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digital strategy and operations model

If your business is serious about digital, then it’s important to invest some real time and effort developing a ‘digital strategy’. Unfortunately many businesses believe that building a website and opening a Facebook Page constitutes a ‘strategy’, but it’s a little more involved than that; at least it is if you want to derive as much benefit from your digital efforts as possible.

To give you a head start, I’ve published a Digital Strategy and Operations Model that you can use to guide your thinking.


Please read the notes below in conjunction with the model.  I’m interested in your thoughts about the model and whether you have any feedback or suggestions – leave your comments below!

Notes about the Model

  • The model is broken into three levels – the strategic, operational and tactical. Many organisations are guilty of focusing on the ‘tactical’ (eg. they start an Instagram feed because it’s all the rage) without ever really considering the strategic and operational.  Incidentally, I’m an ex-military officer, so strategic, operational and tactical are words that I am very familiar with.
  • It’s important to note that the overarching Organisational Strategy informs the digital strategy. A Digital Strategy should not be produced in isolation of an Organisational Strategy, otherwise it will fail.  The Digital Strategy should ‘plug in’ to the higher strategy and contribute to the stated vision and mission of the organisation.
  • You might note that I’ve chosen to use the nomenclature ‘Digital Business Strategy’. Many people equate ‘digital strategy’ with ‘digital marketing strategy’, but it’s more than just ‘marketing’.  The term ‘Digital Business Strategy’ seeks to widen the conception of what digital is.  It isn’t just running an Adwords campaign or sticking up some banners, as some marketers would have you believe!
  • At the strategic level, I think that a Digital Business Strategy should be produced every three years. Some will argue that this is not frequent enough, due to the ever-changing digital landscape.  Like other strategic documents, however, the intent of this document is to provide an overarching framework and direction for your digital program and should not delve into specifics which are addressed at the operational level (more on that later).
  • The Digital Business Strategy should incorporate these elements:
    • Vision and principles – these statements should align the Digital Business Strategy with the higher organisational strategy
    • Market and trend analysis – a broad overview of the current state of the digital landscape and where it is heading in the next three years
    • Competitor analysis – a detailed analysis of the organisation’s competitors using tools such as Porter’s Five Forces and how this impacts upon your organisation’s digital offering.
    • Audience segmentation and customer personas- a break-down of your overall audience into segments – the different stakeholder and interest groups that you are seeking to target your business at. Producing customer personas is a useful way of conceptualising the end-user in all their various forms.
    • Audience objectives – what are your objectives with each of the audience segments?  What do you want them to do? How do you want your relationship with each segment to change?
    • Audience strategies, technologies and channels – whilst most of this detail will come in your operational level documentation, it’s appropriate to call out the broad mechanisms and channels that you will use to achieve your audience objectives.
    • Enterprise architecture – generally any digital initiatives in an organisation need to occur in concert with activity in a multitude of other divisions – IT, sales, marketing, customer service, HR, operations.  It’s important that your digital strategy ‘fits’ with these activities – particularly IT!
    • Methodologies – what project and development methodologies will you be using to implement your strategy?  A structured project management methodology? A iterative Agile development methodology? How will you get stuff done?
    • People and roles – often overlooked, your people strategy is perhaps the most critical element for success! Who will do the work? Will the digital program be undertaken by a dedicated digital team? Or will each vertical business unit have their own digital element? If so, who will be responsible for cross-functional facilitation and ensuring that silos are avoided?
    • Organisational culture and change – Another area that is often overlooked, but is critical for success.  How will your organisation move with the times? How do you get ‘buy in’ from all internal stakeholders?  How will you communicate and embed change as you enact your strategy?
    • Governance – these are the mechanisms that you put in place to oversee the digital program – for example, you may choose to create a Digital Governance Committee and a Digital Working Group that meets regularly to control the program. How does this plug in to the organisation’s fixed governance structures (the board, the executive management group)
    • Risk and compliance – Digital activity brings with it risk (eg. the prospect of a staff member tweeting confidential information in real-time) and the requirement to comply with relevant legislation (eg. the SPAM and Privacy Acts). How will you manage this?
    • Policies and processes – the Digital Business Strategy should call out the important policies and processes required by the strategy (eg. Social Media Usage Policy)
    • Budget and resources – general information about how the program is to be funded
    • KPIs and measurement – the strategy should include a broad plan for how the success of the program will be measured.
  • The operational level of the model is all about ‘customer channels’ – unlike the Digital Business Strategy which contains a lot of inward-focused content, the operational level is unashamedly all about the ‘customer’, ‘user’ or ‘audience’.
  • Unlike the Digital Business Strategy, the channel plans should be produced annually. This provides the organisation with the year-to-year flexibility to move with the times and to adopt new technologies that emerge.
  • The annual basis of these plans allows the digital program to call out specific projects and initiatives for the year ahead, and to allocate an annual budget by channel. Senior executives are always looking for transparency of expenditure and allocating funds by channel provides more comfort for them than asking for a large lump sum for the entire digital program. It also gives the digital program the flexibility to reallocate funds within a channel as conditions change – in some cases, an initiative called out in an annual plan in June could be redundant six months later due to evolving technology.
  • Channels should obviously be chosen on the basis of the audience analysis undertaken earlier.  I have listed off some channels that are likely to be a part of your channel mix:
    • Web – your organisational website and microsites – everything that can be accessed in a web browser
    • Mobile – apps and other native functionality of mobile devices, such as near field communications and location services (if you have a separate mobile site, you could cover it here, but preferably you’ll have a fully responsive site that should be covered in the ‘web’ channel above)
    • Search and online marketing – your SEO, SEM and paid online advertising plan; the way that you are found online
    • Social – your social media assets (eg. Facebook Page) and paid social media marketing
    • Messaging – transactional email, eDMs, SMS, MMS, IM, chat, etc
    • Video and broadcasts – online video, online broadcasting, video conferencing
    • E-commerce – if you sell stuff
    • Gaming – not for every business, but could be its own channel if you have the $$
    • CRM and data – a growing area – how you capture and use data from customers
    • And any others that you can think of that justifies its own plan!
  • The tactical level is the ‘business as usual’ (BAU) of digital, the everyday stuff that needs to be done to keep the digital program moving onwards and upwards:
    • General management – who is in charge and making the day-to-day decisions?
    • Systems administration – the mundane, but necessary, tasks to keep systems functioning correctly
    • Audience support and engagement – customer service, responding to social comments, community management; a relentless but critical job.
    • Content production and curation – it’s necessary to keep feeding the machine if you hope to stay relevant. New articles, blog posts, white papers, etc.
    • Online marketing activities – tending to Google Adwords, creating online campaigns, dealing with online marketing agencies
    • Discoverability optimisation – your everyday SEO efforts to stay prominent in the search engines
    • Analytics and reporting – monitoring Google Analytics, producing reports and shiny graphs for managers
    • Diagnostics and monitoring – monitoring site health, fixing errors and tweaking configuration settings

Clearly, there’s lots more meat to put on the bones, but I hope that you find this model useful. I’m interested to hear your comments – have I missed anything?  I’ll keep evolving this model as new things pop up!

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