Digital transformation

The term digital transformation is being bandied about rather a lot at the moment.

That’s fine – people often argue about words and phrases and what they mean and whether they are helpful.

Usually they aren’t perfect but do a job as a sort of shorthand that everyone has a broad – if occasionally divergent – understanding of.

However, if by transformation people are meaning making a lasting and sustainable change in the way an organisation works (which is how I understand it), then I don’t think transformation is what you really want.

It’s a bit like words such as disruption. Disruption is a good way of getting people to notice something – but it’s not always in a positive way, nor in a way that will convince people to come with you.

Transformation to me feels big, and quick. Maybe that is what organisations want. I don’t think it is what they need though.

Developing the culture of an organisation is hard work, and it takes a long time. For digital transformation to happen, it needs to be incremental and slow. It has to be given time to bed in, for the laggards to catch up, for everyone to be comfortable.

It also has to take place in small chunks, not trying to fix everything at once.

Remember, ‘digital’ is all about small changes, made responsively in line with the needs of users. Not frantic efforts to build giant edifices.

Organisations need to use the mindset, skills and tools of digital to make digital happen, otherwise it makes no sense, and just won’t work.

So, if you’re planning a digital strategy, or are in charge of digital transformation, make sure you start small, iterate, don’t promise too much, and don’t be tempted to go for big, flashy high profile activities. They might make a short term splash, but won’t change much in the long term.

Reminder – if you need a hand with this stuff, the 10 Think Digital principles might be useful. Check out the slidedeck or the webinar recording.

8 thoughts on “Digital transformation”

  1. Here is a very different view of digital transformation. Don’t expect you to agree with it but you may find it of interest.

  2. While I am no fan of the term ‘digital transformation’ (despite me being one of those people with it as a job title these days) I’m not sure I agree with your thoughts mate.

    Nothing about the term ‘transformation’ screams quick to me – it feels like something that happens over time and not without a lot of people pulling in the same direction. I also don’t believe it is all about ‘small chunks’ (though some of it clearly is) – some of the problems are both user focused and BIG and sometimes you just have to deal with that rather than chip away at the edges. This is supposed to be ‘revolution not evolution’ remember đŸ˜‰

    • My fear is that anything big won’t work (because it never has), nor will anything that is expected to be both quick and sustained.

      Doesn’t mean that big can’t be achieved, just that it has to be broken down.

      Likewise, quick stuff is good, as long as it is small and part of a slower, ongoing process which will enable change (or transformation) to bed in and take hold.

      • I guess it depends on what you decide is ‘big’ – I’d say that GOV.UK was pretty big and was transformational and done quickly but it is the outlier still I acknowledge.

        The slower, ongoing, baby steps processes are important but they are only possible if their are enough successes to maintain momentum and those successes need to be big enough to have an impact – in my experience anyway.

  3. Matt – you are right and I realise now I have phrased this clumsily.

    Where I am against bigness is where the deliverable is big. The overall vision needs to be big, of course, but all the steps to get there must be small. Does that make more sense?

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