Research Approach

We began designing this study in December 2013, determining the issues we wanted to explore on the topic of digital initiatives in large companies around the world.

Since words like ‘digital’, ‘digitization’, ‘digital enterprise’, and ‘digital business’ are high level and can have multiple meanings, we must explain the types of digital initiatives we studied. For instance, what is plain old ‘information technology’ (the term in vogue for at least 30 years) vs. ‘digital technology’? Given that there have been dozens of ‘digital’ studies conducted in the last few years, and new ones every month, being able to shed new light on the topic required us to scope it tightly. We did so in two ways:

Exploring five types of digital technologies – defining digital technologies (as distinct from previous eras of IT) as those that allow companies to have digital online connections to customers and customers’ products wherever those customers and products are (in their office, at home, traveling, and so on). That, of course, requires those customers and the products they use to also have digital devices of some type. So what’s fundamentally different today from 10 and certainly 20 years ago is that the technology of yesteryear wasn’t nearly as powerful, miniaturized, and affordable as it is today. Technology is now in the hands of customers and in products they purchase.

In addition, we focused on the fi ve sets of digital technologies that make this happen: mobile devices (not only cell phones and smartphones but also sensors, digital meters and other devices that communicate digital information wirelessly); cloud computing (the data centers that collect, process and transmit digital data to mobile devices); social media (the public websites that many companies monitor today to better understand what customers and the greater public are saying about them); Big Data and analytics technologies (the technology now available to process all this digital customer and product performance data); and artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics (which enables some analytics to be automated, a company’s products in the field to adjust their performance, and a company’s own supply chain to identify and correct flawed products and processes).

Focusing on customer related initiatives – activities using the five digital technologies to establish an ongoing digital connection to customers. We thus did not focus on digital initiatives that improved a company’s procurement function, accounting system, HR system, compliance and legal function, or other areas having no digital online interactions with customers, or no benefit from it.

In particular, we set out to explore five issues:

  1. How are large global companies using digital technologies to interact with, gain a greater understanding of, and increase their value to customers?
  2. What are the digital strategies of companies that have created the most value forcustomers and the greatest benefi ts to the organizations themselves?
  3. In what industries are companies making the greatest changes to their businesses because of digital technology – for example, changes to their core product and/or service off ering, business processes, segmentation, and even their fundamental business model?
  4. What digital technologies and combinations of technologies are most important to success?
  5. What are the keys to success at digital initiatives?

After creating an initial set of hypotheses on these issues, we then determined how we would explore them, i.e., our research approach. We designed two primary research streams:

Quantitative: An extensive online survey with 23 questions that was fielded by Research Now, a major survey panel firm. In all, we surveyed 13 industry sectors, both B2C and B2B), and 820 respondents completed all questions. The questions were close-ended, with multiple choice, Likert scale (mostly 1 to 5 scales), or numerical responses.

Qualitative: In-depth telephone interviews with nine executives who are leading digital initiatives in their companies. We have kept the names of these executives and their companies anonymous. We also conducted extensive online secondary research for corporate presentations, company blog posts, media articles, and other sources of information on the digital initiatives of large companies. We uncovered several dozen examples of such initiatives by companies such as Walt Disney Co., Starbucks, Netflix, General Motors, General Electric, Burberry and Verizon.

The Online Survey