A sensible approach to Digital Transformation

I get asked this a lot, so I thought a standard document could be useful.

  1. What is Digital Transformation?
  2. Everybody is talking about Digital Transformation, these days – how is your approach different?

Obviously the two questions are asked by very different sets of people, but they are equally poignant, so I will try to answer each one separately.

What is Digital Transformation?

Most large companies cannot be described as early adopters when it comes to innovation. At some point, however, certain innovations are seen as inevitable and they start climbing the corporate pecking order. This means resources are diverted from other endeavours to explore and hopefully define how they will be adopted by the whole organization.

The “reason why” that triggers the sense of inevitability may vary: in some cases it will be a new channel to sit alongside the existing ones to sell line extensions or ancillary products, sometimes it will be a way to enter geographies where the company has little or no presence or, again, it will be a way to approach a new demographic target. But it may also be a new, more efficient way to support existing clients or a more direct way to connect management and rank-and-file employees.

There is hardly a process within any given organisation that is free of interference from Digital: sales, marketing, communications, channel management, employee relations, customer service, after sale support.

In fact you could say that:

An enterprise will be digitally transformed when Digital will have permeated every way in which its Brand connects with its internal and external stakeholders.

How is your approach different?

Let’s assume now that a company has reached the tipping point, deciding it must dip its toe in Digital: walking the beaten path of innovation introduction, typically it will create a Special Team with the task of running  a Pilot Project.

This approach is doomed: if the Pilot Project is a success, everybody else in the organization hates it because it perceives a threat to the existing statu quo which may challenge the established nomenklatura. If it is a failure, the conclusion is that “…we have demonstrated Digital won’t work here”.

In either case, the Special Team loses impetus and (not rarely) its best talent, change-resisting forces, sensing its fragility, throw more sand in already gripped cogs bringing the process to a halt so that no Digital Transformation occurs.

Most Digital Transformation experts will therefore try to shake companies from this torpor use scare tactics, a.k.a. the Disruption Slide:

The forbidden slide

This slide means that however painful Digital Transformation may be, the alternative – extinction at the hands of newcomer competitors – is way more painful, so you better bite the bullet and act.

My approach (described in the Digital Transformation Workshop) is more gradual and walks the company through a journey: each leg of the journey delivers actionable, valuable results and the Pilot Project becomes nothing but the “fil rouge” following which various company functions can be infected with the benign transformational virus.

2015 07 10 Digital Transformation Governance roadmap.011

At the end of the journey we have involved Marketing, Communications, Information Systems, Sales and Top Management: Digital is not an isolated asset, the turf of an enlightened elite, but a shared competence woven in the fabric of the company’s business.

Transformation complete!


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