Adobe chief tech advisor: Why it's time for a reset in digital and data thinking

What the latest Digital Trends report tells us about digital and data maturity and how organisations continue to keep up with with customer experience expectations

Acceleration of digital has been a significant by product of the global pandemic over the past two years. From the way we work, to how we make purchasing decisions and buy, digital channels and capabilities have been instrumental to economic growth, business survival and customer experience management.  

Adobe’s recent 2022 Digital Trends Report across Asia-Pacific paints a clear picture of digital’s significance today and into the future on CX. It found A/NZ businesses in particular are set to outstrip other global regions in customer experience investment in 2022 in response to the pandemic-induced surge in new digital consumers and online behaviours.   

According to the report, the rapid increase in new customers through digital channels over the past 18 months resulted in 77 per cent of local brands witnessing new and changing customer journeys. More than eight in 10 (81 per cent) expect the pace of change to persist as a result.   

Challenges in coping with these changes remain, however. Poor technology system integration, for example, is holding marketing and CX ambitions back, and 48 per cent of A/NZ businesses see this as a priority for their organisations right now. This is even as local markets are comparably more digitally advanced: One in three A/NZ businesses say simplifying their technology stack is a priority, compared to Asia (13 per cent) and India (24 per cent). A/NZ is also reportedly leapfrogging the rest of APAC in its appetite to use cloud-based technology for CX and data management at 56 per cent compared to 37 per cent in Asia. 

At the same time, only one in four APAC practitioners feel confident in the data and insights their organisation has to be able to respond to changing customer experience expectations. What’s more, 83 per cent of APAC leaders worry they do not have the digital skills to keep up. And while 92 per cent of senior executives ‘agree’ their ability to be agile will decide their success as a marketing organisation, just 25 per cent of practitioners rate their organisation’s agility responding to opportunities and disruptions as eight or more out of 10.

So where must organisations put the digital emphasis now if they’re to keep up with the pack?  

During the recent Adobe Summit, CMO sat down with Adobe’s chief technology advisor and principal product manager, Scott Rigby, to dive deeper in the results and explore what organisations should be doing in order to stay on track with the pace of digital change and their customers.  

Where are we at in terms of digitisation maturity two years post Covid’s arrival? And how far have organisations still got to go to build appropriate digital capability?

Scott Rigby: In some ways, I think we’re still aspirational in respect of where we are at from a digital capability perspective. There’s no doubt, particularly in Australia, that there are leaders – the big four banks, top telcos and retail companies were early investors into digital and technology. But there has been a big swathe of companies that have only jumped online in the last two years.

Our Digital Trends survey data is an interesting tool in understanding this. It showed 32 per cent consider themselves to be leaders, 60 per cent mainstream and 8 per cent laggards. I would argue, however, that the laggard segment is significantly bigger than how those people perceive themselves to be.

Scott RigbyCredit: Adobe
Scott Rigby


When you look further into the data, you see this. When asked how, ‘did you deliver against customer expectations’, 45 per cent of respondents across Asia and 34 per cent in A/NZ said their experience was lagging. Only 33 per cent as an average said they had insight into new customer journeys, friction points and purchase intent. And that’s just capturing data.

When you start to look at utilising data to get the true value out of it, which is driving insights and most importantly, action, that was a massive miss for all of us across the region. So while there is an aspirational idea of where we’re at, when you start to ask more pointed questions on capability, there are massive gaps.

For those lagging or even perceiving themselves to be mainstream on digital acceleration to this point, what should they be doing right now? Where should the emphasis be when it comes to digital?

Rigby: For businesses to have got this far, you have managed to survive - you treaded water and managed to get this far. It’s an opportunity now to do a bit of a reset.

The priority investment areas should firstly be in digital skills, without a doubt. With A/NZ executives, we asked about employee capability to be able to deliver CX going forward, and 77 per cent said they are worried about such capability from a skills perspective.

There also needs to be a reset around your data, implementation, governance and ability to turn insights and results out of that data. In addition, there needs to be a mindset investment into how to restructure and adapt your organisation to be more agile to responding to customers.

In our report, A/NZ businesses were seen lagging against India in respect to their approach to remote working. There are still large numbers of businesses that expect employees at some point in future to come back into the office. The problem here is we are in a global war for talent. We found 77 per cent of businesses in The Philippines, Singapore, India and Malaysia said their digital natives want to work for international companies overseas.

As much as we generate talent – 76 per cent of STEM graduates came from this region between 2016 and 2018 – the likelihood is we’re going to lose them as we don’t have the right progressive attitudes to the future of work. That digital talent will turn to businesses much more adaptive to their needs.

How does this change the way we think about digital strategy and ‘digital’ investment?

Rigby: Part of the challenge is the budgeting cycle. Businesses are investing in technology; the problem is they’re not asking for enough money to build the digital skills they need to drive those technologies. They need to carve out a greater portion of money to ensure their organisations are getting the best value out of these new technology investments.

It’s also worth noting with the leaders, mainstream and laggards gap that it’s getting bigger. It’s not just the laggards that need to be worried either - the mainstream gap is getting bigger as well. That requires a degree of risk appetite to make investments to be able to leapfrog or catch up to the leaders.

Your research shows much more recognition of the importance of integration of technologies. Is this a reflection of personalisation and tech purchasing maturing?

Rigby: Again there is a dichotomy. If you look at A/NZ 10 years ago, we invested in best-of-breed technologies, cherry picking different tech and capabilities around analytics, content management, orchestration, and so on. Now, organisations are starting to see the pain of trying to duct tape this together into some sort of deliverable customer experience management platform.

ASEAN came along three or four years later and invested more in a single tech platform that comes integrated to try and bypass that. Now we’re swinging back again. Composable commerce, for example, is not just about individual technologies, it’s breaking down one tech into individual components. That’s creating a huge amount of complexity. If you don’t have the technical chops in-house to manage that, that could quickly become an even bigger nightmare than the current integration challenges you face.

How does Adobe’s approach fit into this picture?

Rigby: The premise behind Adobe Customer Experience Platform is to be able to bring tech together. We have made acquisitions along the way and all have their own different taxonomies. What we don’t want is to have hundreds of different APIs connecting these technologies behind the scenes. The long-term plan is to pull data out of these acquisitions and put it into a single taxonomy.

There are huge benefits to that – one is you have data in one location, but also you have all this data, it’s rich, and you can run AI algorithms over the top of that. The more data you have, the better your algorithms are going to be and the more competitive you’re going to be.

If you are trying to approach this with a multitude of tech and data still sitting into silos, you can’t run algorithms running across all data. You will fall behind unless you bring it into a centralised, integrated structure.

With rapid investment into CDPs, the demise of cookies, segment matching and potential changes of Australia’s Privacy Laws, data use is in the spotlight. Do you think marketers and organisations are perceiving data differently now given both digital progression as well as consumer sentiment?

Rigby: You’d think we’d be more mature, but the data is telling us we’re still not across the data enough. The Digital Trends Report showed only 37 per cent of execs felt they had sufficient data to take action from. I also noted before the gaps in processes. That’s why I argue it’s an opportune time now, while we have a bit of a breather on whatever happens next with Covid, to take a reset around the key pillars driving experience.

We talk about experience as both the art and the science – the art being content, the science being data and voice of the customer. Content helps us respond to that customer. It’s the time to look at these two pillars now and ask: Are you really operating in the best possible manner? You may not have had the time to look at it in the last two years; now while we have a bit of a break, what can we do to reset around data implication? What’s the governance that sits around it, how are we dealing with the demise of third-party cookies?

It’s about being able to deploy data across an organisation, having processes to surface it up and take action from it, while looking at content at the same time.

The macro environment is changing every day – lock downs, buying in-store or online, how customers react and respond to you. We’re also working from home, so you have to have data in a more decentralised organisational structure so employees can respond in a more timely manner, rather than sitting and waiting on data approvals. The data governance challenges here are compounding for organisations. Hopefully, technology resolves some of that, but some of this is cultural and ultimately, that requires leadership.

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