Fourteen years of Digital Transformation

My first recollection of what was to become Digital Transformation is somewhat hazy, but I remember a couple of events which have a timestamp.

In 2005, Tim O’Reilly wrote “What the hell is web 2.0“, an article of still unsurpassed clarity; if you haven’t read it, yet, stop and go read it.

Now, I’ll wait.

I liked it so much I started writing a series of blog posts, the first of which starts with a this comment:

the “Web2.0” moniker is something we have been developing a lot of experience over the last couple of years

allowing me to date my professional interest in the thing that today we all call Digital Transformation circa 2003, hence this post’ title.

I also remember our first large client(*), a multinational company in whose Italian sub we managed to find someone crazy enough to risk the budget he had for a project on an approach completely unproven. The project turned out to be extremely successful, won a whole truckload of awards and kept growing and growing. At some point, however, the need of the Client for our support diminished as, essentially, they had learned everything there was to learn and continued on their own.

Such is the life of Agencies.

This event notwithstanding, the relationship was and remained good, and we did many other projects together, albeit none ever was as ground-breaking as the one in 2003. Nine years later I left the Agency world and wrote two books (this and this) which are deeply rooted in these learnings: I assumed that, by then, my knowledge was not (only) mine anymore, since nowadays Digital Transformation consultants are more abundant than bartenders.

Fast forward to 2017, when I get a call from that same client, but from another country. The person who calls me is someone I had never met before, had never heard of the project we did in Italy; in fact he does not even know me, except for the fact he attended (and liked, obviously) a workshop I gave in Riga, Latvia and when his boss asked if he knew someone who could run a Digital Transformation Masterclass, he thought of me.

In preparing this session, we demanded the audience (a dozen people who are responsible for marketing and communications for that company in a certain region) what were the issues they were trying to address.

To my huge surprise, these were EXACTLY those they had in 2003: it’s like knowledge had not spread around at all; despite the roaring success of that first project, our approach never turned into a true best practice and was never widely adopted.

Questions included:

  • why should we be doing this?
  • who should we talk to?
  • what should we be talking about?
  • how do we establish meaningful though leadership?
  • how do we keep it alive?
  • how do we connect it to our Brand?
  • what if we’re not selling a product?
  • how do I engage the rest of the organization?
  • how do I know if I’m being successful?
  • what should I measure?

So while I am flattered that after all these years the same client in another country is asking for my help, even if just for some training, at the same time I am bothered because – despite my approach being correct – I failed to really make an impact even on a Client which fully experienced its success.

Perhaps I was too ahead of my time, perhaps my books are not engaging enough (the forced readers in my family tell me, no, they aren’t), perhaps the methodology is awaiting some complementary element which will make it truly understandable and, therefore, useful.

Being right is not even the beginning of the solution.


(*) sadly, the client won’t be mentioned. Unlike other cases, I am not cleared to do so, and it will remain unnamed.

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