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  • Manage structured data for campaigns, content, product catalogs or other marketing data
  • Enrich your digital platforms (e.g. analytics, CMS) for better personalization and insights
  • Improve tracking code/Adobe CID classifications globally
  • Build an improved and standardized process in your digital advertising/media operations
  • Unify disparate internal and external teams/agencies around creating clean and uniform data
  • Trying to get a taxonomy implementation buy-in, including standardizing naming conventions across content and campaigns
  • Going through a digital transformation and not sure where to begin

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Digital Operations – The Heartbeat of Your Digital Transformation

Let’s assume people love your brand. But the digital experience? Meh. This perception of your company’s ability (or lack thereof) to deliver in today’s “on demand” economy can be a deal breaker, making your brand an easy target for the competition. Tech savvy consumers are getting more finicky by the day. With the world at everyone’s fingertips, the bar gets set higher to win customers’ hearts and wallets.

But this is easier said than done. Recently, many brick and mortar retail channels have slowed to a grinding halt, yielding to digital as the primary channel for consumers to reach their brands. Times like these have enabled innovators like Amazon to surge even further ahead of the bunch.  As a result, it has never been more crucial for brands to stand out from the crowd, investing in the people, tools, infrastructure to build frictionless digital experiences, and then scaling and optimizing to make customers want to come back again and again.

But how can you deliver on your brand promise and make technology a differentiator? The answer comes down to customer experience (CX) and agility. Companies must increasingly reimagine the entire customer journey again and again with increasing speed to market. The ones who have figured out how to be truly data-driven and accelerate customer insights and business decisions are more likely to emerge ahead.

But where in the digital enterprise does this magic take place? This intersection of CX and agility increasingly occurs with a new type of operations. Enter the digital operations team.

Digital Ops Team picture

The birth of digital operations

Before the web, brick and mortar operations departments were sometimes perceived as dull, repetitive or lacking creativity and innovation. Operations groups in large manufacturing companies were about managing supply chains with efficiency and automation, but they were not yet “digitized.” The marketing, finance and IT departments may have been more appealing places to grow your career. Even in the early days of the web, the concept of a “digital operations” team barely existed. Early websites for large brands tended to live within the overall sales and marketing function. There were a few basic job functions, such as marketing, SEO, UX, content, and metrics, along with more technical functions like web development and information architecture.

As digital adoption grew and scaled exponentially, the “eCommerce” or “digital” group often spun off into its own P&L and business unit. Soon, new functions appeared, like A/B testing, mobile, emerging tech, personalization and platform. The concept of a “digital operations” team emerged by default within large enterprises to address gaps in support for pre-existing operations functions and sales channels that were seeing increased demand for more tech savvy skill sets. A perfect example of this is the traditional call center, where customers were calling and emailing to complain about issues on the web site, when call center agents were barely trained to support it.

Shortly thereafter, user acceptance testing and QA teams were moved into digital operations, along with agile delivery, program management, platforms and content. Pretty soon, a bevy of digital support roles were being relocated into digital operations, and suddenly digital ops was born, with no clear definition of the function as a whole.Person Teaching About Digital Operations

Re-defining digital operations

So what is digital operations anyway? And how did it become a catch all for so many different functions? A simple Google search offers a wide variety of inconsistent and even contradictory definitions of digital operations. Here are a few:

The Digital Operations Manager is responsible for the stability and availability of all of our Digital platforms, (including the management of our partners and vendors), to ensure the best digital experiences… The Digital Operations team also governs all processes and procedures which deliver change to those platforms, with a view to minimizing incidents and operational risk while maintaining the agility required …to be first to market.

Here’s another one:

Digital Operations is a new type of company operations. One that learns from the consumer technology products we love and use every day. It understands employees are customers. It knows that to get the best technology, it must look past traditional IT.

And another:

Digital Operations Management brings together machine learning, automation, and DevOps-centric workflows to mobilize teams when it matters most.

Okay, so none of these definitions is wrong, but they are broad and diverse in scope. If we combined all of them, digital ops would own everything from platform to personalization to vendors, automation, partners, process and risk. So what wouldn’t they own in the digital org?

Let’s take a step back and see if we can find a good definition of “operations” overall. Forrester offers the following:

Operations, compared to work in general, is work that is relatively less variable, more repeatable, more interrupt-driven, more concerned with efficiency and optimization, and more scalable in nature. It’s more about preservation as opposed to innovation.

Now we’re talking. Gartner offers the following definition for digital operations:

Digital Operations is the ‘process’ center of your digital transformation, providing the orchestration of systems and other resources. It incorporates mechanisms for sensing and responding, while potentially supporting dynamic learning and optimization. It is the beginning of a business discipline for increasing organizational agility. It encompasses a holistic set of methods and enabling technologies associated with how the firm delivers value via a digital platform in real-time.

In other words, operations is much more than just a support function for digital. Maybe new products are not born in operations. But operations leaders are increasingly responsible for improving agility, efficiency and automation of these products, as well as scaling, optimizing and orchestrating across systems. This means developing personalized relationships with customers, listening and responding to their needs and employing new and innovative ways to dynamically learn and enhance the journey. Not to mention measuring to ensure the value of the investment is realized. Rinse, repeat, cycle.

Functions now commonly found in a digital operations group may include:

  • Digital customer engagement centers (including voice, chat and CX support/issue resolution)
  • Digital user acceptance testing (UAT and QA)
  • Digital platforms and tools
  • Agile, process and program management
  • Digital content and asset management
  • SEO
  • Data, analytics and tag management

Becoming a center for innovation

With customer experience at the epicenter of digital success, digital ops has emerged as more than just a support function, and instead is becoming a center for innovation of cutting edge tools, processes and best practices that are increasingly about being more agile, automated and customer-centric. And as data and AI drive us into the future, it’s no surprise that digital operations is playing a key role in those functions as well.

In fact, analytics, data and tag management functions are increasingly moving into digital ops as critical paths to becoming more data-driven. Although analytics and data science may exist elsewhere in the enterprise, it’s recommended to have this practice exist across departments. With proper training and governance, this ensures data is democratized, understood and shared across functions and won’t get stuck in the hands of data hoarders.

But scaling this way also requires governance and standardization to ensure the various teams are making sense of data to enable informed marketing and product decisions across departments. If the underlying data is unstructured or disorganized, it’s garbage in, garbage out. And customers suffer as a result.

Therefore, digital operations is increasingly involved in owning some aspects of overall data governance, aiming to improve data integrity and promote agility and efficiency in tag management and reporting. This means overseeing process for tag management, as well as gathering and communicating analytics tracking requirements. It also includes defining data taxonomies, and how pages, content and marketing campaigns are classified as they stream into data warehouses from various digital platforms. It’s all about standardizing and connecting data across teams and channels.

Conclusion

As CX and agility fuel the success of your digital brand, it shouldn’t take too much convincing to sell the benefits of reinvesting in your digital operations team. But doing so means ops must be repositioned as more than just a support arm of digital, or a catch all for various functions that don’t have a better home. Digital operations must be reinvented as a vital asset to your digital transformation, playing a central role in optimizing and being more agile.

Therefore, it’s not just the call center or customer support. It’s about voice of customer (VOC), listening, sensing and acting upon customer insights. It’s not just UAT or QA. It’s about reducing friction and moving customers seamlessly through the purchase funnel. It’s not just process. It’s about speed to market and automation. And it’s not just content and asset management. It’s about orchestration and enabling technology to dynamically optimize the customer journey. You get the point.

Creating a sustainable digital operations strategy will demand diligence and dedication to continuous improvement. It demands proper motivation and focus to be more data-driven and customer-centric, while increasing velocity and being more agile. Once a solid operational foundation is in place, your company will be better equipped to take on whatever challenges the future brings your way.

About the Author

Tom Arundel, Director, Digital Product Performance, MarriotTom Arundel is Director of Digital Product Performance for Marriott International. With over 20 years leading digital data and transformation initiatives for Fortune 500s, Tom has led the development of several successful digital data and operations models, helping grow revenue to $20B for Marriott.com and its Native apps. Tom is also CEO of Accuitive Digital Consulting, helping companies with digital transformation and data center of excellence services.

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