Digital transformation is a term that has been thrown around board rooms for a few years now. Many legacy businesses that once struggled with accepting the need for digital transformation now unanimously accept it, but are increasingly struggling with how to implement the change.
It is a dangerously broad term that can mean anything from creating or redesigning a website, to launching a digital marketing campaign to a complete change in the structure and working of a business. That is why the how of digital transformation has become a headache for many top executives in more traditional firms who believe their business is being threatened by digital start-ups who are disrupting the market.
One the one hand, you have businesses that believe that digital transformation is the creation of digital platforms and new marketing channels that once did not exist and on the other, you have those that believe that it means replicating the digital start-up culture perfected by the likes of Facebook and Google. The answer is sort of in-between and more nuanced than the extremes presented above.
What digital transformation is not
An important concept to grasp when talking about digital transformation in businesses is that it is not an end product. The very word transformation should hint at the fact that it is an ongoing process, yet there has been a fixation of reaching an end goal of having your business become ‘digital’.
It is a dangerous concept for the very reason that the digital world is no longer a separate entity that evolves at its own pace – the digital world is now just the world. There is no ‘traditional’ or ‘non-digital’ world that exists in tandem with the digital one. As the world – read digital world – is ever changing and advancing, there cannot be a fixed goal in sight and so digital transformation is an ongoing reaction and adaption to the trends of the world.
Because non-digital is now extinct, many executives and consultants are referring to digital transformation as business transformation. It is a response to the shift in consumer behaviour away from traditional channels and into an almost purely digital environment in which they interact with their peers and with businesses.
The how of digital transformation
One reason why newer companies, and specifically technology start-ups, have found it so easy to adapt and change to the latest digital trends is that by virtue of being young companies, they can enact vast change rapidly. They can get board approval to purchase billion dollar companies in fields that never existed a few years prior in the drop of a hat.
Legacy companies that have been around for decades and even hundreds of years will often struggle to get a buy-in from the board. For an effective digital transformation, you need a vision (not a goal) of where your company is headed and you need all employees, senior and junior, to buy into that vision and engage with it.
The biggest barrier to effective change is often quoted as the belief of senior leadership that no change is needed.
A culture change is often needed because of this. A poll by Organic found that 30% of respondents believe that transformation of the culture of the business is required for a successful digital transformation while only 8% believe that adopting new IT is required.
A customer-centred approach to tackling digital transformation is the best option because technology, by virtue, will track the needs of consumers and customers. Any implemented project has to serve a real customer need, and at the same time, a customer need has to be understood and predicted and planned for. The failure to do so is what leads to start-ups entering the market, based on delivering something that other companies failed to deliver on.
Many digital transformation projects are short-term and do not always deliver a ‘bang’ when revealed. What business needs is constant progress, addressing micro-goals that contribute towards a long-term vision. If your business can achieve this, then you are on the right path towards digital transformation and the goal of remaining relevant in an ever-changing world.