Tired of Talking About Digital Transformation? Too Bad.

Stephen DeAngelis

March 8, 2021

Have you ever visited a friend who owns yappy, little dogs that constantly bark and nip at your ankles? After a few minutes, you just wish the dogs would shut up and go away. Aviviere Telang, a Global Digital Advisor and Solution Strategist at Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, believes many business executives feel the same way about people who are constantly talking about digital transformation — why can’t they just shut up and go away. He sees this attitude reflected in what he calls “digital transformation burnout.”[1] Organizational burnout, he insists, is reflected by the fact that “70% of organizations stall or slow in their transformation efforts.” Telang argues that companies can’t afford to abandon their digital transformation efforts because they risk their future if they do. Why? He suggests three reasons transformation efforts must continue:

 

1. The digital landscape is continually changing. Telang explains, “As organizations pivot to experience- and service-oriented business models, their digital ecosystem will have to continually expand to meet the demands of an ever-advancing digital agenda.”

 

2. There is an unprecedented scale of transformation taking place. The late humorist Will Rogers once stated, “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” Change is inevitable and, in the IT arena, its happening quickly. Telang notes, “IT is no longer the only one at the epicenter of these forces of change. Increasingly, Lines of Business and enterprise functions are challenged to respond in lockstep with the evolving agenda.”

 

3. Organizations will either keep up or fall behind. According to Telang, “Customer expectations, industry trends, and market requirements are changing at an accelerating pace. As Antonio Neri, CEO of HPE, likes to say, ‘the future belongs to the fast.'”

 

Telang concludes, “Any one of these factors, when taken alone, [is] challenging enough to address at enterprise scale. Combine all three, and you suddenly have a perfect storm that is quickly separating winners from losers in each industry segment’s marketplace.” In other words, sometimes we need those yappy, little dogs to keep us on our feet.

 

What is digital transformation?

If Telang is correct — that successful digital transformation will separate winners from losers in the years ahead — it begs the question: What is digital transformation? That’s a difficult, if not impossible, question to answer in general. Every industry and every company will have a different answer. Digital transformation is not just about technology. Tricia Wang (@triciawang), a self-described Tech Ethnographer & Sociologist, explains, “A lot of companies treat digital as if they are ‘doing digital’ — this is ‘digitization’ at its worst — as if it’s some checklist of things to do. It’s very transactional, and people are so busy doing digital they don’t even know WHY they are doing it in the first place! Whereas [some companies] embrace ‘being digital’ — this is ‘digital transformation’ at its best — it’s a total paradigm shift in the culture and operations — it’s not just about buying the latest digital tool, but about creating a new system, new cadence, new mindset.”[2]

 

The editorial team at Tech Funnel writes, “In all business areas, digital transformation integrates digital technologies, radically transforming how you work and bringing value to consumers. It is also a cultural transition that allows organizations to question state affairs on an ongoing basis, experiment, and be comfortable with failure.”[3] One of the biggest mistakes a company can make, according to Greg Stam, managing principal in the CIO advisory at AHEAD, is to think that digital transformation only applies to the IT department. “Digital transformation is not just an IT project — it must be led by business goals,” Stam says. “Too often, transformations get off and running from little or no direction from the business side. This lack of participation is a dangerous risk. The business may be pivoting or trying to make a competitive leap forward and IT is focused on improving the status quo.”[3]

 

The way forward

Mark Walker, Associate Vice President for sub-Saharan Africa at IDC Middle East, Africa and Turkey, agrees that digital transformation must be an enterprise-wide endeavor. He states, “There is a lot more ownership and transparency throughout the organization and there is a responsibility that comes with that — employees want access to information, there has to be speed in knowledge, transactions and engagement.”[5] He also agrees there isn’t a single path for digital transformation. He insists, however, that there are five essential steps in every digital transformation journey. They are:

 

Step 1. Evaluate where you are and decide where you are going. Walker notes, “Ultimately, every organization, regardless of size or industry, is reliant on technology to grow or deliver customer service, but their digital transformation requirements are different. To ensure that investment into artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, knowledge engines, automation and connectivity are accurately placed within the business, [you need to] know exactly where the business is going.” As the Cheshire Cat told Alice during her adventures in Wonderland, “If you don’t know where you are going any road can take you there.”

 

Step 2. Examine what the business wants to achieve. There is no reason to “go digital” if a business case can’t be made for doing so. According to Walker, “The goals of the organization over the long and short term will be entirely sector dependent, but it is essential that it examine what the competitive environment looks like and what influences customer expectations. This understanding will allow for the business to hone its digital requirements accordingly.”

 

Step 3. Match expectations to reality. Walker observes, “You need to see how you can move your digital transformation strategy forward and what areas require prioritization, what funding models will support your digital aspirations, and how this ties into what the market wants. Ultimately, every step of the process has to be prioritized to ensure it maps back to where you are and your strategic steps that will take you to where you want to go.”

 

Step 4. Look at the operational side of the process. The traditional triad for business success is having the right people, the right technology, and the right processes in place. Digital transformation doesn’t mean these elements are no longer important or that technology is stressed over people and processes. Walker explains, “This is as critical as any other aspect of the transformation strategy as it maps budget to skills to infrastructure in such a way as to ensure that any project delivers return on investment.”

 

Step 5. Create a feedback loop. As Telang noted above, there is “an ever-advancing digital agenda.” The business landscape never remains static; which means transformation efforts never end. To ensure your efforts continue to pay off, you must assess how the landscape is changing and how your processes are responding. Walker states, “This is often the forgotten step, but it is the most important. The feedback loop is critical to ensuring that the digital transformation process is achieving the right results, that the right metrics are in place, and that the needle is moving in the right direction. It is within this feedback loop that the organization can consistently refine the process to ensure that it moves to each successive step with the right metrics in place.”

 

Concluding thoughts

Like Stam, Walker understands transformation efforts must not be confined to a specific department. He states, “There must be a real desire to change, from the top of the organization right down to the bottom, and an understanding of what it means to undertake this change and why it is essential.” Telang adds, “A leading reason why digital transformation efforts stall in execution is inadequate alignment and commitment between the business and technology teams. This inserts unforeseen risk right into the execution path and ultimately derails the digital initiative.” Digital transformation is neither a buzzword nor a passing fancy. To ensure your efforts succeed, constant — if annoying — reminders about the importance of digital transformation are required. So, don’t complain when someone lets the dogs out.

 

Footnotes
[1] Aviviere Telang, “Digital Transformation Burnout? Here’s Why and What to Do to Set it Right,” CIO, 26 January 2021.
[2] Trevor Miles, “Let’s be clear: Digitization is not the same as Digital Transformation,” Kinaxis Blog, 8 December 2017.
[3] Team Writer, “Digital Transformation Trends: Things You Should Follow,” Tech Funnel, 27 January 2021.
[4] Stephanie Overby, “7 digital transformation leadership sins – and what to do instead,” The Enterprisers Project, 25 January 2021.
[5] Staff, “The five pathways to the digital enterprise,” IT-Online, 25 March 2019.

 

Concluding thoughts