Digital Transformation: how to know you’re successful? (here’s a tip, if you use the words Digital and/or transformation, you probably aren’t)

Digital Transformation falls into the most desirable category for consultants, namely; something for which there is no agreed definition, something for which there is a huge appetite for investment and something for which there is no clear definition of success. In consulting, we love waves of programs or even better ‘ages’ – information age etc. because it creates a case for change for every organisation which leads to large programs, investment and therefore revenue.

As a corporate though, this is what you want to ask yourself.

Do the best companies at Digital call it digital? The answer is a pretty big no. If ‘Digital’ is endemic in your business and it’s how you operate it’s not a choice, a channel or even a principle to align to. It is the core operating logic for how you do business. The real change in the market has been the reduction in barriers to entry which mean you can engage with customers, manage your people and manage your ecosystem (the huge investment IT costs to do this no longer being the same issue).  People love to point out that of the top 50 US companies of 10 years ago, there are very few that are the same today but what this highlights is that it has been much harder to manoeuvre something traditional into something ‘digital’ than it is now to change something digital into some more traditional. Amazon and Whole foods, Facebook becoming a media company, Apple becoming a bank. Perhaps we shouldn’t call it transformation and start calling it resurrection. Maybe you need to fundamentally change the Digital DNA of a organisation first before you try to transform anything. A lot of banks have their online only, people centric brands which they create and then try to roll the best ideas there into their big brand. Why not try it the other way and allow the big brand to die slowly as they blend into a completely new organisation?

Is it transformation when you do it all the time? I have spent a career designing and planning transformation, it is on my CV, my title and I’m proud of the time and investment I’ve put in to trying to ‘transform’ organisations. However, the frequency with which I’ve run strategy sessions, built operating models and customer journeys shows that there is an obsession with perpetual transformation. One program connects with another program which overlaps with the new one which is the second part of another one. Most are named something of the genre ‘Phoenix, Genesis, Apollo, Jigsaw or anything with First in the title; CustomerFirst, PeopleFirst, America First etc. etc. There is a trend at the moment to not call programs ‘transformation’ because people have become bored, blasé or generally tired of the term. If this is the case then either they haven’t been transformative or they haven’t been successful. By the very definition, people need to know they are in a very different world because of something that has happened and they can pinpoint the changes. Again, the companies who are best at transformation don’t call it transformation. It’s not because they are bored of the title rather they see change as a constant and valuable force. Although I am loathe to use the word agile, the core of being flexible, agile and adaptable is built into how they operate. The rise of Chinese Tech firms is a quite remarkable case study but before anything, it’s noticeable that you can’t define what type of company they are; tech, media, transport, financial services, communications etc. These would not be successful without a constant and embedded capacity for change.

What happens when Digital is Business as Usual? – it’s likely that we’ll look back and consider even the term ‘Digital’ to be old fashioned. We are already at the point where it’s not an option, it’s the way we do business. ‘Digital’ penetration might be varied by industry and by country but it’s a question of when rather than if the entire world sees Digital as the standard. Even more so, it’s increasingly the Digital part driving the non-digital part. Your shops are there to market your products with the sales and service online. Your call centre is to support your online presence and so on… As it stands, there are lots of cases of the online service being much better than the traditional channels; (don’t believe me, next time you want to complain about a phone company or an airline, make sure you put it on Twitter the same time as you start a phone call and see what happens.) As this changes, organisations will need the scalability to handle the majority of their cases Digitally rather than looking great managing a small number which is easy. You can already see the lag on ‘click to chat’ growing but you can also see the huge investment going into AI Chatbots.

So then, have a think about your own companies approach to Digital Transformation. What they call it can tell you almost everything you need to know.

As for the next buzzword after Digital Transformation I am putting my money on a return to the old days of consulting; a block of How consultants Design People, Design Services, supported by a raft of What consultants – SMEs in industries, capabilities, tools. What I don’t think we’ll have is anything called Technology or Digital or Customer because that will be so obviously core skills that we wouldn’t need to mention it. My previous job title Keith Logan; Head of Digital Customer Experience Transformation.

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