Everything that can be digital will be digital

Dave Gray, founder, XPLANE, co-founder at Boardthing.com, and author the Connected Company

A lot of things can change for a company in thirty years. During this time, Dave Gray has interpreted perfectly many of the needs of large corporations. Proof of this is his great and varied experience in such diverse fields as design, communication, collaboration, corporate culture, innovation, change management…

Since he started his professional career, he founded XPLANE (acquired by Dachis Group in 2010), a business design consultancy which has served more than 50 of the Fortune 500; and he co-founded Boardthing, a collaboration platform for distributed teams.

Also, he has written three books on innovation, change and design: Selling to the VP of NO, Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers; and The Connected Company. He is currently working on a fourth book which is due out from Rosenfeld Media in 2015.

In a digital context, like the one we are living  in, Dave Gray answered our questions, giving us a complete picture of his understanding of digital transformation and how it affects businesses, employees and customers from different points of view.


How are the new digital businesses being transformed by this brand-new relationship between companies and customers?

 Companies know that Marketing and Communication makes money if they do it well. It makes sense to me that the initial impetus and initial driving force for organizations is on the marketing and the sales side, where social media has clear benefits to building relationships with customers, being able to track behavior at a level that is unprecedented to date.

But, even companies are aware that customers don’t usually see them as one company. For example, if I want to interact with AT&T, and they are trying to sell me something, I’m dealing with a whole different organization than when I call in to AT&T for support or help. Most companies don’t do a very good job at looking like a single company when the customer is talking to them and building a relationship.

One reason that could explain this problem is because organizations have not actually done the internal connecting that is necessary to make them able to be responsive to customers and operate as if they are one organization as opposed to a lot of different divisions.


Which are the top notch companies that are conducting relevant actions in the digital arena?

The one that stands out the most to me is Amazon.com. In fact, Amazon operates in many ways like a network of companies. What Amazon has done very well is organize. It organizes its teams and the work differently depending on what kind of work they doing, because some things change really fast and some things change a lot more slowly.

In the areas where things change relatively slowly, Amazon has organized in a pretty traditional way. They talk about drones and they may be exploring that opportunity but, for the most part, an Amazon warehouse, although it may be highly automated, does not look that different from many other warehouses.

On the technology side, where things are shifting very quickly, Amazon has organized a much more distributed network with small teams interlinked to each other. They know that the Amazon homepage a year from now may be quite different than the Amazon homepage of today. At least they need to be ready and able to be able to shift that and move that and change that relatively rapidly.

Another key aspect is the way in which companies set up their chain of command and its relationship with the new digital scenario. If you walk around at Amazon or Google or Facebook, you will see a much lower proportion of managers. You will see a much flatter organization, because when teams are self-organized and self-directed, you just don’t need as many managers.

This actually hits on one of the big transformation challenges for a large organization. What happens to managers when the organization does this digital transformation and suddenly all that the work they do is no longer necessary, because it’s being handled by the social network and by teams that are self-reporting.

A lot of managers spend the majority of their time in meetings sharing information. Well, if that information is all available on the social network, a lot of middle managers are very threatened by that. It threatens their job. Even if it doesn’t threaten their job, it puts them in a position of wondering, well, what am I going to do in this new world? How am I going to be relevant? What is my job? How is my job going to be different? There are a lot of very big transformation challenges.

It’s much easier to build a connected company from scratch than it is to take a traditional hierarchical organization and transform it to a digitally connected company. Of course, everything is harder when you are big. Everything is harder and more difficult.

We invite you to visit  our SlideShare profile where Dave Gray answers to the following questions

  • There are a lot of people talking about digital business, but what do you mean by a digital business?
  • In your opinion, would you recommend that traditional companies should become digital, or to apply a mid-way of transformation?
  • Who should lead the digital transformation, business or technology departments?
  • There are a lot of fake players around customer experience and design thinking. What is your opinion about this?
  • What is your personal vision about what is going to happen in the next year concerning internet of things?
  • What do you think about sharing economy? Are you a heavy user of this kind of services?
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