When I meet with organisations about their plans for digital transformation, the first item on the agenda always seems to be what application they need to invest in and how many developers they will need.
In short…technology, technology, technology!
But my question is…does digital transformation really start with technology?
If you’re old enough, you may remember walking into a Blockbuster store, to select a videotape, paying a rental charge, and then returning the video within 24 or 48 hours. Your rental history was on index cards and after their “digital transformation”, a database that required manually keying data into a basic CRM.
Similarly, having worked for several organisations in IT which required travel I have suffered the torture of needing to enter and submit expenses claims. One company I worked for thought the answer was to put the manual form into Excel (because of course a digital process was always going to be better than a paper-based manual process).
Another company simply re-created the ‘old’ expenses form in an internet web page and, of course, they similarly, thought that a digital process was always going to be better than a paper-based manual process.
What all of these “digital transformations” failed to understand was that a genuine digital process is not created by simply mimicking the manual process ‘on the internet’.
Fast forward to the days of Netflix where for the cost of one video rental a month you can stay at home, search, and select from thousands of films that are tailored to you and where the menu responds to your previous viewing patterns (and you’re never charged a late fee).
Digital is a way of thinking and behaving, not merely the application of a tactical enhancement or development. Digital transformation comes instead from working out what exactly the business, its employees and its customers need and then designing a process and digital experience to match, just like a seamless Netflix experience.
Sometimes this is understood by those individuals involved and still, they simply digitise a manual process without considering the underlying process in its analogue form and this stems from overlooking company culture.
Neglect of business culture however may well result in serious consequences, according to Alyson Clarke, a principal analyst at Forrester.
“If elements of your culture won’t work, it will grind your digital transformation to a halt at some stage. No matter how good the technology is, you can’t overcome a culture that is not digital and innovative,” Clarke said.
So, how does one address culture?
From whatever source the drive for change emerges; customers, operational pressures, increased competition… the organisation must communicate a very clear picture of what the digital transformation goal looks like, and not just the end goal but also the small wins that continue the momentum in the digital transformation journey.
We all know the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated innovation. The need for business to adapt, survive and flourish, has brought many businesses to the realisation that imperfect now, is better than perfection that is simply too late. Making calculated risks is key to developing a transformational culture.
So, with those considerations in place, I would argue that technology is important but it’s not the whole solution. Organisations must ensure their transformation strategy is in place and embraced for the technology to be successful.