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Digital Business Sustainability Components SDGs

The Eight Core Components of a Sustainable Digital Business


Can Digital Transformation drive your Sustainability programs? In this article, we provide a simple eight-part framework for understanding your Sustainable Digital Business.

I have been working on digital transformation initiatives with many people and organizations over the years and have seen a few trends. It is common, for example, to face difficulties when getting started on the journey. Confusion is the norm – we are awash with buzzwords and inundated with technology-focused frameworks that put the digital cart well before the horse. It is invariably a trek from the jungle of consulting double-speak, working our way to the fresh air of a simpler, cleaner, easier-to-understand vision of where things can and should be.

Over the years, I have had a lot of success with my simple framework, the Five Core Components of a Great Digital Business. The approach is straightforward – find the right level of abstraction that puts you a reasonable height above the trees as you contemplate your particular forest. This is a better point of view, and we can now get specific on digital ideas, opportunities, and technologies; the framework allows us to put each of these topics in the proper context. Decisive action becomes easier when we can bring the right stakeholders, leveraging our best talent to get the most out of these impactful (and sometimes controversial) ideas.

Growth and Change: Reactive or Proactive

More often than not, I will characterize this level of digital transformation conversation as reactive. A change has happened – good or bad, internal or external, with your markets, customers, operations, or the applied knowledge around which you have built a thriving organization. Now that change has occurred, how will you check and adjust? How will you address the problem or take advantage of the opportunity?

The Five Components framework is a great tool to facilitate this conversation, but it is limited; the focus is primarily inward. Yes, we talk about connecting with our customers and introducing new digital capabilities from the outside … but it still feels like an internally focused, defensive, reactive conversation. The overriding sentiment is around the idea of resilience – how will we survive and thrive in the coming days, weeks, and months.

And there’s nothing wrong with that … until you expand your view and think about problems and opportunities driven by forces outside your four walls. It’s time to start moving from resilience to sustainability – are we surviving to see tomorrow? Or thriving for the long term?

An Updated Framework

Of course, when presented with a complex problem, I rely on my frameworks. It’s easy to think too much about topics that are new, uncomfortable, and daunting. So let’s extend the framework for a resilient digital business to contemplate the external challenges and opportunities. We’ll take it up to eight core components, as shown here.
Digital Business Sustainability

The objective here is to lessen the shock of impact as waves of initiatives and ideas that get slapped with the Sustainability buzzword invade our environment. Let’s take the concepts from my last article and add them to the diagram – sustainability topics simplify into three essential areas that are meaningful to most organizations looking to grow and thrive well into the future.

  • Environment – As we run our operation, how are we managing natural resources – our own use, plus the responsible use of resources by our suppliers and customers?
  • Economics – As we expand our markets and locations, how can we operate more efficiently, connect to and with the cities and towns where we work, and drive innovation in our required infrastructure?
  • Community – As we develop and grow the people we sell to (customers), the people we collaborate with (suppliers), and (most of all) the people that make up our internal teams. Can we invest time and attention in making their lives better – so that they can become true partners, and significant drivers of our success?

Simple, easy to understand, and relevant to most organizations. The details can be highly nuanced; this is a great way to frame up the conversation.

Meet the Sustainable Development Goals

Framework at the ready, I can contemplate the breadth and depth of the Sustainability conversation with a bit more control and focus. Sustainability describes an amazing range of essential topics, as shown below. We can simplify the discussion by aligning specific ideas to the outer ring – divide and conquer is a very valid strategy.

Sustainability Sustainable development goals SDGs

I would suggest that all organizations must take some level of interest in Environment, Economics, and Community – but not necessarily all of the ideas listed here. The framework simplifies the conversation by making it easier to filter the list. We can get the critical few topics that match the vision and views of your organization.

Focus is a wonderful thing.

By the way, the sustainability ideas listed are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals championed by the United Nations. It’s really the best (some might say canonical) list of topics that fit into the “big picture” of sustainability.

The Eight Components of a Sustainable Digital Business

Your corporate strategy explains what you’re trying to achieve, where you will play, and how you will win. But if you’re trying to really transform your company, a Sustainable Digital Business will nail each of these eight components:

  • How you work
  • Who you serve
  • What you deliver
  • Using data to your advantage
  • The people that make it happen
  • The natural resources you consume
  • The larger world where you operate
  • The lives you impact

31 May, 2022

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