Digital transformation is useless...

by Andrew Japp on 29 July 2016

...without parallel people transformation.

You may be thinking "oh god, not another digital transformation blog!". Admittedly it's a topic that's been discussed ad nauseum, becoming the new emperor's clothes for many an agency striving to move away from a 1950's advertising-model-obsessed sector. But hopefully I can bring some additional thoughts to the table, namely around what's required to actually accomplish it.

In truth, digital has become merely the catalyst behind a wider uncovering of a whole host of problems that have plagued businesses for a long time: organisational silos, poor internal communication, stifled innovation, a lack of supportive culture, legacy technology, inconsistent leadership and strategy, the list goes on.

At the end of the day, organisations are made up of, and managed by, people

A solution for everything?

Digital transformation has arrived as somewhat of a messianic new trend, with many pinning their hopes upon it to solve these complex problems. These true believers promise that digital and a customer-centric vision will help deliver improved profitability, increased innovation, and exponential growth, all through transformations to the fundamentals of how business works.

As you may have gathered from my tone by now, I would recommend taking all of these promises with a grain of salt. In truth, businesses can implement all the technology they want, but at the end of the day organisations are made up of, and managed by, people.

Unless these people can work strategically to implement digital transformation, it's likely that they will experience failure, and a potentially effective (but admittedly buzz-word-heavy) solution could be dismissed as another fad.

Changes in culture

Fundamental to any business transformation are radical changes to the culture and people who make up that business. Employees from the bottom up to the board will require a strong understanding of what's really meant by 'digital', what impact it could have on the business, and how all of this change will lead to a more customer-centric organisation and way of working.

The very reason the word transformation is used is because changes should work all the way through an organisation. Transformation will not just affect IT, digital, or marketing, but even functions like Finance, or HR. The former will need to understand the need for investment into new digital products, and the latter will need to ensure they're capable of recruiting for new, specific, and technical roles.

Old organisation, new challenges

Established organisations don't have the luxury of emerging start-ups, who are starting from scratch and able to set up lean processes across relatively flat structures. In truth, many employees at large companies don't have the individual incentives to support change – they're in jobs they've worked up to and are comfortable with, so why take a risk in trying new things, and potentially even risk being dismissed from a current position?

To help those individuals, companies will need to provide support and guidance. This could take numerous forms, from classroom training to in-situ training, coaching, masterclasses, etc. This skills development will be fundamental to managing change, and reflects the fact that digital transformation is not a one-off activity, but an ongoing investment.

Rather than an instant change, organisations who invest for a gradual long-term transformation will be set to get the many benefits espoused by buzz-word heavy proponents: more innovation, increased employee retention, and more customer-centric products.

A massive overhaul for a business is a scary project to undertake, but what should be scarier is a gradual, slow decline. Just remember not to let the buzzword heavy nature of digital transformation put you off on it's importance!

Sarah Alder says 02:57pm 01 Aug 2016

"A revolution doesn't start when society adopts new tools, it happens when society adopts new behaviours." Shirky, 2008. So we are a society of slow learners I fear. Don't give up Andrew.

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