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What is digital transformation anyway?

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‘Digital Transformation’ in essence is a movement encapsulating the rapid and pervasive discussion and adoption of technology inside organisations. It is being used to describe existing processes, procedures, operating models and organisational structures in a new world delivered by the aid of technology. For organisations to identify with such a term and build a vision for their employees it will help bring aligned focus in delivery – the change managers dream. The challenge however is when that term is defined differently as you move between organisations the employees and even leaders start to lose sight of what they were aiming to achieve. They become swayed from organisational goals and execution meanders or fails to deliver results. This is a genuine problem and one highlighted by a frankly shocking statistic, published by Forbes, that indicated 84% of companies surveyed were failing at digital transformation

The discrepancy in use of the term digital transformation is exemplified in how teenagers, 30 something’s and middle/late agers use their smart phones is very different. There is a maturity in the use of technology that drives the pace and type of technology used. Organisations are no different really. Varying levels of organisational maturity mean that digital transformation looks different depending on where you are. This actually really resonated with me and I suspect a lot of people in the room from the change profession.

Change professionals recognise that there is no one sizes fits all for delivering change – many factors around the people, the processes, the technology and the leadership will make up the culture of the organisation and this will dictate the way in which you navigate change. We still call it change management but underlying each is a whole different set of practices based on the organisation. Digital transformation is no different – understanding a company’s maturity enables you to focus on what is right for them and help them move up the maturity level in small but internally meaningful steps.  

Data and Goliath

Some of the case studies powerfully illustrated what technology is enabling. Seismic disruption! Long established organisations have fought off competition in the past because of their sheer size and reach. Trying to innovate for them has typically had smaller rewards and traditionally brings bigger risk. But technology is diminishing the power of ‘size’ and ‘reach’ and the risk not to innovate for established players is just as great as to try.

However its isn’t just about technology. Where start-ups and smaller organisations are winning is that they respond quickly to ever changing trends. They are using data at the heart of every decision. Not just any data but data focused on market trends and customer behaviour. This is not a new area of expertise but what is becoming more apparent in the use of data these days is it is helping to mitigate risk from initially worrying bets which can be rapidly tested with the aid of technology. Blockbusters fall to Netflix is a great example of this.  


The notion of change ready cultures and individual resilience came up in several places. Innovation supported by technology is going to rise exponentially. Dealing with it in your personal life is a choice. Dealing with it inside your organisation will be a direction. I often meander between change management being a discipline and it just being an incredible set of managerial skills. I do think the more technology driven change becomes the norm and increases the pace of change the more the change management skillset becomes a tried and tested leadership style. I don’t think change management will disappear – I just don’t see every company maturing to the same spot over night or even in the next 10 years, but building organisational cultures which embrace and accept change will ensure your organisation keeps pace with your rivals.  

Digital security

Now let’s inject a little bit healthy of concern. An audience member raised the point about the pace of cyber security. For me this is a genuine concern. Agile development and rapid technology innovation is excellent for the consumer – as long as all the information flying around in the air is protected. The real problem I can see is that testing things are safe in your new innovation slows down the release. I remember a recent example of new cars which have keyless ignition – as long as your key is inside or within a meter of your vehicle the engine can be started at the push of a button. Unfortunately a loop hole in some systems meant that the signal from your home wifi could be used to boost the range of your car key inside your house and mirrored by a tablet or smartphone outside. If you wake up to your car missing from your drive but key still on the side board you know what happened. As consumers we do have to consider the risks all this technology innovation carries with it – organisations have to also taken account that rapid release is good but too rapid brings other reputational risks which have to be managed.  


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