Why Digital Transformation Isn’t What You Think It Is

Technology has gifted the world with a plethora of new additions to the English language. If you didn’t know better, you’d swear IT folk invented a cryptic language of sorts to keep the rest of us in the dark about their plans for world domination. Yet, conspiracy theories aside, the term digital transformation is giving even seasoned CIOs pause for thought and grounds for some soul-searching.

Word on the ground says many C-suites still struggle to explain digital transformation to themselves; some believe it’s about keeping up with the latest technology, while others in the organization seem to think it’s something the folks over in Marketing do.

But digital transformation is much bigger than building a shiny new website or ordering from the same technology menu as the competition. Think of it this way, if every enterprise running the latest ERP and Standard Operating Model was digitally transformed, then why do the majority of companies fail at it?

The truth is that bloated business systems are a thing of the past and any vendor who tells you differently should be shown the door, promptly. So, if digital transformation is none of the above, what is it really about and where do you even start? Perhaps a concise definition will help.

“Digital Transformation is the result of increased digitisation of incumbent business tools and processes. It isn’t the act of digitising in itself, but is the resultant potential for people to reimagine the way they’ve always done things.”

The perception that computers will do it for us is a very dangerous one. Digital transformation isn’t about people doing fewer thanks to the influx of new technology. Instead, it’s about how organisations can be more efficient, creative, productive and profitable in light of the transformative potential digitisation holds.

It starts with a new business narrative

Digital transformation is when business leaders start having frank conversations about loopholes in their value chain. From operations to sales to IT, conversations have to shift to one central factor: value. For example, CIOs must shift dialogue away from routers, servers, the cloud and apps to discussions about how technology can unlock value for the business.

No one in the C-suite wants to hear about how new packet compression technology helps to improve traffic across the WAN. When conversations like these are transformed into discussions around business enablement, value and tapping of new revenue sources, people become engaged.

To this end, companies should look at themselves from their customer’s perspective and map their way back to the nuts and bolts of the business. Doing this allows them to identify technologies, processes and even behaviours that can be modified and adapted according to the flux of the modern world.

For transformation to work, siloes need to be eliminated

In a time when businesses are looking to IT for strategic leadership, CIOs need to proactively engage members of the C-suite to understand how they can help to uncover value. Take the relationship between Marketing and IT as an example. Today, CMOs are far more reliant on data analytics for effective advertising campaigns, which in turn needs CIOs who understand how business technology can help Marketing build more data-driven strategies.

Any hope of success requires CMOs to stop thinking about IT as a back-office function and for CIOs to start thinking about themselves as strategic business enablers. Of course, things aren’t always that simple. With Marketing usually working within tight deadlines and creative spaces and IT’s tendency to be more conservative and risk-averse, friction and toe-stepping can result.

Yet, cooperative relationships between C-level staff play out with virtually zero conflict in digitally mature businesses. This is largely because the underlying culture shift away from silos has already been navigated. And this is probably the deal-breaker when it comes to digital transformation: the willingness to challenge existing models that threaten to curtail any chance of transforming your business.

Change is the only constant in a digital world

While digital transformation journeys don’t all have to be radical, successful journeys go to show what can be achieved when people are willing to start having new conversations about what’s possible. Transforming the way your business works can start with small practical steps that can give you momentum as you start to see results. One thing is for sure though, if you keep doing what you’re doing, your business could be struggling for relevance in a world that’s defined by constant flux.

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