The technologist smiles wryly as he metaphorically dusts off his hands: digital transformation, done. He closes his machine and casually strolls off towards the sunset… If only it were that simple.
Unfortunately, a technologist’s work is never done; infinity isn’t a destination.
I don’t want to begin by shattering anyone’s illusions, but let’s get started with a hard truth: digital transformation isn’t a ‘one-and-done’ process. It’s not something that you can do and move on to the next thing. There, I’ve said it.
In fact, what even is digital transformation anymore? It’s a term that’s been repeated so much it has become almost undefinable. But, to me, true digital transformation is something that touches every element of the business and provides a platform for is infinite, how do you ever go beyond it?
Constant transformation and the ‘continuous next’
With much of the work in digital transformation taking inspiration from lean, agile and continuous improvement methodologies, a holistic digital transformation is a process that can never truly be completed.
Businesses do not exist in a vacuum, and so there are constant external factors that must be considered, and constant transformation must happen. to respond to them. For technologists like me, the work is never done. And as the cycle continues to speed up, digital transformation will become a constant recurring process of iteration and improvement. Gartner states that ‘continuous next’ is now the default position regarding a business’s digital development. And I’d be inclined to agree – it means that the process never ends.
What’s your change strategy?
Imbuing every corner of an organisation with digital and technology not only enables businesses to change constantly and rapidly, but it also makes this constant change an imperative. Has this become the case for you yet? Much of digital transformation is concerned with removing barriers to change and increasing agility. However, if businesses do not leverage transformation to build a culture of continuous improvement, then questions should be asked about how well they have developed their strategy.
Where do we go from here?
While digital transformation can’t be completed, the foundations of it can. And when an organisation has successfully laid theirs, it will be far better placed to adopt all manner of emerging technologies – therefore, the only way is up.
Whether you include these technologies as part of the ongoing iterative process, or see them as a different phase is largely semantics. Once a business is truly digital at its heart, it will be able to assess the utility of technologies like distributed ledger technology, AI, mixed reality and quantum computing, and work out how these can be applied to improve the business strategy.
Conversely, businesses that are less mature in their digital transformation will find it much more difficult (though not impossible) to adopt these emerging technologies. They’ll ultimately run the risk of higher cost and potential for failure by trying to ‘run before they can walk’, technologically speaking. So, go easy if this applies to you.
How are CIOs and CTOs adapting?
It’s fair to say that many CIOs and CTOs are now shifting their attention to understand the post-digital customer, employee, threat vector and market.
We’ve even seen a rebranding in some companies, with CIOs becoming ‘Chief Innovation Officers’ and CTOs turning into ‘Chief Transformation Officers’. After all, there is always a conflict in how organisations balance the needs of today without accumulating technical debt, or falling behind competitors – so evolving these roles is crucial. In the most successful organisations, it is common to spread the post-digital conversation across the entire C-Suite, gathering a broad range of domain expertise and information from all senior leaders in order to understand what comes next. The end execution on how to modify digital transformation to accommodate these changes naturally falls on the CIO and CTO, but with guidance from across the board. This shift reflects the nature of digital transformation, with the companies who are best able to focus on the post-digital age being those who have built a thread of digital across the entire business, rather than in traditional IT silos.
Capitalising on the post-digital era
When it comes to ‘what’s next’, my number one piece of advice would be to not do anything rash. Dramatic sweeping changes rarely work out well and are often the hallmark of a struggling business. Businesses can capitalise in much the same way they always have, adapting best practices to this unchartered new era based on the information they receive along the way. Customer-centricity, looking after employees, understanding their markets, building strong supply chains, being a trusted partner.
These have been the cornerstones of successful business for over a century, and while there will be opportunities created by digitisation, good practices are universal. Short-term gains in areas like direct-to-customer models that were all the rage a few years ago have fallen from grace dramatically, and those that have chased them have often found this gold rush to be damaging in the long term. This combines with false signals from companies whose success is owed to market manipulation from a pile of VC cash and a high burn rate. Therefore, I believe that long-term success in the post-digital era will come from utilising the latest technology to boost quality, manage costs and provide great products and services to those who need them – in the way they need them most. Of course, that’s not advice that will play well in every boardroom, but the thing to remember is that no technology is a magic wand – no matter what the person selling it to you may say.
Be sure to choose the right partner.
The right choice of partner in all things digital is not to be underestimated. Being able to develop a relationship for the long-term based on the fact that a partner understands your point of view, respects the challenges and uses a mix of expertise and business acumen is crucial. What you need is the right advice, at the right time and within the right context. And the right partner can deliver just that. After all, business is personal and IT – supported by your people – is the foundation of any successful and future-forward digital transformation strategy.