Think you're done with digital transformation? You're not

By Rob Bearman on September 10, 2018

There is much being written about why companies are failing at digital transformation.

The short of it is they think it's some kind of technical patch to their current business practices. This is a subtle point, as the replacement of paper or manual systems does have a role (even a major one) in transformation, but businesses fail to differentiate between tactics and long-term strategy. Technology makes business revolution possible, but the focus on technology alone doesn't lead to revolutionary strategic change.

When business think the process is complete, they are failing to understand that at its root, digital transformation is about change management. It's about recognizing that how you communicate, how you project your brand to the world, how you gain business intelligence, how you identify, attract, and retain customers, how you do X, where X is something you've never known you could do before - all become possible because of changes in technology and digital infrastructure that are now available to you if you can learn how to marry your revolutionary new business strategies with the technology that can enable them.

Forrester finds that 21% of companies they've surveyed believe they've completed their digital transformation. This is a complete misunderstanding of the concept, one that derives from an incomplete study of what transformation really means. It isn't a patch project. And since technological innovations don't stop (the steam engine was hardly the end of the line!), digital transformation doesn't stop, either. Technology evolves and reinvents itself, as yesterday's big news becomes replaced by something more improved, more innovative. We don't still store company data on floppy discs, and even CDs and DVDs are being replaced by the cloud. If you stop your digital transformation, believing it complete, your business practices soon become at risk of being overtaken by competitors who are constantly evolving. Transformation is necessarily an ongoing process.

There is a learning pattern when anyone starts something new, whether it be joining a team or beginning a project. It looks like this:

First day: I don't know anything about this project. I'm completely overwhelmed.
Three months: I've got a sense of the landscape. I know how all the parts work together.
Six months: Ok, I've got this now. I can strategize over the business and the technology.
Nine months: My six-month self was an idiot. There's more I don't know than know. I'm getting it now.
One year: I've achieved Yoda-level understanding on this project.

The misunderstanding regarding "completing" digital transformation is a symptom of this learning cycle. Business leaders have to study the concept of digital transformation, its implications for their companies, how they compete, and what the business world of the future looks like over a period of time, especially as they apply their learning and insights to their ongoing transformation. Each phase of the timeline, you think you know everything. Around nine months, you know enough to be wiser.

Business leaders have been around the block enough to recognize this learning pattern. Those embracing the challenges of digital transformation understand they can shorten the learning curve by working with outside specialists to guide them in change management and technology choices.

We're going to talk here in future posts about the nature of digital transformation, including its core components - your current business, managing change, incorporating technology. We'll discuss why it's challenging, but at the same time thrilling and invigorating. We'll cover technology. We'll talk about how change management methodologies drive the process. And throughout, we'll show how necessary it is to establish a culture of agile, opportunistic exploitation of data and technology to constantly keep your company lubricated with ongoing transformation.

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