Digital transformation — is it potentially just hype?

I have a teen on the cusp of hitting her twenties and one of the topics that come up pretty regularly is career choice.

When I was about the same age, my parents steered me in the direction of an organizational psychologist who promoted Business Administration as a good career choice, though quite what that all really meant at the time was unclear. MBA’s and degrees in softer topics as compared with Accounting, Statistics Economics and Law which were certainly popular choices and remain so. Business administration itself continues to be a staple of business degrees but with specializations depending on ones’ interests.

Computer technology was already starting to become prevalent but Business Information Systems, as opposed to Computer Science, was still in its early days as a taught subject. All that said, the Accounting faculty was inspired in forcing all accounting students to take at least one academic credit in a computer technology-related subject.

In the thirty years that have elapsed since then, Information Systems has not displaced Computer Science but it has certainly become ever more critical for people in business to get ahead.

The new workforce entrants are what we’re now glibly referring to as ‘digital natives’ though quite what we mean and what we’re suggesting isn’t always as obvious as perhaps it should be. For me, it is a major contrast with my parents’ generation who had to deal with programming video cassette recorders and were the first generation to benefit from digital and quartz wristwatches. This new generation hardly ever wear wristwatches, carry powerful computer devices around with them wherever they go and don’t have an experience much beyond the turn of the century.

They are effectively a generation wholly raised on the benefits and principles of living in a world where a digital experience is almost as real as a physical one, and one that is likely to become ever the same and alike.

For this and future generations, online shopping, real-time insights, digital service delivery and support and interactions are nothing unusual and in fact, they are implicitly assumed to be on offer. Businesses that don’t offer an experience that is aligned with this expectation will likely fall out of favour and see declining growth and stagnation.

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When a business says that it is going to embark on a digital transformation program, what is it actually saying? If a business has not already largely done away with paper-based and paper limiting processes, then what have they been spending their innovation budgets on for the past twenty years? Sweeping out the paper-based processes and replacing them with electronic forms and computer-based capture and entry methods is not digital transformation. If anything, that might simply be process automation or digitization. While it may be traumatic for the staff and changing the way people work, it isn’t the kind of transformation that Digital Transformation is pointing at.

If they have been running on mainframe or old client-server technology for the past thirty years and they are now upgrading or renewing those pieces with new cloud, virtual machine and updated software versions; then that’s not digital transformation either. That’s simply systems renewal.

For all sectors, whether it be public, or private; digital transformation can really only pointing to leveraging technology to create competitive advantage, elevate service levels and improve stakeholder and partner engagement.

That’s a mouthful but what it is really saying is that organizations leverage digital technologies, in all their shapes and forms to align the business, engage with stakeholders and partners and formulate an agile and continuously maintained business strategy.

The pundits will tell you that a lot of this may relate to inventing new businesses in the style of Amazon largely based on data. If you break it down further, this is reduced to the methods a business uses for the collection, control, analysis and use of data. Analyst and business services firms like Deloitte paint interesting pictures of how things might look ten years from now.

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For me, some of these predictions are interesting in so much as they suggest a future where the focus continues to be consumerism, globalisation and automation but I do wonder if some of this Scifi like future life is really what we can look forward to in the near future. Will it mean the end of conflict, poverty and disease? I am not sure, somehow I doubt it.

Futurist Gerd Leonhard says, “anything that can be digitized or automated, will be — and anything that cannot be digitized or automated will become extremely valuable” — I am not so sure about that last piece but it is an interesting perspective. In the end, some people will live longer, most will be more literate and perhaps humanity will become better custodians of the world.

As I said before, things have changed, they continue to change but there is also a growing wave of resistance to certain kinds of technology by successive generations. What I see happening today, is a mad scramble by businesses to adopt new data-gathering technologies without necessarily having a plan or appropriate tools to make sense of the data that they are gathering.

This scramble is being largely driven by technology companies and is being pigeonholed as digital transformation but in reality, the transformation comes not with the adoption of these technologies but rather with how the people who run businesses think about what data about human behaviour means and how they will use it to pivot, adapt and ensure the survival of their businesses.

Some of this rethinking will result in organizations leveraging the data to create new experiences and how they interact with society and still others will see a complete change in their operating models.

This article originally appeared on medium

Clinton Jones

Most recently focused on the concept of 'Lean Data Management' and Integrating business technologies in the Enterprise with systems like SAP and Salesforce with quality as a key attribute. I am always mindful of the fact that culture and individualism influences how people use technology - your implementation is only as good as the experience and knowledge of your consultant, your own well framed and reasoned requirements. Success is not guaranteed based on who you or your partners work for, it is based on individual, their commitment to your collective success and how their work practices are effectively underpinned by proven and robust processes, procedures and technologies. Often I find myself in the role of an evangelist and an advocate of best practices in the implementation and use of various technologies for business operations and in particular process automation and making business processes simple, straightforward and transparent. I am a broad brush techno-functional consultant on a variety of technologies and the concepts of quality management as they relate to data, process, people management, compliance and governance with varying degrees of depth in a variety of functional areas.

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