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Build, Buy or Service — How Will You Digitally Transform Your Communications?


Long dark blue corridor interior with futuristic light.

Digital transformation is top-of-mind — and a complex issue — for many traditional financial services and insurance firms. Let’s face it. Keeping up with tech innovation and modern multichannel communication is an overwhelming, cost-prohibitive proposition. It’s not that organizations don’t want to evolve, but the challenge is how to accomplish change.

The reality is, many organizations in this space are tied to disparate, legacy workflows — systems that don’t talk to each other. Messages, content and creative are stored in different digital asset management (DAM) systems. And, business “rules” are hardcoded into apps and programs.

As for communications, branding is often inconsistent across channels, and so are messages and legal disclaimers. Not to mention, there is no complete inventory of communications that are dispatched. And then there’s the lack of strategic direction.

In a 2019 report, the key reasons why companies are not meeting their digital goals shouldn’t surprise you:

  • 64% are tied to legacy systems and technology
  • 52% cite lack of time
  • 43% say lack of senior management buy-in
  • 34% blame lack of money [source]

Some organizations have attempted to modernize workflows. But a full digital transformation? The cost. The time. The point of entry. It’s no wonder that internal IT staff think of digital transformation as Mount Everest.

So, where do we go from here?

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Digital transformation — building a strong foundation

First, let’s reset your perspective on what type of project digital transformation actually is. Digital transformation is tied to elevating customer experience. It’s a multichannel process. A journey. It is not just an IT project. Instead, it is a service, delivery and transformation initiative that will impact the way your organization interacts with its customers.

Also, let’s emphasize the concept of transformation. This is truly a transformation and journey that will take time to complete, and we’re talking up to several years. The good news is a successful strategy includes milestones and short-term wins to help your organization maintain momentum.

Align the stakeholders

Another essential to success is stakeholder buy-in and participation. That includes legal, compliance, marketing, operations, enterprise architecture, data analytics and business intelligence.

According to an “April 2019 McKinsey Global Survey,” executives of companies reporting successful transformations strongly agree:

  • CEO has spent significant share of his/her working time on transformation (48%)
  • Transformation has been top business priority of senior leaders (41%)
  • When transformation began, one or more people at board or executive level were familiar with digital technology and/or advanced analytics (41%)

These stakeholders come to the table with different ideas and goals, some of them overlapping and others specifically focused on their own needs. Alignment is critical to move forward on a full-scale digital transformation.

Have a multichannel mindset

Speaking again to the scope of digital transformation because this is not just an IT project — your strategy should involve all channels: print, email, mobile, online, cloud delivery, virtual assistants and other digital platforms.

Keep in mind, this list grows every year as our digital universe and communications evolve.

Sounds complex? Well, it is. But that does not mean digital transformation is mission impossible. In fact, there is a proven approach to get you there and it relies heavily on the following.

Strategy — a.k.a. the people and the processes

People and process are integral to executing digital transformation. We can’t stress that enough, because when you focus on people and process, you’re getting to the core of digital transformation, which is to improve customer experience. (Again, this is not just an IT project.)

To successfully implement digital processes, you need expert people to guide the initiative.

The people

Does it surprise you to know only 5% of U.S. companies believe they’re staffed appropriately to implement successful digital transformation solutions [source]? Having said that, a digital transformation team might include the following key players:

  • Communications designers develop scalable, multichannel and accessible communication designs that deliver consistent client experiences across all channels.
  • Customer engagement specialists define contact strategy, message arbitration and orchestration.
  • Content engineers analyze, define and optimize content to be used across multiple channels.
  • Data insights experts maximize your customer data and third party data to increase the effectiveness of the communications.
  • Solution architects partner with enterprise architects to define the right integration points of the multichannel communications platforms.
  • Communication development team creates and deploys content.

The processes

This is a transformation project that requires change management processes and proven approaches to help you transition from concept to execution. To be successful, you will need to implement multiple processes, including:

  • Assessment and road-mapping workshops define and document the plan to take your organization from its current state to a future state of customer-centric communications.
  • Integration and configuration approaches efficiently connect your existing technology ecosystem with the new technology platform.
  • Organizational transformation processes transform your organization and communications by implementing new customer engagement models and approaches.
  • Workflow operations training drives change management and onboarding prioritization.

The tech platform

A successful transformation requires an open, modularized customer communications (CCM) platform that allows you to integrate existing systems, including those for record-keeping, content management, policy administration and other third-party execution partners.

It also requires business-user, role-based access to manage digital content and delivery. That way, content changes are executed with little to no intervention of your IT team. An effective CCM platform should accomplish the following:

  • Provide an ability to support batch, on-demand, interactive client communication requests and distribute those through print and digital channels
  • Offer an operational dashboard that will allow the business users to monitor and control the communications lifecycle end-to-end, while meeting your evidencing requirements
  • Provide an extensible preference management capability to capture channel preferences beyond the traditional options of print and/or electronic
  • Be hosted in a high-availability environment, and a gold copy should be available and in compliance with regulatory bodies

Now the question (considering these requirements) becomes: Should your organization build or buy this platform?

To build or to buy? That is the question

Much has been written about this business decision already, and we’ll avoid rehashing the story. Here, we are focused on digital transformation, so let’s distill this build-or-buy decision down into a few simple components to help you evaluate the issue.

We recommend looking at the decision through four different lenses [source]:

  1. Is the solution unique? Are the requirements so specific to your organization that they can’t be addressed by a commercial solution now or in the future?
  2. Do you have the time? Can your organization afford the time that would be needed to develop and implement the solution?
  3. What is the cost? Is there sufficient budget to fund the initial development, infrastructure costs, implementation, ongoing maintenance, support and updates?
  4. What about controls? How will the solution comply with the appropriate regulations, allow business user operational oversight, and enable feedback to product roadmaps?

Most organizations have the same requirements for their digital transformation initiatives. For example, “improve agility/accelerate innovation” has been reported as the leading digital transformation goal for companies worldwide. “Reduce costs/improve efficiency,” “achieve growth in new markets,” and “address evolving customer behaviors/preferences” round out the top four [source].

What’s different is their existing technology ecosystems, which is why the integration needs of each company are specific.

Build or buy — pros and cons

Now back to the build-or-buy question, what is the advantage of partnering with a CCM provider if you decide to buy? For one, leading CCM providers are constantly investing in their platforms. Now, in our opinion, no single platform provides best-in-class features for every single function. Also keep in mind, platforms considered “best” a few years ago could be obsolete today.

As for building your own CCM platform, the challenges organizations usually face include long timelines, over-run budgets and failure to deliver on business goals.

Some organizations are very concerned about control. Maybe at some point you’ve thought, heard or said:

  • “This is our content; it is our intellectual property.”
  • “We need to have end-to-end visibility to communication workflows.”
  • “We need to know when our customers received their communications and what they did with them.”

Considering all of these inherent challenges, what is the best strategy to accomplish digital transformation? Our recommendation is to think beyond buy and build and ask a few critical questions that start with “How?”

How can you get the best of a buy and a build? How can a CCM platform be tailored to address your specific business goals? How can you maintain control while accessing expertise to move this initiative forward?

Consider service as another option

The decision to build versus buy is something U.S. companies consider the number one challenge affecting their digital transformation efforts [source]. For good reason: building, implementing and maintaining a CCM platform in this fast-changing digital environment is risky business, not to mention an overwhelming investment for most organizations.

The good news is, you can move forward with digital transformation and access a multichannel customer communications platform in a pay-by-the-drink approach — also known as Customer Communications Management Platform as a Service (CCMaaS).

Why go with a service? First, you eliminate that risk. And, you get best-in-class technologies as they evolve. For example, our team vets, selects and integrates the latest solutions, which alleviates the burden of constant upgrades.

Also, because people and process are critical to achieving digital transformation, you want to partner with a provider with the latest solutions and subject matter experts who can implement them, and work with you in a consultative manner to address your business goals.

Many organizations struggle to manage the volume of content, and to deploy multichannel content in a targeted, efficient way. A partner service can make this process seamless while providing a centralized dashboard so you can oversee the workflow.

So what’s it going to be?

Whether you buy, build or choose the service route, tackling an initiative like this requires a three-pronged approach that involves:

  • Subject matter expertise
  • Proven processes
  • Integrated technologies

Many organizations recognize this after trying to focus on only one area, realizing they’ve only built one leg of the stool. All three of these components must be addressed early to assure a successful transformation.

Lagging or leading, no matter where your organization is in its pursuit to digitally transform its communications, take solace in knowing the challenges you face have a solution.


Cynthia Bajana serves as a Vice President of Sales for RRD’s Business Communication Solutions division.