7 digital workplace trends in 2018

My colleagues and I on the J. Boye team constantly get current and honest insights about what works – and what doesn’t at the many organisations in our network. Our global network of digital workplace professionals generously give us privileged access to insights and best practices.

Consequently, a common question we get asked is: What are the key emerging trends?

Prompted by a visit to our member at Deutsche Post DHL in Bonn, we took the opportunity to review recent agendas and identify what’s really moving in this evolving space.

The basics haven’t changed much; It it is not a new trend, but still:

  • senior management support is a prerequisite
  • a roadmap for the evolution of your digital workplace is very useful (and more so than an elaborate strategy…)

These elements are firmly in place among those we might call digital workplace role models.

Below you’ll find a list (not exhaustive) of 7 digital workplace trends for 2018. Feel free to leave a comment below and share your perspective

1) Focus on design thinking and service design

Both design thinking and service design have become much more mainstream in 2018. It’s actually been around for a while; there are conferences on the topics and both areas encompass well-established practices: agile approach to development, customer journey mapping, personas and a more integrated approach to user experience.

It matters what we call things and these terms have a fair share of management appeal. Clearly, it is more than just management jargon and at the J. Boye Aarhus 17 conference, Maren Christin Hübl from SAP shared more on scaling design thinking and from their 14-years journey with design thinking.

As the numbers from Google Trends show, in particular, design thinking has been taking off for the past 5 years:


When it comes to the digital workplace, both concepts are becoming key ingredients in creating a superior employee experience. Recent discussions in our peer groups show how they are really delivering value and driving change.

2) Community management is taken [really] seriously

Community management has been talked about for years, but not prioritised; it has been talked up in many organisations, but the resources required to actually do a good job; mandate, time and training have been in sparse supply. Consequently, the real potential of online collaboration and communities has not been leveraged in most organisations; despite the often considerable investment in platform implementation, licensing costs etc. The current trend is towards the discipline being increasingly valued and understood. Just as is the currently the case with data privacy, community management has taken centre stage. When you take community management seriously, with dedicated resources and a plan, it can be a tremendous catalyst for change, knowledge sharing – and also foster a sense of belonging.

We’ve seen with social intranets how simple features like commenting and liking can act as a game changer for employee engagement. More than being about technology, community management is about people and can impact how we think about power and hierarchies in organisations.

Our partners at The Community Roundtable (TheCR) are thought-leaders on the topic. Do take a look at their research and helpful articles.

PS: You can meet Rachel Happe from TheCR at the J. Boye Conference in Denmark in November.

3) The best consider the physical workplace as well

I’ve had the pleasure of visiting Philips in Hamburg several times. To me, this is an example of how a large, complex and global organisation acts as role model when it comes to implementing the modern workplace.

around the innovative Philips regional headquarter in Hamburg

Another global organisation is IBM, which has started using co-working spaces instead of their own offices. In one case study, Big Blue teamed with WeWork to fuel collaboration and innovation.

Contrary to popular belief co-working spaces is no longer reserved for the start-ups and have become popular among many of our members. In fact, WeWork has become so popular, that they are now central London’s biggest occupier according to the Financial Times.

When the physical workspace changes and with remote working on the up, it also adds new requirements to the digital workplace. Technology needs to be able to support the new requirements and there’s a journey ahead of us for all.

Fabio Zilberstein from the European Commission recently shared a very interesting article provocatively titled: “The Workplace Is Killing People and Nobody Cares“. The article is from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and well worth a read on how the work environment also connects to our health and wellbeing.

4) Artificial intelligence and robotics have entered the building

AI and robotics are not really new. But technology has matured so fast that organisations are deploying AI and bots at an amazing rate and delivering real value and cost savings.

As with most technology Amara’s law applies here:


The use cases are plenty fold:

  • Voice used to provide answers to common employee questions
  • AI used to recommend search results
  • Robotics (RPA) to automate processes, where tasks performed by humans can be performed better and cheaper by bots
  • Chatbots to help onboarding new employees

5) Reaching out across the aisle; bringing HR, communication and IT closer together

Perhaps harsh to say that all those 3 departments have been marred by silo-thinking for the many years, but a clear tendency is that all now move closer together in order to improve the digital workplace – or whatever it is called inside the enterprise.

Who “owns”; or holds the overall responsibility foe the digital workplace is a common discussion among peers; yet there is typically wide agreement that no department should go alone.

The analysts at Gartner have the following definition of the digital workplace:

The Digital Workplace enables new, more effective ways of working; raises employee engagement and agility; and exploits consumer-oriented styles and technologies

This wide scope calls for cross-functional collaboration and while intranets were mostly a comms vehicle, the digital workplace is built by teams from across the organisation.

6) Beyond desk and office

While employee apps were an innovative thing in 2016, today there’s a plethora of offerings and plenty of experience with using them. Large organisations like Siemens have had multiple apps for several years.

Key values in being able to reach employees on smartphones and other non-desktop devices include engagement and being able to communicate with all employees.

This is also an area impacted by rapid technology improvements:

  • With the advent of Progressive Web Apps the entire app journey is changing and we can potentially strive for even higher adoption rates
  • Soon 5G mobile networks will be a reality and this will radically change Internet connection speeds and likely remove the need for Wifi

7) Amazing storytellers

Irrespective of technology decisions, there’s an increasing focus on corporate storytelling.

“Stories are engagement machines per excellence” said Robert Minton at a US peer group meeting a few years ago.

Uncovering and communicating the good stories from the many corners of any large organisation is a key function of a vibrant digital workplace. Stories help us identify, put things into perspective and help us decide between different options and ultimately make better decisions.

Video and sound (podcasts, for example) play a role here as sound and visuals help bring the stories to life; make them easier and more interesting to consume and bring authenticity to the stories.

As mentioned initially, this is not an exhaustive list; merely some of the prominent current trends in digital workplace evolution as we see it. What are you experiencing in your organisation? Any key trends not included here?

Use Cases: The enemy of collaboration?

Today’s modern workplace offers a plethora of collaboration tools, as we shift away from face-to-face interactions and increasingly towards digital connections. But making these work has always been complicated by:

  • Too many tools to choose from
  • Choosing between social or document-based collaboration
  • Having overlapping collaboration functionality within suites such as Office 365   
  • Low collaboration maturity in organisations to begin with

When deploying collaboration tools or determining the best way to use existing ones, we often draw upon standard IT project management practice and develop use cases for them. A well-worn route for connecting tools to users, for giving those tools a business goal, a purpose.

And that’s great, we always need a clear goal. And here is where we encounter the problem with use cases and collaboration: forced to try and reconcile two very different types of goal.

1. Tool biased goals

Use cases are biased towards the tool. They represent transactional needs and are viewed from the perspective of the tool and not of the user. We can refer to these as functional use cases, based on the function of the tool. But isn’t this just putting the cart before the horse?

We are unwittingly pre-determining how people should use the tools based on what the tools say they can do, and of course tools speak in a very different, very functional language. For example:

  • To share files with anyone in the organisation
  • To work on files at any location

bot-not-userMakes sense, but if we are after collaboration, this simply isn’t good enough. We have to ask ‘why’ to these questions. Why do we need to share documents? Why do we need to work on them at any location?

What are our ‘users’ doing? In fact, they are not users, they are people. They might not even need documents at all. The problem is we look at everything as an incremental solution. We used Excel to capture project data, so therefore we should continue to use Excel, only now we should do it in the cloud! That way we can work on the one file, anywhere! Is this a better way of managing a document? Possibly. Is it a force for collaboration? No.

It doesn’t ask any of the deeper, more fundamental questions we need to ask. Why are we capturing data? Who do we need to share it with? What happens at the end? For a moment, let’s forget we ever had an Excel file, forget how we’ve historically worked, and start again. If we actually mapped out people’s interactions based on answers to those questions, we’d have an entirely different use case.

Collaboration as a goal

Another approach would see us having collaboration as a goal in its own right. However noble this is, it still won’t help. Collaboration is never an end goal in itself, it’s a means of achieving an end. Basing a use case purely around what we think collaboration is (or would like it to be) will still drive us towards incremental changes, such as:

  • To have multiple authorship at one time on a file
  • To target content to selected groups
  • To be able to comment on anything at any time just because we can

Again, we have to look a little deeper and understand why we are collaborating. What are we collaborating for? What is the end result for the customer? More important than trying to roll out the broadest, smartest tools that allow us to collaborate better is trying to understand how as people we collaborate. What will motivate us, what will stop us. Where is the link to business outcomes?

What about user stories?

User stories at least acknowledge the perspective of the end-user. However, we still constrain our thinking by the capabilities of the tool and what we expect of it rather than what the problem is that we are actually trying to solve. For example: “As a remote site worker I need to be able to access data logged by the previous shift to identify my tasks”. All sounds reasonable, but all we do is find ways to connect the user with the previous shift’s data. We’re not looking into the actual process of collaboration: who are these people, why do they need to access their data and what does this data tell them? It may be that we’re actually trying to facilitate a conversation between two shifts, but instead only capture data because that’s what we’ve always done.

Use cases and user stories both still drive us to look at previous habits, building on functional capability rather than looking for real opportunities to collaborate based on deeper, fundamental business needs.

It’s about the people

Collaboration is never going to be built on a set of use cases and user stories which too often allow the tools to be the driver of the outcomes. It’s a people thing. It’s what we do when we need to work together to solve a problem or create new solutions and fresh thinking. Understanding what our people are doing, and who they need to collaborate with to improve our work is where we should start. I have absolutely nothing against collaboration tools, in fact they are capable of awesome things when properly used. But we need to challenge our assumptions on why we are using them, on why we are using documents as our vehicle and not conversations, on why we are collaborating in the first place.

A great way to start is to imagine you don’t have any IT tools – to forget about how we’ve historically done things. All we have instead are some people, a place of work, some roles and some customers. Then apply the same projects. What can we do to exceed our clients’ expectations? What can we do to do things better than last time? How would we work? Who do we need to work with? Answering these questions will give us the real use cases we need for our collaboration tools.

Flattening hierarchies, creating more visibility to our work are what collaboration tools are capable of. The question is, how can we leverage this in our own unique situations, what will it achieve and what do we need to do to engage our people in this? If we jump to this more openly communicative world, we need to understand what it means to the way we work, and crucially how we feel.

What if our use cases addressed emotions rather than functions? “I feel confident to highlight a failure on our enterprise social tool”. Now we can actually start to address some of the issues that hold us up truly collaborating.

Making the case for digital commerce transformation

While traditional retail continues to suffer in North America, the outlook for digital is strong, revenue is expected to keep climbing, and many organizations are investing in digital around the path to purchase.

Budgets for digital commerce continue to rise and seven-figure projects are not entirely uncommon. As a result, organizations that are contemplating change are more likely than ever to require a formal business case to secure approval to proceed with a digital commerce transformation roadmap.

At a high-level, a business case is a pretty simple deliverable to generate. Subtract the known costs from the expected benefits associated with an investment over time, calculate for the net present value of money, and if the result is at least one dollar more than zero, the investment is sound. That said, the due diligence around how one arrives at the expected benefits is likely to be carefully scrutinized.

Thus, when preparing a cost/benefit analysis, it is necessary to ask repeatedly: How will this undertaking impact profitability, by increasing revenue, or decreasing cost? After years of helping clients traverse these daunting questions, I’ve got a few suggestions to share.

Decrease the cost of operations by cleaning up technical debt

Technical debt is a blanket term for the frustrating net result of years of maintaining an existing, on-premise digital infrastructure. Over time many short-term fixes are applied for reasons that made perfect sense at the moment but have baffled the team ever since. As the years go by problems continue to grow; more quick-fixes are applied, entangling systems and making it more difficult and costly to keep things running at even a minimally viable level of acceptability.

While all this technical debt causes plenty of individual headaches and lost productivity, it also has a very tangible impact on the organization’s ability to support a modern, connected, and cohesive customer experience. It also introduces friction to the process of maintaining the platform, reducing efficiency and increasing the cost of otherwise simple operations. Frankly, you can forget about trying anything new, when it’s necessary to call in the I.T. department to move one comma in a product description.

Replacing an outdated platform not only eliminates all the technical debt that’s dragging the team down, but it also frees them up to try new things more quickly and efficiently than ever before. Suddenly, experimenting with A/B tested promotions, personalized search, and automated lead nurturing will soar to the top of the priority list, providing lift across the metrics that create value for your customers and your organization.

Increase revenue by improving the online customer experience

An eCommerce replatform project is an ideal time to reconsider the digital customer experience. First, because you will be ‘under the hood,’ as we say in the US, it will be quite efficient to design and implement new templates. Besides, this gives the business team something to do while the engineers spin up the underlying infrastructure.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, it is necessary to make changes to the experience if

you’re planning to take advantage of many of the best new features and functionality available in the latest platforms.

By now, most digital pros know the most popular statistics about customer experience:

  • “Customer Experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator by the year 2020.” – Walker
  • “70% of buying experiences are based on how the customer feels they are being treated.” – McKinsey
  • “72% of businesses say that improving the customer experience is their top priority.” – Forrester

While inspiring on their own, these factoids don’t say much regarding the hard benefits your organization can expect from making changes to the experience. More specifically, they don’t address the ways an organization can and will increase revenue.

For use in a business case, focus on the impact to revenue in a few, key areas. For instance, improvements to the digital customer experience can include leveraging the latest in practical applications of artificial intelligence to make personalized product recommendations to millions of customers shopping in real time. Automated personalization drove very lucrative, tangible results during the 2017 holiday shopping season and can be rolled-out far more efficiently than earlier, segment and persona-driven scenarios.

The other areas to focus on include increased average order value, conversion rate, and customer lifetime value. Simply put, if your current digital commerce experience is challenging to navigate, throws errors, and misses the opportunity to upsell and cross-sell, then improvements in these areas will naturally provide lift with revenue and conversion. If the current experience is bad enough, existing customers may try out your competitors. Nobody wants that (except your competitors).

Losing a customer is so much more damaging than the short-term loss of an individual sale. Naturally, when considered over the long term, the cost of switching must include friction on the average lifetime value of all customers in addition to all the lost opportunities to sell to that customer in the future. On the flip side, a customer who finds purchasing with you smooth or delightful will buy more, more frequently, and be more likely to recommend you to a friend.

For bonus points, try analyzing the impact an improving net promoter score has had on revenue for your organization in the past.

Wrapping it up

While traditional retail suffers and the outlook for online sales continues to rise, budgets for digital are increasing. As a result, it’s not uncommon for a digital commerce overhaul to cost millions and include milestones on a roadmap that takes months or years to complete, depending on how deep it goes.

The good news is there is a growing body of data that shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that a dollar invested in digital will show a positive return on investment that far exceeds the performance of the same invested in traditional, brick and mortar operations. With that knowledge in mind, the only question left is: How soon can we get started?

9 key insights as an intranet manager

A good intranet helps get the job done

oznorWith this headline, Jesper Bylund from the Region Skåne in Sweden gave a well-received keynote at an internal event at the City of Aalborg last month. I had the pleasure of facilitating the session. Jesper shared 9 key insights based on his 14 years of experience as intranet manager:

  • Intranets must support the business
  • Survey and measure
  • Four kinds of content
  • Different target groups have different needs
  • Segmenting information needs
  • The intranet team
  • In every device, at every place
  • The way to your digital workplace
  • We have inmature endusers

With the friendly permission from Jesper, you can find his slides on Slideshare and you’ll notice that many of the slides have references to further reading on each topic.


Work-life balance RIP!

roundtable-discussions-jboye17 How do you truly strike the right balance between your work and your life? A constant challenge for most it seems, with many workplaces making employees physically sick. Might we be approaching it from the wrong angle?

We’ve covered this topic extensively during the past decade in our peer groups as well as at our conferences offering a deeper understanding of the topic, identifying problems, connecting it to the changing way of work and offering solutions.

Most recently Maren Christin Hübl from SAP in Germany led a popular roundtable at the J. Boye Aarhus 17 conference on the topic. I followed up with her in a recent phone conversation and wanted to share some of my notes on the topic as well as the insights from the conference conversation and the further thinking from Maren.

What does work-life balance really mean and why is it important?

On a personal level, the topic has changed meaning during the past 20 years of working. While in the beginning of my career and pre-family, routines were different and the entire notion of work had a different meaning. The divide between work and life still existed, but it clearly looked different.

A real eye-opener to me was in 2013, when our member Boris Kraft, co-founder of Basel-based software vendor Magnolia shared his personal take on the topic at a peer group meeting in London. His slides were appropriately titled Work life balance? Key learnings from Boris talk, was his point on how you cannot change the fact, that there are 24 hours in a day, but you can shape how you spend the hours and consider which activities renew your energy. He also had a useful message on taking breaks, sleeping and enjoying vacations. Some of his reflections were based on a New York Times opinion piece called Relax! You’ll be more productive.

A popular feature article in Harvard Business Review the following year, titled Manage Your Work, Manage Your Life also helped shape much of my thinking on the topic. It reframed the question and said not to think of it as much as a balance, but rather as two individual facets of life which both need careful managing.

Fast forward to today and the age of always on, fear of missing out, social networks, smartphone notifications and new voice-activated assistants. It clearly takes a different kind of thinking to strike the right balance and that’s why Maren controversially said ‘Work-life balance Rest in Peace’.

Barriers and things that help

A key part of the discussion at the conference roundtable led by Maren was on barriers hindering a better work-life balance as well as on an open sharing of hacks which could help.

According to Maren, the more social interactions and social networks you have, the more complex it gets. Expectations can be implicit towards your role and how you engage and the challenge is to make the expectations explicit. How might you better design the right context for you and those in your near circles?

Similar to the point made by Boris Kraft, the discussion also touched on how to spend your energy. What’s the sufficient amount of energy to solve a task and what gives you energy?

Other keywords included behavioral change, new roles and thinking differently. The point was made, that as a modern leader, you need to step back a let the people find out what’s the most important and how to solve it. By re-thinking leadership as something that is done not only by one person, leaders get to enjoy the work life even more. They can share some of the responsibilities – which sometimes feel more like a burden when expectations are growing in our complex, dynamic world. This is also what the Management 3.0-movement shows us, and servant leaders like David Marquet prove

Learn more about work-life balance and the future of work

The term employee experience is increasingly coming up in our peer group meetings. Netflix is famous for their work on their guide to company culture and other companies, including old, complex and global organisations are redesigning their workplaces. Might this not only be driven by efficiency goals, but also by a sense for the need to stay relevant and invest in the well-being of their employees?

We’ll certainly continue learning and the conversation and I invite you to be a part of it!

A podcast on the power and potential of peer learning

teamw-humantechA few days ago, I listened to a podcast in which my business partner of a decade and the founder of our business, Janus Boye was interviewed by behavioral scientist and psychology Ph.D., Susan Weinschenk, CEO at The Team W; a Wisconsin based advisory firm helping organisations with insights on brain and behavioral science.

The focus of the conversation was on the “J. Boye approach to peer learning and networking”; a model, which in our eyes is simple and yet has lots to offer. The questions and reactions in the podcast, however, reminded me that it is still a fairly alien phenomenon in many countries and cultures; even those we often compare ourselves with.

Janus explained that the basic key ingredients include a safe and confidential, yet relaxed environment, a high level of trust among the participants, a willingness to share not just successes, but also pain points and accepting that there is no guaranteed “perfect solution or answer” at the end; that it is a journey of discovery without any right or wrong answers or given solutions necessarily provided. Susan and her colleague repeatedly mentioned that – despite having partaken in many networks and professional meet-ups, they had not come across this “recipe” elsewhere.

Much has been written about Denmark and the Danish welfare and workplace models, our extremely low levels of corruption and our high levels of trust among citizens and between citizens and bodies of authority; employers, the state etc. I do think those societal circumstances have a part to play in why we have arrived at our approach; I don’t think it’s a coincidence that J. Boye originates in Denmark. On the other hand, we have not invented anything new; we have simply evolved and applied a framework and a template to an approach to learning that we see as nothing more than common sense.

Despite the simplicity of the concept, it cannot be scaled quickly. Building a group and a network on trust, deep knowledge of the others within, their changing needs etc. takes time. And many conversations – ideally face to face. But the outcome – when you see it working – is deeply satisfying. It is certainly why I still feel privileged to have my job – and love it even after a decade.

Give Susan and Janus’ conversation a listen – and join one of our peer groups to experience our approach to peer learning first hand!

Cybersecurity: A top priority for the board in 2018

jake-dimareIn the US, cybersecurity has become a top priority for the board of directors. 2017 was one more in a string of years with increasingly alarming evidence that the organizations we trust with personal data have dropped the ball when it comes to cybersecurity. News of high-profile data breaches at Equifax, Uber, Yahoo, and the US SEC topped the headlines in what seemed like a year when no organization was safe from hacking, and any hope of privacy for consumers around the world has become a foolish naiveté.

Meanwhile, in just 4 months, this coming May, the highly anticipated EU General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) take effect. With fines as high as 4% of global revenue and extra-territorial enforcement, US organizations with customers in the EU are anxiously working on compliance plans that impact people, process, and technology, to avoid a violation.

The hard costs for a breach today are high and about to get much getting higher. It should come as no surprise that understanding cybersecurity is a top priority for boards in 2018. Whether your organization is currently making investments in digital transformation or not, there has never been a better time to think carefully about your strategy around cybersecurity and implement change as required.

Here are a few of the most common initiatives we at Luminos Labs are assisting our eCommerce clients with.

1) Accelerate the replacement of outdated technology

One of the most frequent and glaring issues I have encountered while assessing digital commerce tech ecosystems for mid-market and enterprise clients is cybersecurity risk created by excessive technical debt.

Whether your organization is handling eCommerce with a mesh of homegrown applications or an old vendor platform, the cost and complexity of maintaining these systems can often be overwhelming.

In 2017, the average cost of a data breach in North America was $1.3 million for enterprises and $117,000 for small and medium-sized businesses, according to a report from Kaspersky Lab. Meanwhile, the average annualized cost of cybersecurity has reached $11.7 million according to a report developed by Accenture. Now that cybersecurity is on the tip of every board member’s tongue, it’s an easy win to include the reduction of these costs and risks in a business case for new technology.

Organizations making investments in digital commerce are exceptionally well positioned to make meaningful, positive change in their cybersecurity profile. When considering changes to the technology underpinning the customer experience on the path-to-purchase, include cybersecurity requirements. These decision gates should be part of the process of selecting technology and ensure it’s a high priority capability for your digital commerce solution partner.

2) GDPR compliance is more secure

The cost of violating the GDPR are clearly driving much attention. Interestingly, a violation incurred as a result of technology that is outside of compliance is still the responsibility of the business leveraging the technology, whether it is on premise or, as noted above, a cloud-based platform.

A strategy that includes compliance with GDPR provisions such as privacy by design puts the organization in a better position for success in the short and long term.
It’s important to point out that all of the costs we’ve identified here are to the businesses, but personal data breaches also cost the most important people in any market: Our customers.

Besides all the legal considerations, protecting customers’ data is obviously just the right thing to do. It’s nothing less than what we expect for ourselves and our friends and families. There is much to do, but it’s incredibly valuable effort.

3) Ensure cybersecurity leaders understand the business

IT/Security must be in service of higher-order business goals and objectives, not an obstacle to them. Unfortunately, many organizations have fallen into the trap of allowing IT leaders within the organization to become reactive roadblocks to progress as opposed to proactive enablers of success. Although this damaging negativism can seriously impact the development of operations and products, it is reasonably easy to turn around. Above all else, it should not be acceptable for IT to stymie an initiative based solely on security concerns rooted in the current way of operating.

On the other hand, it’s critically important for IT/Security to be part of every conversation about the adoption of new technology. Under the GDPR, companies are accountable for a personal data breach, even when it’s information stolen from a cloud-based vendor platform.

Ideally, IT/security executives work best when they are included in the conversation in much the same manner as a CFO: Early and often.

They should attend board meetings when security is on the agenda and be given the opportunity to present a strategy to support the organization’s priorities. Conversations rooted in the possible should be encouraged. Conversations that sound like: “We can’t accomplish A because of B security risks,” should be replaced with: “It will take X to accomplish Y with appropriate attention to the relevant cybersecurity risks.”

If cybersecurity is part of the discussion of all new products and services it will naturally follow that the relevant personnel are included in the conversation when there’s enough time to plan accordingly.

4) Engender a culture of cybersecurity

Keeping vital data assets safe demands much more than merely installing antivirus software and hardening networks. Social engineering cost businesses $1.6 billion between 2013 and 2016 and phishing attacks cost the average large company $3.6 million a year. Create and nurture a culture of security to reduce these costs and risks.

To do so, continually communicate the importance of security. Educate teams on the evolving nature of the threat and hold contests to normalize and incentivize best practices. Empower frontline ownership of security while putting the top-down guardrails in place to keep colleagues safe.

A culture of cybersecurity will not be surprised or confused about routine security assessments and necessary updates. Teams should participate in upfront planning for incidents and have identified and defined roles during a crisis. Conduct exercises to simulate the causes and conditions of a breach and practice the response.

Unpacking the 2017 US Holiday Shopping Weekend

During my keynote presentation at the J. Boye 17 Aarhus conference, I shared my thoughts about how slow adoption of digital has catalyzed what analysts and the press refer to as the Retail Apocalypse in the US.

Since 2006, thousands of physical stores have been affected by this slow-motion train wreck, including 6800 closures in the first three quarters of 2017. The eight publicly traded department stores carry $28 billion in debt Incredibly, 50% of the 1,200 shopping malls in the US are expected to close by 2023.
Analysts are still debating the exact nature of the problem, but few disagree that changing consumer behavior around digital commerce and the onerous debt associated with maintaining brick and mortar retail locations are primary factors.

After my week at the J. Boye conference in Denmark, my research on this topic lead me to wonder, what impact will the 2017 Holiday shopping season have? And what can we learn from those results? To find some answers I took a deep dive on shopping data from Thanksgiving (November 23rd, 2017) to Cyber Monday (November 27th, 2017) when 20% of all holiday shopping typically occurs in the US.

Screenshot 2017-12-11 at 21.03.34

Exploring the data

Interestingly, this year the biggest story was not brick and mortar vs. digital commerce, but rather the impressive growth of sales via smartphone. Another unexpected learning was the exceptional amount of revenue driven by AI-powered product recommendation engines.

According to RetailNext Inc., the number of people visiting stores on Black Friday fell 4% year over year. reports total in-store sales for the entire weekend was also down. In total, 137 million people went to stores over the four-day Black Friday weekend.

The National Retail Federation (NRF) reported that more than 174 million Americans shopped from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday, beating their prediction of 164 million consumers. The NRF also says that 33% of Thanksgiving weekend shoppers participated online only while just under 40% shopped both in-store and online. Roughly just 25% of weekend shoppers went to a physical store exclusively.

However, online sales were nothing less than impressive. According to Adobe Digital Insights, Cyber Monday set the record for the most significant online shopping day in history, with $6.59 billion in sales in the US. That’s a $1 billion year-over-year increase for same day sales.

Mobile also had a record-breaking Cyber Monday. Smartphones and tablets drove $2 billion of the total online retail sales. 47% of visits to retail sites on Cyber Monday happened on mobile devices and accounted for 33% of revenue.

According to that same research, online sales from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday (Nov. 23 through 27) clocked in at just under $20 billion, up 15.2% YoY. Mobile was a key driver in that growth, representing 33.1% of online revenue.
Shopify reports that 500,000 merchants sold over $1 billion during the Black Friday to Cyber Monday weekend. Incredibly, mobile sales for the merchants they tracked represented 64 percent of overall digital commerce revenue.
“At the peak, Shopify merchants also generated more than $1 million of transactions in just one minute,” says Shopify in its release covering the Black Friday-Cyber Monday shopping period.

In other news, Salesforce tracked the impact of Artificial Intelligence enabled shopping on Cyber Monday. They report that 5% of shoppers who engaged with personalized product recommendations driven by AI-powered technology accounted for a whopping 24% of Cyber Monday’s total online revenue.

Who were the winners and losers?

No surprise, Amazon was a winner after they dominated with nearly 33% of online sales on Cyber Monday. Target, captured 6.4% of sales, making them the not-so-close first runner-up. Amazon also got a jump on things this year with their 50 days of Black Friday promotion. Amazon’s stock is up more than 60% this year to above $1,200.

Walmart was also a winner, a clear leader in brick and mortar sales and a healthy online operation with Over Black Friday weekend Amazon and Walmart increased their combined market share by 1.5%. Walmart’s shares have soared 40% to a near record high of $100 thanks to robust growth in its online commerce operations.

The most prominent losers were, no surprise, the traditional department stores. Already in distress, organizations including Macy’s just could not afford a weak showing with in-store sales. Macy’s stuck to their strategy of deep discounts to attract customers to their stores. While this may be appealing to their dwindling base, it is apparently doing nothing to attract new customers to the store.

Retailers with poorly performing digital commerce infrastructure were also big losers this year. Macy’s and Lowe’s experienced significant slowdowns in transaction handling which required hours to resolve. Lowe’s entire e-commerce website crashed for 20 minutes on Black Friday. The Gap and H&M also dealt with performance issues throughout the weekend.

At this point, it’s unforgivable for an organization like Macy’s to deliver a weak digital commerce experience, given how desperate they are. Macy’s stock has fallen over 40% in 2017 and they have recently announced hundreds of new store closures

Unpack what this means for brands

Based on what I’ve learned this year, I think it’s fair to say working e-commerce infrastructure is, as we say in the US, table-stakes. In other words, it is the minimum expected level of effort necessary to be taken seriously by customers today. And, to be effective, minimally viable infrastructure must be capable of supporting traffic spikes. Particularly predictable traffic spikes during events such as Black Friday weekend. It is no longer acceptable to claim overwhelming inbound traffic is a valid excuse for performance issues.

Beyond infrastructure, this year’s data also indicates that customer expectations have moved well beyond simple e-commerce websites. Digital commerce is more than just the latest buzzword; it references the need to meet customers with the right products on whatever device they may be using when they are ready to make purchases.

Digital Commerce is websites, mobile, and conversational interfaces like Alexa. But it’s also personalized product recommendations driven by AI-powered technology.

Based on all this data I feel very comfortable proclaiming that the days of relying upon home-rolled solutions for digital commerce are quickly receding. If your organization does not have professionally built and maintained platforms which offer scale, integration, and personalization as core features, it’s time to start thinking about making changes to your technology ecosystem.

At the J. Boye conference, I talked about the criticality of accelerating digital transformation initiatives in-motion. We discussed embracing digital and all of its challenges and opportunities. This year, I believe it’s time to make a New Year’s resolution for the organizations we all serve. To finally get out ahead of the curve and be the very best digitally enabled businesses we can be.