How industry leaders approach digital transformation

Digital transformation — in which a business totally overhauls its strategy to take advantage of the full breadth of opportunities digital technologies have to offer — is one of the key issues facing traditional businesses as they confront ever-increasing competition from online-only rivals. Odds are, you’re already aware of this, and are looking at how to tackle this for your own organization. In this post, we’ll take a look at the three main considerations when overhauling your digital strategy: the need to move quickly, creating delightful customer experiences (across platforms), and doing so at scale. Peppered throughout are examples on how industry leaders approach their digital strategies.

1. It’s all about speed and agility

In order to compete in a digital-first world, you need the ability to quickly deliver relevant information and delightful experiences to your customers. Your users expect instant results, but they also demand quality. According to a 2016 study by Google’s DoubleClick, when comparing sites that load in 5 seconds to sites that load in 19 seconds, the faster sites had 70% longer average session lengths, 35% lower bounce rates, and 25% higher ad viewability than their slower counterparts.

Travel metasearch engine KAYAK is available in over 30 countries in 18 different languages. They need to be as innovative and responsive as possible, in order to create the best experiences for travelers booking online. This includes providing the most up-to-date search results in real time; as VP of IT Tom Parker notes, if travelers have to wait to get results, “they’ll go somewhere else — it’s important to get results back to users as quickly as possible.”

Speed isn’t just about getting your customers instant results (although that’s certainly important). You also need to empower your engineering teams to move quickly — supporting agile workflows so they can launch the latest products almost as fast as they’re conceived.

“This business is all about speed and agility.”
Tom Parker, VP of IT, KAYAK

It’s critical that KAYAK maintains the ability to run with new ideas. They have a lot of creative folks on their team, so they choose tools that enable them to stay nimble, rolling out new products faster, going from concept to reality in a couple days, as opposed to weeks or months. (As a bonus, being able to deploy more often and more quickly also helps reduce your risk and allows you to respond more rapidly to security issues.)

Another element to fostering innovation and agile engineering teams is an openness to new technology. As New York Times CTO Nick Rockwell knows quite well, you have to take smart risks in order to make forward progress. They adopted a multi-cloud architecture to take advantage of bleeding edge technology, with the full understanding that they can (and will) pivot if it doesn’t work out.

2. Delighting your customers in the digital age

Gone are the days of your customers coming in through just a single location (i.e., a physical storefront). You have to delight them on all (digital) fronts — mobile is of course key, but it’s important to explore new technologies to reach both existing and potential customers, including IoT, VR, and AR. Your customers interact with you on multiple platforms and media channels — by creating a comprehensive digital solution, you delight them throughout all stages of their experience.

Dollar Shave Club is a great example of a company that has done this well; they’ve scaled a comprehensive customer experience, from digital interactions to shipping top-of-the-line shaving essentials. It’s a strategy that’s clearly been working: Unilever acquired Dollar Shave Club for $1 billion in July 2016.

In fact, Dollar Shave Club is a self-described “experience company” — while they ship physical products to their three million+ members, a critical part of that customer experience is digital, whether it’s updating subscription preferences through the mobile app or browsing the latest grooming products on

“I am willing to do things quickly based on conviction and keeping our eyes open."
Nick Rockwell, CTO, New York Times

It’s important to always consider new and innovative ways to delight your customers on the digital front. The New York Times, for example, has a long-standing tradition of turning off its paywall on election night, which allows them to reach new readers and keep everyone up to date during a momentous event. In November 2016, they also offered live forecasts — updated on their site, in real time — and streamed election coverage on Facebook. The NYT mobile app, as always, sent push notifications on breaking news, even when the app was closed, and they also hosted a special, call-in addition of their Run-up podcast, in which Times politics reporters fielded questions from listeners.

3. Bring it all together with scale

As you digitally delight customers and release the latest products in real time, it’s critical to be able to continue that trajectory at scale. If your digital transformation efforts are working, your customer base will continue to grow, and you’ll have to rise to meet their growing expectations online.

Dollar Shave Club CEO Michael Dubin knows this all too well — their first-ever ad went viral, sending millions to their site, in turn causing it to crash.

In 2016 they decided to not take any chances when they were planning for the biggest of all ad situations: the Super Bowl. This time, they had the proper infrastructure in place to handle an even bigger influx of traffic to their site. On game day, they saw 190x spikes in traffic, and their site held up perfectly.

As noted in the last section, The New York Times engaged with readers on multiple digital fronts during the 2016 presidential election, and those efforts paid off — on election night, they saw an astonishing 8,371% jump in traffic as readers rushed to check the (for many, surprising) results.

Both Dollar Shave Club and The New York Times made significant investments in their digital strategies and their infrastructure; in order to scale, they couldn't do one without the other. The latter involved re-architecting bits (or all!) of their sites and applications, and integrating tools that support both sudden spikes in traffic and sustained growth over time — all while enhancing digital experiences.

“Slack was designed to be used at the pace of humans.”
Julia Grace, Director of Infrastructure, Slack

When considering the technology that powers your business, it’s critical to take scale into account — is that technology prepared to grow with you and your users over time? Slack, the ubiquitous workplace chat app, has over 5 million active users sending tens of thousands of messages a minute across a wide variety of devices and network conditions. That use case (at that scale) wasn’t entirely anticipated. According to Director of Infrastructure Julia Grace, Slack’s initial design was “like a firehose” — information would be sent simultaneously which, at 10,000 messages a minute, would be overwhelming for both users and the platform.In order to address the needs of their users as they scaled, Slack had to rethink their infrastructure design.

In order to continue to delight their users (getting them their messages quickly, but not too quickly), and accommodate a rapidly growing user base, Slack had to rethink their approach, applying a back end mindset to the front — taking performance and scale into account when creating wonderful user experiences.

By focusing on your customers first, and being diligent about providing fast, delightful experiences that scale, you’ll be well positioned in your early digital transformation efforts. Stay tuned for our next post in the series, which will tackle common concerns regarding security in the cloud, and what steps you can take to provide seamless customer experiences while keeping your users, systems, and data secure.

Courtney Nash
Director of Content

6 min read

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Courtney Nash
Director of Content

Courtney Nash is the Director of Content Strategy at Fastly. Previously she directed editorial programming and chaired multiple conferences for O'Reilly Media, including Velocity, a key part of Fastly's early origins. An erstwhile academic neuroscientist, she is still fascinated by the brain and how it informs our interactions with technology. She’s taught people how to dance, how the brain works, and how to catch air on a mountain bike.

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