Digital Transformation, revisited !


I don’t like the term “digital transformation” all that much – and it is no big secret . My views are fairly public on why the term is misleading . That said , the term is indeed very popular and I get asked frequently about critical success factors as they apply to digital transformation . 

My view – simply put – is that it is more about managing transformation (as in change) , and less about digital (as in technology). 

I routinely talk to leaders at my clients who proudly tell me that they have started a Hadoop initiative or IOT project to kick start their digital transformation . I share their enthusiasm – mostly because I know how difficult it is to find budget for new initiatives at many of these companies . But I also know from experience that this is only a very small first step .
I put forward a simple three question framework to get to a common understanding of whether a transformation initiative has a chance to succeed 

1. Are we solving the right problem ? Or are we solving a random problem the best way we possibly can ?

Here is an example from recent experience . Data scientists and Hadoop experts created an amazing “churn analysis” model for a business . Customer loved it – but that project never went very far . Why ? Simply because this customer already had the lowest churn in their peer group of companies . This was not the right problem for the top management to worry about . All that happened was that we found an optimum solution to something that they didn’t really care about . 

2. Why should users switch to a new solution now ?

The CEO or CIO might see the tremendous value in analyzing all kinds of data and deriving deep insights . But when an analyst who has a well developed process of preparing , analyzing and reporting data a certain way for ten years might not see any reason to switch to an unknown new process . 

It’s not enough that users will eventually use the new solution – they need to do it “now”. Are there incentives for them to switch fast ? Inertia kills !

3. Can the solution scale and stick around for a while ?

Not just about scaling technology – but can this solution work everywhere (or in most places ) that we do business ? And is it flexible enough to not need a full redo in near future as business evolves? A transformation should result in something that is both effective and efficient !

Of course there are a hundred other questions to ask and answer about such initiatives – but in my experience , these three will set the right expectations with all the stakeholders quickly and also set the stage for follow on explorations . Worst case , it will still save you time spent chasing the wrong things .

Where should transformation focus ?

A lot of transformation initiatives tend to focus on changing the technology and the processes , and not as much on people . This is also why most of these transformations fail, even though the original proofs of concept were declared a success . 

Example – This lack of focus on users is also the number one reason why self service reporting solutions don’t live up to their full potential is most cases – users just don’t see a reason to switch and suffer from a temporary loss of productivity . And very few leaders have the guts to switch off the legacy reports and “force” users to leap into the new world 🙂 

When there are two ways of doing something !

Technology and process will evolve faster and faster with time -but human beings won’t change that fast if they have a default option of sticking with what they know . This is why startups generally have an inherent advantage in shaking things up in the world compared to an established company . 

Why do more people rave about uber as opposed to say GE when it comes to transformation ? Disruption is always easier when you need to disrupt others without needing to disrupt yourself . 

It’s not as if larger companies have no chance to transform – it just is more painful . Many companies have successful incubation programs in place to nurture new ideas . Integrating the good ideas past incubation into mainstream business is where there are not as many success stories available today . That should change over time .

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3 thoughts on “Digital Transformation, revisited !

  1. Very good blog, Vijay. The people component is the hardest, particularly when most of the “transformation” needs to occur within the the organization who are aiming to be change catalysts.75% of change programs fail – why? Because no one is paying attention to the people. Technology and processes are complicated. You can figure them out with some hard work and attention. Add in people, and all of sudden, there is complexity… and a need for complexipacity. The soft stuff is always the hardest.

  2. Well written article ,it is more about managing transformation (as in change) , and less about digital (as in technology). Another point which is well said is “Disruption is always easier when you need to disrupt others without needing to disrupt yourself ” .

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