Creating a Better Built Digital Environment


City planners, architects and developers like to talk about our built environment—the buildings and structures we erect, the space in between and the connections linking it all. It’s an important and useful concept when designing a city’s urban landscape. You can’t just focus on one project, one building or one street. There are interactions within our urban space, and urban planners need a holistic view of a neighbourhood or city to effectively plan and optimize our built environment.

But what about our digital landscape? Are we worrying about the digital edifices, digital connections and digital spaces in between? This is the built digital environment (which differs from the digital built environment, an important concept, as well) and as the digital world grows and expands, we need to start taking a holistic view of what we’re creating.

It’s rather clichéd to say that the web is transforming business, but it’s still true. We are seeing an increase in businesses turning to apps, social media accounts and paid digital advertising to better reach their target audiences.

But while some businesses are keeping up with digital trends, many are not. In 2015, MIT Sloan Management Review and Deloitte conducted a global survey of managers and executives, and while 90% said that their industry was facing change brought on by digital technologies, only 44% of them said they were prepared for the upcoming transformation.

Ensuring your built digital environment is keeping up with the latest advancements in technology isn’t just about doing what’s fashionable; it’s about ensuring that your digital properties are properly serving your audiences and customers.

You need to know what people are doing, how they’re finding out about you, and how they’re transforming information into purchasing and engagement decisions.

In 2015, McKinsey&Company published a report studying the buying habits of 20,000 Europeans, across 30 industries. They found that 26% of purchases were influenced by social media, either through a direct recommendation or as a significant touchpoint in the customer journey.

In 2016, it was found that 69% of millennials and 53% of GenX-ers use their smartphones for purchases.

Hubspot’s State of Inbound 2017 found that websites are the new gatekeepers of information when it comes to sales. They have found that a company’s website is the “primary mode of marketing where it used to be our brick-and-mortar locations…in the next three to five years we will see a shift to brand selling and concierge-like service.”

As you can see, there’s no single magic solution. Your audiences and customers will be turning to your social channels, your mobile apps and your website. They’ll be influenced by the content you publish, the ways you engage and the digital campaigns you launch.

If you’re not looking at your complete digital environment, determining how each digital property interacts and supports each other, then you won’t be able to maximize the impact of your digital presence.

This is why you need to worry about your built digital environment.

Your built digital environment is the digital landscape you present to your audiences. It’s more than just a website. It’s your overall digital presence. It’s the way you engage with your audiences—the way you connect with them. It encompasses the design, navigation, interaction, responsiveness, security and accessibility of all your digital properties. It’s the channels you use to engage your audiences. It’s the various points of engagement—the doors you open, the routes you present. It’s the way you learn about them and the way you provide them with information.

An organization’s built digital environment can also be known as its digital ecosystem or digital footprint, but the concept of the built digital environment isn’t just a different name for the same thing; it’s a different—complementary—way to think of your digital properties.

Think about how people move through a city. They want to get where they’re going quickly and efficiently. They want access to all necessary amenities. They don’t want to get stuck in traffic. They don’t want roadblocks, dead ends or bottlenecks.

In the context of building a city or building a digital environment, the primary concern should be building an optimal user experience.

So, when you’re thinking of building a new digital property, there are a few questions you need to ask yourself:

  • Why are you building it?
  • Who are you building it for?
  • How will they use it?
  • How does fit in with the rest of your built digital environment?

If you don’t think about these issues—if you don’t develop a digital strategy for your projects—your projects will likely lack focus; they’ll be inefficient, grasping blindly for the right digital tool. Your projects won’t be tailored to your audiences; they won’t meet your audience where they are, or give them the right information at the right time in the right context.

Without the necessary planning, without being intentional in your digital projects, your built digital environment will be scattered and half-vacant. But with the right planning and proper foresight, your built digital environment will offer your audiences a variety of functions, digital venues and points of engagement.

We’re living in a digital environment; we might as well make it livable.

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