Forrester predicted in 2018 that digital would reach the hard stuff, the core of business: organization structure, operating models, and endless discussion of platforms. These themes are far from done; however, 2019 sees a distinct shift in emphasis — winter is coming.

In 2019, economic uncertainty stalks the halls, and budgets will see pressure. Many firms are failing at full-scale “big bang” enterprise transformation, 21% already think they’ve finished — and the rest risk losing their way. For digital leaders, necessity is the mother of innovation as firms accelerate their recession planning and focus on supporting operational improvements that drive tangible benefit for both firm and customer.

Forrester released its annual digital business predictions with clear advice that now is the time to reboot transformation. Firms should focus on digitizing experiences in the service of customers, using technology and partners to create short-term gains that underpin long-term ambition, and drive operational change from there.

Here are some takeaways from our 2019 digital predictions:

  • The caterpillar of transformation becomes the nimble butterfly of innovation. Transformation is far from done and needs to get back to its roots: small, manageable chunks of focused innovation that deliver tangible benefit — but also have a collective purpose so that the sum is greater than the parts. A big-bang approach was never the answer, and Forrester predicts that digital leaders will narrow their focus from transformation to innovation, weaving innovation with digitization of strategy. In 2019, firms will start measuring a new ROI: “return on innovation,” with digital technologies being ranked by the benefit for the firm.
  • Digital needs to pay its way with a downturn around the corner. Those neat but nonscalable executive vanity projects will be shut down. In 2019, operational efficiency climbs the agenda as firms plan to ride out a downturn. Outcomes matter, particularly those that promise maximum leverage by combining efficiency, customer delight, and cost-effectiveness. The best firms will back this up with cultural reinforcement of the need to build for change, baking flexibility and efficiency into their core delivery models.
  • Hot roles for 2019 will be product-heavy as firms pivot to deliver for the builders. Complex multi-touchpoint journeys drive the need for more digital designers, product managers, and experience managers to champion the customer, serve requirements to tech teams, and launch fresh digital services. 2019 also sees firms pivot toward the next wave of digital differentiation by opening up their business models to embrace B2B and connected business. Savvy digital business leaders will emulate firms such as Stripe by recognizing the growing influence of builders — designers, developers, and engineers — on the route to decision makers, creating digital experiences specifically for them.

2019 will be a tough year, and the vanity projects will be long gone. However, it’s an ideal time for digital leaders to prove their value by delivering tangible innovation that drives productivity and improves customer outcomes. Digital leaders must weather winter while investing in the future. The wisest firms use hard times to retrench and plan for the sunnier times ahead.

Download Forrester’s Predictions 2019 guide to understand why 2019 will be the year that transformation goes pragmatic.

Several Forrester analysts, researchers, and research associates contributed to this year’s digital business predictions, including coauthor Allen Bonde, Benjamin Ensor, Ted Schadler, Julie A. Ask, John Bruno, Sneha Dawda, and Sam Bartlett.