What is Digital Transformation, Anyway?

Published 4 February 2020 by Caroline Koktvedgaard

In this series, we break down Digital Transformation in 100 Questions. To kick things off, here’s what you should be asking to get it right from Day 1.

"Change has never happened this fast before, and it will never be this slow again.” 

– Graeme Wood

 

If you’re new to Digital Transformation, you probably have hundreds of questions about how to get started. From comparing different digital vendors to understanding complicated data protection laws, it can seem like an impossible maze to navigate.

We’ve spoken to many business leaders who are worried about the pace of change. But once you break Digital Transformation down into individual considerations, it becomes much easier to understand what needs to happen.

To help answer some of these questions, we’re kicking off a new series of content: Digital Transformation in 100 Questions. Each week, we’ll be tackling Digital Transformation from a new angle – introducing some of the challenges, opportunities, and questions you should be asking, in order to help you respond effectively to change. 

 

This week, we’ve put together 20 questions to get the wheels spinning. 

What is digital transformation, anyway?

  1. Should YOU, personally even know what “machine learning” is?
  2. Is “digital” a technology that needs to be added to your business?
  3. What classifies as digital?
  4. Is the problem changing technology?
  5. Is the problem changing EVERYTHING?
  6. Doesn’t change tend to increase the pace of future change?
  7. Is “digital” simply a trend in the constantly changing factors that feed the change challenge?
  8. Are you seeing a recurring theme here?
  9. Is your organisation structured so that it can respond effectively to change?
  10. Would you like it to be?

 

You may be feeling overwhelmed already. So let’s start addressing some of these questions.

All too often we view the demand for “digital transformation” as something new and novel, strange new ideas coming to upend everything, rather than an increasing manifestation of factors that have always been with us.

We see the World Economic Forum referring to digital as the driving force behind “the Fourth Industrial Revolution”, and pointing out that, for the first time, the five most valuable companies in the world were all tech companies – Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook.

It’s becoming clear that technology is benefiting organisations who successfully harness it. We see MIT reporting that reporting that, ‘digitally mature’ businesses are 26% more profitable than their peers.

It’s tempting then to see “digital” as the answer to all problems, rather than just a running theme in the solutions that we are finding right now. That there is a magical digitisation wand that can be waved one time to summon the autonomous technology fairies that will future proof your business in a puff of invoices. 

But technology alone can not save you. The underlying problem is actually a very simple one, change is an exponential process. Shiny new tools let us build better tools. Change now is not what it was for your parents, and change will be happening even faster, decades down the line.

So now what many people reading this will consider to be the good news. If you are responsible for future proofing your company at a strategic level your primary objective is much less complicated than you may have thought it was. 

You merely need to structure your organisation so that it can respond well to change. This is absolutely not an easy task, but it’s also the type of management problem that could have cropped up in a textbook written at any time in the last century.

Complicated technical things will have to happen, yes, but job one is to ensure that your organisation can hire or train people with the technical skills that will ensure that you can delegate those things. 

It’s obviously not quite that simple, part of this process is absolutely going to require that EVERYONE in your business can understand what the heck their colleagues are talking about, but that is way down the road yet.

 

So what comes next? More questions of course…

  1. Does your organisation understand the importance of adapting to changing markets impacted by Digital Transformation?
  2. Do your competitors?
  3. Are they hiring?
  4. Has your business put someone in charge of overseeing Digital Transformation?
  5. Do they have the knowledge, ability, charisma, empathy, fortitude, and mandate that will enable them to do the job?
  6. No seriously, do they?
  7. Have you budgeted adequately for this process?
  8. Does this allow for costs accrued within the rest of the business?
  9. Does management at every level of the organisation fully understand the importance of this process?
  10. Or are they just saying that they are, so you’ll let them out the conference room?

 

Once you have an idea of your competition, and you’ve put the right people in charge, you’re in a good place to start embracing Digital Transformation.

However, it’s important not to step away from the table at this point: to win at Digital Transformation, all sides of your organisation need to work together.

 

How to win at Digital Transformation

We have consistently found that businesses who have successfully implemented Digital Transformation approach it from the top down. More importantly, they don’t allow the process to become siloed.

Senior leaders should be the ones to own Digital Transformation, and drive this through the organization, it can’t be allowed to fall on a more junior team, like a tech team remember that this is not, fundamentally, a tech challenge, nor is it a suitable for an HR role, as they are unlikely to have the authority required to make changes. In our experience, this is where Digital Transformation becomes too siloed, and ultimately fails.

Digital Transformation is not a departmental delegation. If you ensure that the whole organisation is working together to embrace Digital Transformation, you can create real business impact.

As our own President and Co-Founder, Jonny Townsend puts it 

“Leaders need to get involved from day one, they need to set the vision, they need to empower people, and they need to fund it properly as well,” 

“And if they do all of these things, they can start the journey, they can carry on, and they can realise that it’s not just a ‘one and done’ task – it’s a long-term initiative that they have to see through, and stay the course.”

 

Leading through Digital Transformation

From what we’ve seen, leaders who succeed at Digital Transformation empower people – and they do this by breaking down the barriers between tech and the rest of the business. We are going to talk more about that in the subsequent articles.

The good news is that all businesses are capable of doing it. You just need to work out where to start – and that’s something we can help with.

 

Circus Street can help you achieve lasting transformation

At Circus Street, we help organisations get Digital Transformation right from Day 1. 

As a global online learning business, we help organisations navigate the uncertainties of technology-driven future by building their digital capabilities. And we're encouraging global organisations to break down silos, and work together in addressing the digital skills gap. 

We help every person in an organisation to be educated on these key aspects of digital. This, in turn, builds the foundation on which the whole organisation can continue on your journey towards digital transformation.

To find out how Circus Street has empowered organisations by building their digital capability, see our testimonials page. Or sign up for a free trial of our lessons to see how we can help drive business transformation in your business.

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