Thursday, June 18, 2020

Digital Transformation Reality Check

When last week the CEO of the world largest software company is said “We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months”, it had me wondering about digital transformation (DT) and my understanding of this wonderful term. As a student of technology based transformations and a practitioner of IT led business success, my reading of DT was fairly simple and shared by a large number of CIOs, CDOs, and CXOs across companies and industries. While many vendors and partners pitched their wares as the means to get to the ultimate nirvana state of digitally enabling the business, they were largely a cog in the wheel and not the whole wheel or a major part of it.

Many would have seen an image that in jest points to the cause of forced digital transformation not being the CIO, CDO, CTO, CEO, or for that matter any person, but a virus; the same virus that has changed the way of working for the entire world bringing business’ down, forcing everyone to stay at home to stay unaffected and alive. Almost everywhere work from home became the only way to continue basic operations and run whatever remained of their business. In a struggle for survival, the need for connectivity and basic tools exploded. The inertia for the adoption of collaboration tools was replaced by enthusiasm and across corporate layers people started embracing these.

Many small and large technology providers took advantage of the situation to proclaim their role in digitally enabling their customers. Their offerings ranged from cloud based software solutions, mobile enabled applications, applications for managing appointments, note taking, digital publishing and not to forget the collaboration tools for voice, video, chat, conferencing, editing and sharing documents, workflows, the list is endless ! Almost every enterprise that had some ongoing operations and dialogues probably had most of these deployed; the scale at which it was now required needed additional subscriptions and deployments.

So I went back to my library to refresh my memory and found 2 definitions that resonated with the majority and the foundation of my discussions with people and companies in the past. They are:
1.      Digital transformation is the integration of digital technology into all areas of a business, fundamentally changing how you operate and deliver value to customers. It’s also a cultural change that requires organizations to continually challenge the status quo, experiment, and get comfortable with failure.
2.      Digital transformation is the process of using digital technologies to create new — or modify existing — business processes, culture, and customer experiences to meet changing business and market requirements. This reimagining of business in the digital age is digital transformation.

The lockdown over the last 2 months and more brought about the New Abnormal. Companies attempted to enable as many people as feasible with tools to continue working. Sales calls continued on video/voice calls, meetings conducted on collaboration platforms, data moved to the cloud for access by the teams that needed it, and access to core applications controlled to the WFH enabled. All of this did fundamentally create a change in existing business process, culture, customer experience and probably a long lasting one. It is unlikely that the situation will revert to normal any time soon. So if you take the literal meaning of the definitions above, the answer would be yes there was digital transformation.

But, isn’t digital transformation planned with a step by step review of process, people, technology and consideration over impact – to customers and internal stakeholders – and change that needs to be managed. Does it not require endless meetings and buy-in from teams to the new way of working and automation that improves outcomes? Should not legacy and status quo be challenged to discover the optimal digital footprint for the enterprise? What about the investment and budgets and ROI, impact on operating expenses? Who will drive the change and create a sustainable model? Is this digital transformation or a digital reaction to the new abnormal necessary for survival and a semblance of continuity?

I believe that the new abnormal has triggered a wave that does away with the conventional decision making cycle and metrics for technology tools and solutions that enabled the enterprise to function even if with reduced operation and manpower. The elephant in the room that needs confrontation is the continuity of the current once business starts moving again and the normal as everyone knew and understood makes a comeback. Will the additional investments, ad-hoc changes and approvals for access, implications on licensing and more, the mountain to climb would be the shift back or keep the new way of working as the new normal. There is no one way to go, it would be dependent on the company, industry, geography and the amount of cash in the bank.

The seeds of digital transformation have been sowed – grudgingly or forcibly imposed with no choice; it is up to the enterprise to build on top of this after strengthening the potentially shaky foundation. And the answer is yes, what would have taken 2 years has taken 2 months, though it may not be sustainable as it is and will require a lot of rework.

That’s another story !

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