What Does Digital Transformation Really Mean To Your Business?

Digital transformation. Multichannel customer engagement. New cloud mindset.

If you’re playing Buzzword Bingo and scoring from home, your board should light right up. But what does it all actually mean? Is there anything behind the barrage of jargon that vendors and pundits foist on us that’s worth spending our precious hard-earned time and resources on?

Let’s consider the first one: Digital transformation (which I do agree has been overused almost to the point of being a cliché). We have now entered the territory where we hear a term so often that we stop listening before we allow ourselves to think about it—sort of like hanging up on a poor telemarketer before she finishes her pitch.

Here is my challenge for you: Think about what “digital transformation” means for you without rolling your eyes and diving into the next clickbait story that catches your eye. Part of the problem, I believe, is how the term has been explained. A lot of people immediately launch into an explanation of why you should totally transform yourself digitally, and what products or services you should be getting in order to get yourself digitally transformed so that you are not left standing on the platform as the 21st-century way of doing business pulls out of the station, and if you act now we will throw in a free (digital) toaster and a free waffle maker, etc., etc…

What? Oh, yes, sorry—that was also my natural reflexive reaction to hearing pitches like these.

But what does digital transformation mean? Here’s the simplest way I can explain it: Digital transformation means doing everything in your organisation with as few manual steps as possible, taking advantage of technology as much as possible to make work easier, do things faster, do new things, engage with your customers digitally, and gain a lot more understanding about what you’re doing while you’re at it.

OK, now that we’re covered the what,  let’s talk about the why. The easiest way to explain this is simply: The world has changed.

Customers now want to do everything, faster, easier, and simpler.

They are no longer happy with getting information the traditional way. Everything must be done with immediacy, and information needs to be ubiquitous and instantly available. This is true for both business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) models.

It is also true for the public sector. And if you think this trend is going to slow down, have a chat with an average teenager. They have never lived in a world without the Internet, and they will be entering the workforce and consuming goods very soon.

Can your business afford not to accelerate and provide digital services and contact points to this generation?

One more important aspect of these trends is that more and more of it means that the optimal solution is cloud solutions. As the great exodus of data and information to the cloud continues, it is now just common sense that in most cases, a cloud system is the best choice, as no system is an island. There will come a day when having your own server room will seem as antiquated as punch cards and mainframes. I’ll be 47 this year, and I am convinced it will happen in my lifetime. Scary.

But wait a minute, you say. You’re savvy to all this. You have a state-of-the art website, you allow customers to shop, order, and transact online. You are hip to all this digitalisation of business.

If you’ve done this, excellent—you’ve gone a long way toward digitising your business. However, even if customers are the lifeblood of any company, they are not the only thing that needs to be digitised. You also need to make the other parties in your business—your suppliers and your own employees—enjoy the same digital benefits. Just as you have made it easier for your customers to engage with you, you should also make it easier for your suppliers to transact with you, and you should also make life easier for your employees.

Once the three pillars of customer, suppliers, and employees are digitalised, we can use analytical tools to analyse, mine, and report on the data to present the information in consumable form.

At this point, it is very important to remember that digitalisation should never take the human element out of your processes. Rather, it should take the drudgery out of your workflow to allow the humans do what humans do best: make better decisions.

This is in line with my earliest blog post, “Becoming a Mindful Organisation,” and it also builds on concepts such as why a cloud system increasingly makes sense. But allow me to inject a dose of reality here: This is no magic bullet. (e.g., how will you migrate your 20-year-old bespoke order-entry system into the cloud system that IT has fallen in love with, and not lose any business ?)

I’ll leave you with  three highly unofficial pieces of advice, based on my own experience:

When considering solutions, consider the short-, medium-, and long-term view, and consider the three pillars: customers, suppliers, and employees. Find a solution that will have a positive (or at least the minimally negative) impact on all pillars, not just one. Think road map. Does your vendor have integrated solutions that will benefit multiple pillars?

Go past the marketing hype and accept that there will be some complexity. Simplicity does not simply happen just because you installed a new cloud-based system. Business is complex—competing issues and priorities will still fight for your time and attention, and there will be technical issues in the roadmap ahead.

There will also be resistance from internal and external parties. That’s OK, just take it in stride and find solutions to them, and be flexible enough to make adjustments. There is a technical term for this: C’est la vie. The history of IT has always been smart people like you finding ways to solve complex problems. This is just another bend in the river, folks.

Embrace change. Just as I have gotten over being a cloud skeptic, be willing to have an open mind and look at new way of doing things. Perhaps the way you’ve been dealing with your suppliers for the past 15 years can be rethought. Maybe the way your project engineers enter time can be streamlined. Maybe the online catalog that went up when Netscape was still a thing should have a refresh.

It is a brave new world out there, and although there are no certainties in life, all signs point to the future being cloudy. Get equipped, get informed, and get ready to digitally transform your organisation, because the rest of the world will not wait for you.

For more on digital transformation strategies, see Who’s In Charge Of Digital Transformation? You Are!

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