Omnichannel seems to be a dominant theme in my consulting practice this year. Organizations are hitting a wall as it relates to the types of experiences that they can offer their customers in an environment in which the development of those experiences happens in technological and organizational silos. If you’re not sure about the meaning of omnichannel, you’re not alone. I think Noz Urbina’s definition is a solid one:
“Omnichannel is the unification of engagement and communication strategies so that they complement each other – rather than run in parallel – to give the audience what they need. That means experience orchestration across multiple touchpoints and aligning content, design, governance, and systems around the customers’ journeys.”Noz Urbina
Of the list of factors in Noz’s definition, three of them get a lot of airplay in organizations: content, systems, and design. That’s because, while hard, technologies exist to support an omnichannel strategy and content strategies and designs can be conceived —but they can’t be implemented without a governing framework for support. Omnichannel’s all-encompassing nature demands that its supporting team is organized and aligned to a unified strategy, policies, and standards, so that the customer journeys being implemented can leverage the content, technologies, and channels that represent many organizational silos.
Omnichannel Demands Governance
Most organizations that I’ve worked with can’t do that—or won’t do that. And, that’s why their omnichannel strategies get drafted, but then often become shelfware. From my perspective, this common failure scenario usually occurs because business success metrics and employee reward structures are organized and hardened around a particular way of doing business. Typically, the digital team has their way of doing work, which has grown up over the last 20 to 25 years, and then you have the teams that manage other channels, whether direct mail, call centers, or physical storefronts. In some markets, like the automotive industry, there is a rich diversity of channels and contact points to consider. You’ve got connected cars, mobile apps, and purchasing experiences that include car configuration tools, websites, social media, and the various technology stacks of dealership partners—all on a global footprint. But the teams that support these different aspects are often siloed—deep silos with double-thick walls. These are barriers that an omnichannel strategy must address. Some walls between silos need to be knocked down and other silos connected, so that the team can work well together and still maintain a focus on their distinct area of expertise. And you can determine what approach you need to take by stepping through the process of designing a governing framework.
Governance Improves Team Communication
Having a governing framework and knowing who is accountable for strategy, policy, and standards is an excellent thing on its own. But the process of creating that framework has value distinct from its outcome. When you create a governing structure, it forces your team to have some critical conversations. Those conversations center on how the team is organized, who reports to whom, or who is in charge of making decisions about content, systems, design standards, and so on. Your team has probably talked about those things a lot already, but probably in the middle of some project or initiative that has a deadline. When you talk about these issues outside of day-to-day operations or out of the context of a project, there’s less weight to the conversation. So, there is more room for participants to air their open and honest opinions. When people feel free to offer up their ideas without being pointed at as the person who is trying to slow down a project or grab power in some way, a positive dynamic develops that can flow into other team interactions. That’s a good thing. The process of building a governance framework helps improve team collaboration by improving team communication.
The Difference Between Digital & Omnichannel Governance
I’m usually helping teams out with digital governance problems—helping them design a framework. If you are used to focusing on digital governance, tackling omnichannel can be disorienting. Sometimes teams say “omnichannel” when they really mean “all the digital channels.” Here are some revised governance definitions for omnichannel that can help give you the right frame of reference:
|Scope||The digital experiences your organization wants to govern.||The channels or experiences your organization wants to govern.|
|Team||The resources that develop, support, manage, and heavily influence digital products and services. Where are they in the organization, and how do they collaborate?||The people that influence and manage the channels and experiences. Where are they in the organization, and how do they collaborate?|
|Strategy||How your organization will leverage digital capabilities to meet business goals. Who are the people that write this strategy? How is success measured?||How your organization will leverage its capacity to meet omnichannel goals. Who are the people that write this strategy? How is success measured?|
|Policy||The rules that determine what your organization must and must not do when operating online. Who stewards and writes these policies?||The guidance that determines what your organization must and must not do when interacting with customers, citizens, or partners. Who stewards and writes this policy?|
|Standards||The nature of the portfolio of digital products and services and the tools and techniques for developing them. Who stewards and writes these standards, and how is the digital team trained to uphold them?||The nature of your organization’s omnichannel portfolio of products and services and the tools and techniques for developing them. Who stewards and writes these standards, and how is the digital team trained to uphold them?|
As you can see, the breadth of omnichannel can mean that it is all-encompassing. That’s another reason that organizations often turn away. Sometimes, adopting an omnichannel approach means changing the way the entire business works. That’s challenging, but things aren’t going back to where they were before we had the internet and Web. Your organization will have to address omnichannel challenges at some juncture—that’s the trend. Better to recognize the obstacles proactively by considering what that might look like in your organization than to be forced to make those changes reactively after a competitor leaps ahead.
If you like Noz’s definition of omnichannel, he’s started an omnichannel conference in Amsterdam. This year, it’s being held June 8-10. Early bird tickets are available until April 6. I spoke at the inaugural event last year. It’s an intimate conference with a balance of industry expertise and case studies.