Eight Lessons for Digital Leaders

  • 9-Aug-2016

This month marks the fifteen-year anniversary of Real Story Group, a proud milestone for us. But in this post I'd like to share eight lessons in the interest of fulfilling RSG's central mission: helping you make better technology decisions.

Let's divide the last 15 years into three segments, and see what lessons you can take away that will make you more effective today.
 

Real Story Group 15 year logo

1) The First Five Years

Founded as "CMS Watch" in 2001, our initial mission was to help you pick the right Web CMS product to fit your needs. The market was (and still is!) highly fragmented, while confusion reigned (and still does!) about how CMS tools really differed.

The key lessons were...

  • "Right Fit"
    It was a challenge to talk about fit, because this was a time when analyst quadrants declaring absolute winners and losers still predominated customer discussions. In fact, it was after reading traditional analyst reports that I decided to start CMS Watch in the first place. Analyst research was too vendor-influenced and smacked of PPT presentations rather than real implementation experience. I never thought that customers were getting the real story on how the tools actually worked — or didn't work.
    Lesson #1: The best solution is the one that fits best for your unique circumstances.

  • "Highly Fragmented"
    The first CMS Report in 2001 evaluated 16 vendors. Senior people in the analyst industry cautioned we were covering too many suppliers, that consolidation would come, and anyway Microsoft would surely dominate, maybe leaving some crumbs for IBM, EMC, and Oracle. Never happened.
    Lesson #2: Digital technology rewards innovation and new players, while old-guard vendors usually struggle to adapt.

2) The Middle Five Years

From 2006-2011 we expanded the team by bringing aboard some fabulous thought leaders, then solidified a common research methodology that we continue to adapt today. We also widened the digital technologies we covered: to DAM, ECM, Portals, Social-Collaboration, and Online Marketing. (Sometimes we had to cancel reports about technologies that never lifted off; live and learn.) Along the way we widened our name, too, becoming Real Story Group.

The key lessons were...

  • "Solid Methodology"
    We learned that the key to evaluating vendors amid diverse customer needs is to employ scenario-based methodologies. Vendors are good at some things, weak at others. Feature-only analysis and yelp-style ratings don't tell you much. The key is how the technology works for your use-cases. Scenarios got us to drawing meaningful conclusions about vendors, and they can get you there too.
    Lesson #3: Get beyond vendor and analyst hype and apply user-centered design to create solid journeys to guide your choices.

  • "Wider Digital"
    Our subscribers increasingly asked us to explain how the different tools fit together, and how to make decisions within a broader digital business strategy. "Should we use our DAM platform for product information management?" "Can our WCM tool do effective outbound marketing as well?" "And where should we invest first?" Our responses are rarely simple, but increasingly we can point to research-based answers via practical reference models.
    Lesson #4: Digital leaders need to know more than just one technology, and a savvy enterprise will create a logical architecture for how different pieces fit together within broader Digital Workplace and MarTech strategies.

3) The Last Five Years

2011 - 2016 found us addressing tectonic infrastructure and consumer changes, most notably around cloud and mobile, but also the coming of age of media-rich communications and social-everywhere. You told us that you have less time to make technology decisions, but with digital ambitions (and budgets) growing, those decisions became ever more impactful. We responded by converting most of our research to decision-making tools, to help you simplify complex choices and output presentations that can help improve team alignment.

The key lessons were...

  • "Tectonic Changes"
    We've seen how, in times of great change, "strategic considerations" around the vendor and the product's customer ecosystem can matter more to your success than the technology itself. In our RealQuadrant shortlist generator, you can apply different weights to ten strategic considerations as part of building your own custom quadrant.
    Lesson #5: Make sure to assess the vendor, its implementation partners, and its customer ecosystem just as carefully as you scrub the technology.

  • "Team Improvement"
    You've successfully licensed and implemented some tools, but are you getting full value from them? Digital success requires effective digital teams and operations, as well as business leadership to support a transformation journey. Drawing on more than a decade working with large enterprises, we created the RealScore benchmarking application for you to visualize what you're doing well and where your team needs to improve.
    Lesson #6: Digital winners will have built winning digital operations, able to bridge enterprise departments, and justify consistent support from top leadership.

The Next Five Years?

What will the next half-decade bring? No doubt more digital acceleration, fueled at least in part by IoT, Big Data, and pervasive bots (both digital and real), with a layer of cognitive services to make it feel more human. We don't know yet how all this will play out. I believe, though, that somehow those enterprises already really skilled at the basics of information, process, and experience design and execution will continue to lead in this new world.

For many enterprises, success will entail finding the right balance in two areas...

  • "Architecture"
    The advent of the cloud enables microservices-based delivery that could finally realize the original enterprise architecture dream of SOA. However, I think this vision is colliding with a business software marketplace that increasingly emphasizes empowering non-technical users to drive adaptive changes without IT.
    Lesson #7: A successful digital strategy — especially in the MarTech world — will balance architectural purity with key exceptions for important business objectives.

  • "Usability"
    As digital tools become more sophisticated, the age-old battle between extensible platforms versus simple products continues. System owners and power users want rich (read: complex), highly functional platforms. Workaday users often want simpler products, and can find them outside the enterprise firewall. We see this bifurcation play out in each market we cover.
    Lesson #8: Enterprises should embrace digital complexity in areas core to their business, while promoting simpler, lesser-featured technology for non-core activity.

For our part, RSG will continue to apply decision tools, frameworks, and models to help you make good choices. If your firm is not yet a subscriber, reach out to see how we can make you more successful.

Our customers say...

"This excellent research has saved weeks of work reviewing the marketplace to enable a tender to be sent out to just a handful of potential vendors in record time. Well done."

Martin Beake, ITT Consultant, 2Sys Limited, Malmesbury, UK

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