Digital transformation is dead!

by Zoe Kelleher on 26 July 2017

Ok so digital transformation may be very much alive, but the term 'digital transformation' is on its way out. And here's why...

For those of us who've worked in digital for more years than I care to share, this new era of business transformation in the digital age is logical, it's exciting and it brings so many benefits to businesses and customers alike. But what about those who are new to digital, whose products and services have relied on more traditional ways of working, those who are nervous of the impact it will have on them.

We've talked previously about digital transformation being all about culture change – and it is. But it's also creating a forward thinking, responsive and efficient business – streamlining processes, putting people (customers and employees alike) at the heart of what you do, using the right technologies and embracing more agile ways of working that are integral to those truly digital organisations.

The simple fact is that many people are scared because they don't fully understand what 'digital transformation' actually means. What do they need to know? Is it about technology? Or process? Or culture? And by culture do we just mean out with the formal work clothes and in with jeans...?

These are exciting times and the whole organisation should be part of the transformation journey. To do this we need to educate, reassure and build confidence, common understanding and hopefully lots of excitement. And perhaps use the scary 'digital transformation' term a little less. From our work with clients, we thoughts we'd share some of our learnings on transforming your organisation to the best it can be in this digital age.

Learn more about how we can help you in your digital transformation.

Find Digital Champions at every level

Having the right people championing a transformation effort is crucial to its success, and this should span all levels of the organisation. A committed, well-aligned group of influencers should not be taken for granted.

The digital transformation (if we still want to call it that!) needs to touch all the parts of the organisation, cut across silos and foster a sharing culture. It cannot just happen or be contained to a particular team or department.

No digital transformation can occur unless it is sponsored by the C-suite setting a compelling vision, and embodies the company values by leading by example. But, to scale the transformation throughout the business, it is important to identify people who are enthusiastic and open to digitisation and willing to help at every level of the business. These colleagues are important to connect the top-down transformation with the various business functions, regions and departments. Such a network of champions forms part of the change management strategy to bring the organisation together.

Offer test and learn opportunities

Digital transformation is often about experimentation - trying to find new or improved processes that deliver incremental benefits to your customers and organisation. As with all experiments, some will be more successful than others. Some will end in complete failure – but that's good!

Every failed experiment should be seen as a chance to learn and improve. Empower people to make mistakes (within reason!). An experiment that might have had an adverse impact on key metrics can also provide crucial insights into user behaviour and is an opportunity to iterate and grow.

It's essential to build a culture that encourages learning and not one of condemnation so that failure becomes part of the journey and not a barrier. By using digital technologies in a risk-free setting, employees will better perceive the change and understand what it means for them.

  • This is the case at Aviva. They have several labs, which the company calls garages. Employees are sent on secondments to garages from their regular office jobs. As these are set up differently than typical day-to-day office environments, employees who work in such garages usually catch the "agile process" bug and start to embrace digitally transformative technologies. When they go back to their regular jobs, they take this new knowledge with them and begin to change the culture of the business from within.
  • Amazon created an experimentation platform called "weblab", on which they ran almost 2,000 experiments per year. This is one of the ways that they can quickly pilot and validate new ways to add value to the customer experience. In 2013, Amazon's weblab launched a simple solution called "Ask an Owner" that routes product questions from users considering a purchase to customers who have already purchased the item. In less than a year from launch, millions of these questions were asked and answered.

Educate in bite-size chunks

Find out which areas of digital scare people, or ones they don't really understand, and create a training programme around these. This could include anything from a 'learn about digital' wiki to lunch & learn sessions to larger training sessions around meatier subjects.

Run innovation sessions. Facilitate a workshop to help teams think in a more agile way and then relate this back to their day jobs. Run pilot projects and communicate the journey throughout the organisation. Shout about the benefits and values of digital being realised – especially those that have a positive impact on employee jobs.

Rather than biting off a large chunk of digital improvements at once, you'll get quicker results by beginning with small wins to build confidence and momentum—concentrating on areas where people have existing skills, clear objectives and strong leadership backing.

Company culture has an intangible quality that requires sensitive nudging and precise targeting of new key behaviours, which is why changing a culture takes time. Look for behaviours that already exist in your company that support this re-education. You can reinforce those behaviours in formal and informal ways.

By doing this, you enable the gradual culture change. You cannot change the culture just by trying to convince people of the merits of digitisation.

Communicate, communicate, communicate

Communicate results, good and bad. Engage and energise the organisation through on-going communications and involvement at all levels. Never underestimate the impact that effective and regular communication about the transformation can have on its success.

Transformation will be successful if the entire organisation understands the needs and opportunities of digitisation. Like in other business transformation programs, developing a communication plan and delivering targeted communication are important steps for promoting digitisation throughout the business.

The digital vision and the identified change impacts are important sources for raising the awareness and increasing acceptance for the digitisation efforts.

Stop using the term digital transformation

Genuinely, some of our clients are phasing this term out within their organisations. It creates a sense of a massive upheaval and change around a discipline that many don't fully understand or embrace. It makes people think it's something that's happening 'over there somewhere', not something that it they are part of until they're told otherwise.

Yes, we are transforming organisations, and at the centre of this are the benefits afforded by the digital age. But it's not big bang, it's iterative. It's not top-down, it's all embracing. It's not scary, it's exciting! So, stop talking about 'digital transformation' and just start doing it – using the tips above to support the work you do.

Closing thoughts

Digital transformation is impacting every industry and legacy business. But (always a but) managing this process will affect who will survive and who will not in this time of the digitization rush. If you keep people at the heart of this change then you will be alright for the most part. Some people will be taken a little outside their comfort zone, but that's OK and remember, we are here for you.

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