Leading the Charge Through Digital Transformation


SMPS Marketer Digital Transformation by Ida Cheinman

This article was first published in the Marketer – Journal of the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS).

For decades, we’d heard a great deal about the promise of how digital technology would change the way A/E/C firms do business. We had imagined a future where the cloud, 3D printing, AR/VR, AI, and the IoT would change everything.

It had been talked about so much that at a certain point it started to sound like a lot of hype.

Then it happened – the future of digital arrived. Companies in all industries found themselves standing on the precipice of a new industrial revolution, one fueled by connectivity and one for which many A/E/C firms were unprepared.

Now that digital transformation (DX) is infiltrating every industry and, as a result, broadly impacting how all companies do business, the era when firms had a choice about whether or not to step onto the DX bandwagon has long past.

Like it or not, your firm is on it.

Now the only question is how to stay on it, embrace it, and leverage it to create a competitive advantage.

What Digital Transformation Is – and What It Is Not

Digital transformation is a growth generator and disruption fail-safe. It’s the doorway to total business transformation.

Digital transformation is the process of integrating digital technologies, changing the ways in which a business operates—from strategies and processes to products and services to culture and customer experience.

Digital transformation is not about technology or about becoming more digital just to be more digital. It’s not dependent on what a firm does or sells, and its relevance is not reliant on organizational structure or a specific business function or department. It’s not a project or a program. It’s an ongoing and ever-evolving process.

With this perspective in mind, you must approach digital transformation as a firmwide operational and cultural change, achieved by continually identifying and applying innovative processes and business models and by using technologies and data to deliver new value for customers, employees, and other stakeholders.

In this way, digital transformation is a growth generator and a disruption failsafe. It is the doorway to total business transformation.

This means that digital transformation is also the answer to the most pressing challenges facing A/E/C today – specifically, challenges related to:

  • People and culture: recruitment, retention, multigenerational workforce, and knowledge transfer
  • Differentiation: commoditization, communication, and delivering value
  • Workplace: multiple offices, global companies, and remote workforce
  • Operations: efficiency, enablement, agility, and integration

Of course, as the linchpin to winning these long-fought battles, digital transformation brings with it technology, software, and data analytics. But while these tools are a mandatory part of implementation, they are mere facilitators of the fundamental change that’s so desperately needed. They are not the drivers.

Deploying Digital Transformation to Evolve Marketing

The challenges facing A/E/C firms and their marketing departments cannot be solved by simply acquiring the next, newest digital tool or platform. Successfully deploying digital transformation requires taking a holistic, long-term view of marketing, building cross-functional teams, and taking ownership of engagement, experience, loyalty, and value.

Marketing can have the greatest impact on solving firmwide and industrywide challenges by employing digital transformation to:

  • Make Better Decisions. Having access to the right data at the right time leads to faster and more accurate decision-making because decisions are made based on real-time information, not guesswork. This not only brings efficiencies but also dramatically improves your firm’s ability to deliver greater value to its stakeholders.
  • Modernize the Customer Experience. Differentiating through customer experience has become a top priority for A/E/C firms. Digital technologies are central to firms’ understanding of audience behavior and using data-driven insights to make the experience more seamless, intuitive, and customer-centric. Digital transformation also facilitates better connection between touchpoints (resulting in a more connected experience) and enables your firm to connect digital channels with physical environments and experiences, opening the door to new opportunities with omnichannel marketing.
  • Personalize Communications. Today’s A/E/C customers expect personalized, contextually relevant experiences and content. Personalization also creates marketing efficiencies because customer engagement grows exponentially with tailored communications—even more so when personalization is done in real time. Digital tools, automation, and analytics are essential to personalizing communications so that they speak directly to an individual customer (by name, company, challenge, need, or any other variable). Fortunately, the increased accessibility of data and proliferation of technologies have put personalization within reach of most companies.

The Facilitators of Marketing’s Expanding Power

Even though it’s important to differentiate the concept of digital transformation from the technologies that enable it, the fact is that mobile, big data, AI, machine learning, and digital influence are necessary for taking marketing beyond traditional communications. Equally, they are the reason for changing customer behaviors and ever-higher customer expectations.

Putting the bigger vision of digital transformation first is essential, but executing that vision is impossible without an understanding of, well, what is possible.

Tools, technologies, processes, and approaches are what enable digital transformation to turn marketing into the growth engine for your firm.

Unified Data

An accurate and comprehensive view of the customer requires robust and connected customer relationship management, data-mining, and analytics platforms. It also requires sharing customer data and insights across departments and offices, with vendors and partners, and, ideally, with customers.

When deploying new processes and technology platforms, think beyond the marketing department and consider how all your firm’s functions must collect, analyze, and share data to create and deliver a seamless, unified, and modern customer experience. Do your due diligence to learn what safeguards a technology provider offers to eliminate any chance of data loss and to stay compliant with data privacy laws.


Leveraging the value of unified data to present personalized communications and experiences to individual customers, while addressing their wants and needs in real time, at each stage of the decision-making process, and simultaneously is essential—and impossible without automation technology.

Choose technology that’s intuitive, easily integrates with other systems you already have, and allows unlimited customer segments and workflows for maximum scalability. (A “workflow” is a series of automated actions triggered by an individual’s behavior and/or based on a segmentation strategy.)

Continuous Optimization

In today’s fast-changing marketing environment, your firm’s ability to continually test and improve based on real-time feedback is a must. Marketing’s ability to iterate quickly and cost-effectively requires agile approaches and technologies that reduce the risk of wasted time and resources.

Digital Transformation in Action

Imagine a traditional A/E/C firm. Customer data may or may not be collected. If it is collected, it’s fragmented across multiple systems and teams—marketing owns some data points, but so do other individual functions within the firm. If marketing and sales communicate, it’s often to assign fault, not share customer insights. Operations and marketing rarely cross paths. Project management holds a great deal of valuable information but keeps it close. And then there’s IT, constantly frustrated that embracing the inevitable is happening at a snail’s pace.

As a result, employee relationships break down and silos take hold, preventing cross-functional collaboration. Lack of unified and engaging employee experience results in poor customer experience, which in turn leads to the firm being seen as a commodity, stuck in the “lowest price wins” RFP cycle—while its competitors sell their services and solutions at a premium.

Now imagine a digitally transformed firm. Marketing works closely with the CEO and IT in leading the effort to modernize internal processes, implement data-driven decision making, and unify all functions of the firm around creating a better customer experience.

As a result, data is now collected across the entire customer lifecycle and includes insights on trends, regulations, performance, and more. No single department owns a piece of data. Rather the data is amassed by and accessible to every department, enabling cross-functional teams to tackle major challenges and contribute to the future success of the firm. Because of all this, internal collaboration flourishes, and people are more inspired to develop and share ideas.

Adoption of new tools, technologies, processes, approaches, strategies, and tactics happens quickly due to the firm’s ability to make data-driven decisions. Best of all, the improved employee productivity, engagement, and loyalty translate to customers’ view of the firm as a true collaborative partner, worthy of paying premium.

Think it’s impossible to get your firm out of the commodity game and into a whole new way of operating and growing? Then it’s time to take a harder look at the underlying reasons those common A/E/C industry challenges exist.

What Will Get in Your Way

Deploying digital transformation is a complex, lengthy, and expensive initiative. Becoming more familiar with the process and what’s possible involves understanding the common roadblocks you should anticipate and prepare for:

  • Limited or no integration between systems
  • Lack of marketing professionals with multidisciplinary knowledge and digital skillsets
  • Challenges securing leadership buy-in and companywide adoption of new technologies
  • Lack of cross-functional collaboration that would enable marketing to more quickly leverage knowledge and information
  • The need for broader cultural change
  • Risks associated with data security and privacy

As with any large-scale effort, start with a sound strategy and assess your firm’s digital capabilities, including people, processes, systems, and tools. Establish benchmarks and identify any gaps that exist in skills, technologies, and cross-departmental practices and communications.

The New Role of the CMO: Leading Firms Into the Future

There’s no better way for marketers to secure a seat at their firm’s strategic table than by being in charge of guiding their firm into the future.

The responsibility for digital transformation and its associated budgets no longer lives in the IT department alone. The CTO now shares the leading role with the rest of the C-suite, especially the CMO.

To help its firm grow and thrive, an A/E/C marketing department needs to have the right technology and the ability to use that technology without relying on IT or outside consultants. It also needs to be able to influence technology purchasing decisions.

Aside from technology, marketing’s job has already expanded beyond traditional responsibilities. It encompasses everything from increasing customer lifetime value and growing brand equity to managing the “total experience” across all touchpoints and end-to-end customer and employee journeys, including the firm’s every strategic function, department, and communication.

This expanding reach of marketing leads to the expanded role for the CMO as Chief Growth Officer, making marketing an ideal partner to help the CEO lead the digital transformation charge.

And there’s no better way for marketers to secure a seat at their firm’s strategic table than by being in charge of guiding their firm into the future.

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