Swimming along a road in a flood of digital transformation

swimming-along-the-transformational-roadI am so caught up in transformation, no, actually I am swimming in it. No gentle backstroke for me lapping in the digital transformations that are being written about, this is a hard swim, one I’m not sure I can stay afloat and make headway, yet I must, well actually we all must. We all need to learn to swim along this new digital transformation road.

Recently I was asked to complete a review of digital transformation, to gauge where it presently is, to take a look at the leading emerging practices and ‘professional ‘wisdom’ and turn these insights into a report due out before the end of the year.

There are many innovation implications in this digital transformational journey that hold my increasing attention. For most of this last twelve months I have been increasingly tracking, researching and responding to supporting clients need  about digital transformation, so I was happy to take this on. Little did I realize how this digital transformation has become a flood, a torrent of wisdom, many offerings different, often varying views and advice.

The more I deepened and intensified my investigation there came this overwhelming feeling that it is getting a real overload on those wanting to understand this digital transformation that is occurring. It seems no industry or business person is going to be immune to this transforming impact yet we seem to be facing such a deluge of advice. Picking it apart requires the stamina and focus of a long distance swimmer, the same commitment I think will be needed for this digital transformation journey

So I need to pick it apart. Not easy but a challenge.

A digital transformation does mean going back to so many fundamentals. We need to create a digital transformation strategy, a clear roadmap and build the business case as it is going to be, well, umm……..transformational.

I do get a distinct impression there is no randomness in this, it does need to be well thought-through. It is not like downloading one app, or simply moving some items over to the cloud, assessing its value and purpose and how it currently fits, and then simply dispensing with it if it does not meet our need. This is about having a viable business in the future, based on digital as we have this overwhelming, nagging feeling all our current business models are under threat.

It is no more just the smart, nimbler upstarts threatening us, it is coming from all directions, at speeds that seem to increase the rate of change constantly. Those of us burdened with a legacy system and a management holding onto the past glorious days then your days seemed numbered. This is going to require a significant investment in energy, focus, and resource commitment.

We do need really different thinking. We need to ‘up our game’ in boldness of leadership and the totally, utterly unshakable belief in innovation, exploring new business models, grappling with all the available assets inside and outside the organization being pulled together in new digital ways, exploiting all the technologies as they ‘break’ and evolve. There seems no more “wait and see”, it has become “learn and experiment fast”

Where to start?

Firstly we do need to recognize technology is inseparable in what we doing, going forward. The blurring of our lives, of the breaking down of the different old industry demarcations, the blending of government, corporate and social engagements is giving increasing voice to each of us as individuals, all happening due to this exponential set of connections. I sense from many this is ‘epic’, exploding and life changing, with all of us simply learning to adapt and adjust.

The choice of apps, platforms, the number of connected devices is teaching us new ways of communicating, learning, interacting and extracting different value and needs out of the technology available which is all constantly evolving.

How does a large business keep pace with this exponential connection? Where is the starting point or the necessary change inventions one needs to bring in to understand the gaps and fill the voids, can we back-fill as we equally move forward?

The past business decision was based on evidence, validated and justified, it sort of evolved at a steady pace. The sheer scale and impact of how technology is evolving at increasing speed will need a massive mind shift.

Although each organization is having so many competing priorities, the gap between how it is organized today and building these required digital capabilities is getting wider, unless you work through this transformation plan in a clear, purposeful way. It has to begin  with a ground-up approach, small experiments that can quickly be scaled up or revised. It needs very hands-on engagement throughout the whole process.

A key need of this digital transformation is going to be asking the question of how can we build in ‘greater agility’ and what is presently stopping us from achieving this. Then it is the agility to achieve better response times to customers needs, to respond to market changes quicker, to translate insights into knowledge and then into the product and service innovations that meet ever-changing needs.

It is recognizing and then facing up to your present ‘pain points’ and the key competitive places that agility, digital understanding and translating this into outwardly facing outcomes will significantly improve your abilities to compete, in often volatile markets. It is shortening the time between understanding and reacting and this is where digital transformation offers both the ‘return’ promise or becomes the threat.

Forming a strategy, roadmap and business case needs real considerations

There are many considerations, each organization will be different. Yet all have a common need; the recognition each organization needs to develop its digital capabilities, organization-wide, not stuck in some IT department. It is a total company-wide set of activities that are affected. It is developing the digital capabilities across the organization by transforming the culture, the people’s digital skill set and the structures to get into sync, not just with newly defined organizational goals but also consistently adjusting to the rapid pace of change occurring in the marketplace, aligned to customers evolving needs.

The critical first points to address is the lack of something, be this the resource to undertake such a task, a lack of digital talent residing in the organization or digital savvy, the ability to make this a corporate priority and not leave this to limited pockets of divisions, functions or channels. It needs this powerful syncing and top-level focus and support.

Then we need to encourage and expand the risk appetite, in rapid experimentation and learning, to accelerate the infusion of digital talent, enhance the understanding of soft skills and the art of collaboration, in new teaming, in-goal and process identification and solution solving. Also in developing greater fluidity in structures, exploring and identification with the needs of new solutions to keep ‘feeding’ this back into the evolving roadmap. All of this needs to establish a new digital rhythm to encourage the flow of knowledge and understanding, to feed back into evolving solutions that will take time to develop and embed.

Then you face all the potential barriers that need early identification. The need for alignment across the organization, the ramping up of skills, breaking down those silo’s to stop any efforts from being disjointed, establishing different metrics that reflect this digital transformation journey and show proof of adoption and usage spread, constantly adjusting resources, building the new digital culture and finally, keeping the lights on in running today’s business, as you undertake this transformation. No easy task but one that needs a complete re-engineering,ending with a redesigned organization, fit for the digital future.

A very different type of orientation – a digital core reliant on the edges

So it is recognizing that digital transformation is multiples of connected intermediary goals, learning by doing, adjusting and evolving. Yet the critical change is this might be internally driven but it must be driving to a very different outwardly engaging result. The changes at the core, need to be totally connected to the outer edges of the business due to this hyper-connectedness. This shifts responsibilities to a more decentralized environment.

It is transforming to offer customer experiences, to engage deeper with multiple stakeholders, to make sure the last mile of the external engagement which are all operating at the edge, are the points in value understanding, so then it gets processed in the core where this more agile internal process responds, adapts and adjusts constantly.

The need for interconnecting both the internal world with the external world is partly why we are seeing such a high level of attention to platforms and managing in ecosystems, both in enterprise and broader systems of ecosystem thinking.

Finally, one book written by David L. Rogers “the digital transformation playbook” offers a good read covering this complex subject. He has broken down his view of digital transformation into these five handy yet critical focal points: For each domain of customers, competition, data needs, innovation and value he is suggesting these five strategic themes of: 1) Harness customer networks, 2) Build platforms, not just products, 3) Turn data into assets, 4) Innovate by rapid experimentation ad 5) Adapt your value proposition (constantly).

In summary

Digital transformation is about undertaking a systematic journey, built on interim building steps, to adjust to the learning and response. The reality is this is a long transforming journey that will take years to undertake for many established businesses that need to shed legacy, adjust and reorient their resources, processes and thinking to adapt to this connected world.

Going digital will need strong governance and leadership, consistent technology integration, a growing digital literacy for the operations, processes and all involved to enact change in roles, systems and supporting model.

Lastly, to achieve a different result that provides a return for all this undertaking and effort will mean ensuring the customer journey, the touchpoints and the experiences meet the customers’ needs, not those internally imposed ones, build on the business expected needs.

Value will be driven by the market and the customer, not top down but bottom up and this will need a very different orientation to innovation through platforms and ecosystems to build communities of common purpose.

The future will be driven by communities of vested interest, that keep evolving, adjusting the value proposition constantly, to meet the constantly evolving customer needs, and that will need a highly fluid, agile and adaptive organization, working in multiple structures, adjusting in evolutionary ways, reliant on everything digital.

Digital transformation is truly transforming for all of us.

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