I?ve started using the phrase digital professional, in particular in my recent article dinging Amazon?s cloud division Amazon Web Services (AWS) for not having a clear digital strategy. However, I haven?t been very clear on what I mean, so it?s time to put a finer point on this terminology.
Others were designated as creatives, including graphic designers and the like. A third subset of the web professional community were the marketing people: hammering out web strategies, focusing on key performance indicators like conversions and churn, and figuring out how to communicate to users using this newfangled World Wide Web of ours.
And finally, there were the information architects, designing page flows and form interactions, making sure site maps made sense and navigation worked as expected.
On Beyond the Web
Cut to 2014, and the digital professional sports all these roles and more. Today digital is much more than the web, as it also comprises mobile, social media, and a burgeoning class of newer technology touchpoints that are currently undergoing a phase of rapid, disruptive innovation ? everything from iBeacons to thermostats and other consumer-facing parts of the Internet of Things (IoT). We might classify anybody who works in any of these areas as a digital professional.
However, in spite of its technology-centric label, digital is not really about the technology per se. What?s important about digital today is the fact that customer preferences and behavior are driving organizations? technology choices ? most notably in the B2C world, but also in B2B as well.
Digital transformation, therefore, includes more than technology change. The real transformation is organizational, as customers are driving enterprises to change the way they do business in fundamental ways.
Transforming the Role of Marketing
This transformative nature of digital predictably impacts the roles of digital professionals. While the first-generation web was first and foremost a marketing channel, digital goes well beyond marketing ? or from another perspective, marketing itself is undergoing a digital transformation.
If we define marketing broadly as the part of an organization responsible for communicating with current and prospective customers, then digital is shifting and expanding the roles of marketing to include data scientists, engineers, and architects of many varieties, as well as operational personnel, both on the business side as well as within IT.
As a result, digital teams tend to be cross-organizational. For innovative enterprises, these teams should be self-organizing and only loosely connected to the management hierarchy of the rest of the organization. Most importantly, digital teams should not contain only techies. They should have a mix of different skillsets from different parts of the organization, where ideally the team self-selects and self-organizes to tackle the task at hand.
Will Everyone Be a Digital Professional?
My definition of the digital professional is necessarily quite inclusive. However, while it might sound like everyone in the organization falls into this category, such an eventuality is unlikely and often undesirable. Certainly, as enterprises ramp up their digital transformation efforts, most of the organization will have a much broader variety of roles and goals than the members of the digital teams.
Even as digital transformation takes hold, I would expect only some organizations to end up essentially becoming all-digital. True, it?s possible some web-scale companies may fall into this extreme case (Netflix and Spotify come to mind as possibilities), but it?s unreasonable to expect every bank or manufacturer or government agency to transform into the next Netflix.
Nevertheless, even for traditional enterprises, digital transformation will spread horizontally across the organization, recasting and re-purposing people as they shift from their traditional roles to becoming digital professionals. You don?t need to be a techie in IT, and you don?t need to be a web guru to qualify. But you do need to focus on the shifting needs and preferences of your customer.