We must move past the overuse of the term ‘digital transformation’ and stop playing digital dress-up.
If you are anything like me, when you hear the term ‘digital transformation’, you cringe a little. The phrase is so often overused, and regularly thrown into conversations, presentations, and client pitches in a bid to impress, appear cutting edge and ooze relevance. You’ve likely been there or perhaps, like me, have been guilty of this misuse in the past.
When I hear the word digital now, I think of creative people in smart-casual clothes with hipster beards (excuse the mass overgeneralisation) throwing in the term ‘digital’ like a verbal shotgun. I have no doubt that when the term 'digital transformation’ was first used it provided meaning but, unfortunately, in recent years its overuse has caused it to become meaningless and resulted in failed, expensive transformation programmes that lack impactful, long-term change.
Digital transformation is about much more than just new, shinier systems and it cannot solely be the responsibility of good ol’ Bob in the IT department. Simply rebranding an IT function or choosing to put in more modern technology and calling it digital transformation is much more like playing digital dress-up.
Digital transformation is all about the journey an organisation (not just an IT department) embarks on to operate and thrive in our connected world. This is enabled by technological advancement but requires much more than just new digital solutions. However, I think there is a better narrative than using the term transformation. A more helpful and meaningful one, that will enable us think more broadly about how we manage and facilitate change effectively.
It is more fitting to talk about ‘digital evolution’ rather than ‘digital transformation’.
Organisations shouldn’t think in terms of an A to B transformation. The goal should not be to become ‘transformed’. Rather, organisations need to continually evolve; this means no transformation programme that starts with a kick-off party and finishes with go-live celebration 18-months later. Actually, scratch that. We all love a good go-live party so they should continue. But it cannot end there.
This is a subtle shift in thinking, but an important one intended to change the narrative. It challenges leaders and staff within organisations to plan better for ongoing evolution, and to cultivate market resilience by creating the ability to adapt quickly and respond to change time after time. It is not a one off.
Digital evolution calls for us to always be prepared to look different tomorrow than we do today.
To do this we need to be better at addressing the challenges that face our organisations more broadly than just technology. True digital evolution must cause our organisations to be prepared to look different tomorrow than they do today, instead of transformation programmes that are just another corporate agenda item amongst a laundry list of programmes and projects that puts a costume over what has always been the same.
Practically, we have to work smarter in how we:
- Attract, manage, re-skill, develop, and retain people;
- Create, amend and adapt process;
- Select, deploy, manage and decommission technology to meet our desired consumer experience; and
- Collect, store, transfer and delete data.
By adopting this ‘whole capability’ lens of evolution rather than a narrower view of transformation, the mindset of an organisation’s workforce changes. Embracing digital evolution requires a new mindset of serving customers whereby no distinction is made between 'business' and 'technology'. This helps to solve customer needs in a much more integrated way by forgetting about departmental mandates, and collaborating more effectively across what have traditionally been siloed departments.
In our connected and rapidly changing world, rather than transforming we must strive to build ever-evolving organisations. Ones that naturally shift and change to meet the demands of the customer, and pressures from the market across all four of the dimensions, not just technology. If we settle for anything less, we do our organisations, ourselves and our customers a disservice.
I say ‘digital’.
You say ‘evolution’.