Takeaways From a Digital Transformation

people working at computer August 15, 2016 By: Sherry Budziak

Digitization is the way of the future, but crafting a strategy to fully embrace digital technology can seem a daunting task. The American College of Chest Physicians recently took on the challenge and learned a few lessons along the way. Here's what other organizations can do to jumpstart their transition into the digital age.

Over the course of two decades, the world has gone digital. Digital technology touches nearly every aspect of our lives, yet many associations still struggle to make digitization central to their operations. They wrestle with managing growing volumes of content, using it to better engage customers, employees, and partners, as well as gaining business insight from the data they derive from it.

How can associations achieve digital excellence? It requires thinking differently about staff, processes, and technology.

One organization that recently did just that is the American College of Chest Physicians. April marked one year since CHEST implemented a new digital strategy. And it's got big plans to encourage continued innovation.

CHEST's Digital Journey

About four years ago, CHEST's leadership realized the organization needed to accelerate its work and improve its value for customers. Since then, CHEST has launched a new association management system and adopted customer relationship management software to streamline community engagement online. It embraced a new learning management system and content management system and created a self-service website. And the organization moved to a custom-built headquarters building in Glenview, Illinois.

"It was certainly ambitious to tackle all of these initiatives simultaneously. But in order for CHEST to have a deep understanding of the current needs and past involvement of its 19,000 members, it was essential to synchronize all of our technology and operation enhancements," says CHEST Interim Executive Vice President and CEO Steve Welch.

From improved membership renewal processes to pushing out product and service recommendations, expectations for the new technology are high. CHEST also launched a new membership model last spring—resulting in more than 90 percent member retention and increasing membership across every targeted segment.

How can other organizations experience CHEST's level of success? The key is to develop a digital approach that continuously delivers on the organization's mission and value.

"In the recent past, CHEST had fewer categories of membership. We now welcome all those who provide clinical care for patients with chest disease—physicians as well as nurse practitioners, respiratory therapists, physician assistants, and other providers," Welch says. "As CHEST has become more inclusive with membership, we also have narrowed our focus on the core services that resonate most with our community: clinical education. This approach has been more successful than trying to be everything to everybody."

CHEST now evaluates new-project ideas through a strategic gating process, allowing for innovation while ensuring data-driven decisions. "Through our gating process, we are able to filter out ideas that may not be optimal at this time or not currently revenue producing," Welch says.

Six Components of Digital Transformation

How can other organizations experience CHEST's level of success? The key is not to focus simply on acquiring and maintaining technology but rather on developing a digital approach that continuously delivers on the organization's mission and value. These are some important steps in that process:

Create a digital strategy. Strategy, not technology, drives digital transformation. It includes a well-coordinated system of priorities for digital channels, each with a defined role in conveying your brand's value proposition and delivering benefits.

Know your customers and make data-driven decisions. Identify bottlenecks or problems that your members experience caused by the limits of old technologies. Using data, consider how to resolve them.

Focus your efforts. Develop a clear roadmap of activities and goals. This requires focusing your vision on organizational capabilities, customer needs, and competition in your industry.

Create clear metrics for success. Measure whether your goals are having the desired effect on your organization and whether you are delivering the right message, products, services, and experiences.

Align internal and external stakeholders. External partners include all of your various technology vendors as well as your board. The internal group includes anyone on staff who plays a role in developing and managing your digital operations and offerings. Make sure to craft and communicate a compelling digital vision, and be transparent about goals. Give employees clear direction while providing them a role, voice, and flexibility.

Build a digitally capable staff. Are there skill gaps on your team that could be filled through training and development? Does your IT department include strategic visionaries, entrepreneurs, project planners, as well as agile and risk-tolerant individuals?

Continuous Innovation

CHEST continues to respond to challenges facing all organizations: demographic changes, technology evolution, and the conceptual shift from growing membership to fostering engagement of the profession. Whether it's understanding the effect of millennials on the market, responding to the need to go mobile with educational programs and communications, or thinking about how to respond to all customers and not just members, CHEST’s staff and volunteer leadership continue to innovate.

"In order to grow, we recognize we must enable new communities to engage and participate with us," Welch says.

For instance, this fall CHEST will offer 90 online education modules that will be mobile-enabled and eligible for continuing medical education credit. Market research shows that CME adapts well to what’s known as "burst learning." Research also reveals that on-demand, online education options are increasingly popular.

While CHEST has provided simulation-based, hands-on education for more than a decade, it is now inviting more medical societies to host their simulation training in CHEST's new facility, allowing them to construct their content and faculty without making an infrastructure investment. CHEST is also working to attract organizations from outside the medical community to rent the facility for purposes such as leadership retreats.

CHEST CIO Ronald M. Moen says it's important for associations to recognize that digital transformation is an ongoing process. The key is to remain flexible while continuing to look ahead.

"You must be able to have the type of culture that enables you to adjust your digital and IT strategy as necessary," Moen says. "This takes into account customer feedback, data and analytics, lessons learned from risk taking, stronger digital platforms coming on the market, et cetera. Smart organizations adjust their digital strategies as needed to respond to the inevitable changes."

Sherry Budziak

Sherry Budziak is founder and CEO of .orgSource, a provider of IT strategy and other association management services in Riverwoods, Illinois.