strategy.
“CEOs and leadership teams must crystallize what they mean by digital strategy and work with a small subgroup from the executive team to define what 'digital' means and how it manifests in the broader business strategy,” he said. “They must ensure all elements of the digital strategy link clearly to the core business strategy, and that they do not form an independent, possibly distracting, program of change.”
Dictionary and Wikipedia
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary's first definition of digital is: “of or relating to the fingers or toes,” but somehow we think that's not really what these CEOs mean. It's not until definition number 3 that we get to “of, relating to, or using calculation by numerical methods or by discrete units” and number 4: “of, relating to, or being data in the form of especially binary digits…”
Wikipedia has this to say about what “digital” means: “A digital system is a data technology that uses discrete (discontinuous) values. By contrast, non-digital (or analog) systems represent information using a continuous function. Although digital representations are discrete, the information represented can be either discrete, such as numbers and letters or continuous, such as sounds, images, and other measurements.”
So you can see where there might be some confusion about just what CEOs mean by digital strategy. Here's what some experts in the tech industry say it means in the context of what CEOs are talking about.
Bring in the experts for their opinions
Strata Information Technology, Inc President Pete Robbins uses the terms technology solutions and digital solutions interchangeably, citing the lack of digital solutions in small businesses, which is a much slower process than for larger businesses.
“The small business owner will implement over time, digital solutions to solve small problems for specific areas of their business, see the impact and then extend it to other areas of their business,” he said. “Whereas in a large enterprise, they may implement a company-wide digital solution that will impact the whole company. The small business tends to be risk adverse, a wrong decision could break them as a company.”
Aruba Networks (NASDAQ:ARUN) Senior Corporate Communications Director Dayle Hall commented via email on the digital aspect of a company's digital strategy, directing attention to the transferring of data electronically.
Hall defined digital as the “electronic form of transfer – whether it means a fast secure data transfer (i.e. connecting to Wi-Fi) or whether its knowledge transfer (i.e. digital assets, digital advertising or wikipedia), digital facilitates the transfer of something critical.”
A company spokesperson added that in many joint customer announcements, companies, particularly universities, have been using the term “digital” to refer to technology initiatives.
Red Hat (NYSE: RHT) Strategy and Corporate Marketing Executive Vice President Jackie Yeaney suggested that coming up with digital strategies can get messy.
“There's got to be an end strategy for digital, which is why it's confusing — it's a how, not a what,” she said. “If you start your notion at wanting a digital strategy, you're going to miss some important aspects of the key changes in your business.”
Where do we go from here?
How should vendors, MSPs, and customers define digital and digital strategy? How will different definitions affect the IT channel? Are you currently noticing any of these challenges? If so, how can the those of us in the IT channel communicate effectively with one another? Miscommunication can only weaken relationships, especially between partners and customers.