What Really is Digital Transformation?

Have you ever said a word so many times it begins to sound a bit weird? It’s known as ‘semantic satiation’ and happens when the person saying the word suddenly loses all sense of its meaning. It’s a peculiar phenomenon and one that happens, I believe, to the word ‘Digital’ for so many reasons.

Your organisation will likely have a digital transformation strategy in place and backed up by a digital leadership team and even a digital programme to make it all happen. ‘But’, you may wonder, ‘what is this ‘Digital’ thing and why does it require transformation’?

What does ‘Digital’ mean?

Ask anyone what ‘digital’ means and you will get a variety of answers, a humble dictionary definition will tell you the somewhat bland explanation that it’s “the way computers communicate using binary”. However, in the context of digital transformation, this definition could not be more diametrically opposed to the reality.

The way to understand digital is simply to change the word to something that actually has meaning to you so for example:

  • Digital /ˈdɪdʒɪt(ə)l/ — Adjective. Lit. [positive] Experience

By understanding that the purpose of digital transformation is to deliver a positive experience we now have a place to hang our ‘digital hat’ so-to-speak and will mean you avoid the trap of semantic satiation!

So what is Digital Transformation?

The logical explanation of what Digital Transformation really means is best presented as a simple argument:

  • Argument – We all prefer simple digital solutions that solve our traditional problems and provide us with a positive experience, examples include the adoption of uber, Airbnb, Amazon, Netflix, order ahead Starbucks (my personal favourite).

This leads us to a premise you no doubt will agree with:

  • Premise – We now expect a similar positive digital experience no matter who we engage with.

This, in turn, leads us to an inevitable conclusion:

  • Conclusion – Organisations must, therefore, exploit digital technologies to transform the traditional experience into a positive digital experience that meets these newly established expectations.

So now let’s illustrate this argument with the traditional versus digital experience in the way we used to rent movies:

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The experience went broadly as follows: (1) I want to watch a movie so we (2) travelled to Blockbuster and we then (3) chose a movie then we (4) travelled home we then (5) watched the movie and finally, we (6) returned the movie — 6 steps in all.

This was the traditional way we rented movies and we accepted this reality. However, Netflix came along and also started at step (1) I want to watch a movie but they used digital technology to essentially go straight to step 5 which for them became step (2) watch the movie:

So how does this translate into Digital Transformation aside from the fact that Netflix used Internet-enabled technologies? Let’s introduce emotion into the equation.

Emotional Transformation

Experience always involves emotion, both positive and negative. When you add emotion to the traditional steps described above it tells a very different story…

(1) I want to watch a movie so we (2) travelled to Blockbuster in the pouring rain, we arrived but there were no parking spaces so we walked some distance in the rain to the store then we (3) chose a movie, however the latest movie we wanted was all booked out so we had to spend 20 minutes choosing a mediocre movie we had never heard of, we then got back to our car and (4) travelled home and got stuck behind a slow-moving vehicle for some miles, after arriving home we then (5) watched the movie and thought it was ok and finally we (6) returned the movie by travelling back to the Blockbuster store but then realised we were a day late and consequently fined for the privilege of renting a movie we didn’t actually want in the first place.

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The timeline below visually describes the steps described above, both the traditional way and the digital way. The red line is our emotional state during these steps. When the line appears above the circle it means we are pretty happy, if it’s at the middle of the circle it means we’re fairly neutral and of course, below the circle, we’re a bit cheesed off:

As you will have surmised, by removing all the emotionally negative steps Netflix created a positive digital experience which encourages us to keep going back for more. Even having to choose an alternative movie is no longer a challenge since Netflix will use machine learning to recommend the next best films for you based on your personal tastes and they’re never booked out!

The Digital Transformation

Digital Transformation is not a project it’s an enduring way of working, thinking and culture that looks to exploit digital technology to create the best experience.” — Gareth Baxendale FBCS CITP

Digital Transformation is fundamentally linked to the delivery of ‘experience’ that in itself happens to use digital (internet-enabled) technologies to meet this need.

Organisations must deliver a positive digital experience not just to meet these newly established expectations but also to retain their customers. Our expectations are set by the best digital experiences so if that expectation is not met we will simply look elsewhere.

The most successful organisations go beyond simply adopting a piece of technology, they deliver a true positive emotional experience by transforming the traditional ways of doing things into simple digital solutions that consistently provide positive outcomes for their customers.

It’s at this point that your Digital Transformation journey will truly start and will continue to endure.

Gareth Baxendale

Blog: TheDigitalBrief.com

Gareth Baxendale FBCS CITP

...a boffin armed with a swimming certificate. Having achieved my long sort-after swimming certificate by age 7 (a proud day), I went on to gain yet more learning, experience and wisdom... oddly, swimming as a skill has not been a requirement of any of my roles to date... I remain hopeful. Despite my dashing young looks, I have 20 years in B2B, B2C and Health developing strategy, designing and architecting IT solutions, both locally and cloud based, as well as managing the supply of doughnuts and coffee to large development, infrastructure and service delivery teams. Few headlines... • • FBCS CITP Chartered Fellow • • Vice Chair for the BCS Health Executive focusing on improving Health Informatics across the health sector • • Writer for The Guardian, Wired.com, Computing.co.uk, ITNow, DigitalHealth, Section Editor Journal of Innovation in Health Informatics • • Medalist UK IT Industry Awards 'IT Department of the Year'​ - Computing/BCS • • Team achieved NCC ITDA Accreditation standard • • BCS Chartered Assessor & Mentor • • SFIA® Framework Reviewer • • UKCHIP Level 3 Health Informatics • • TOGAF® 9 Level 2 Enterprise Architecture • • ITIL® Expert Service Management • • PRINCE2 Certified • • Microsoft Certified Engineer/Architect levels I currently work for the National Institute for Health Research managing the Information Services and Service Delivery function that enables IT services for the NHS Clinical Research Network. With a key focus on Informatics and clinical trial adoption we support over 10,000 users in the NHS and Industry Pharma. I lead the devops/service management teams and am responsible for the technology architecture, design and delivery both locally and for cloud services with Amazon Web Services working alongside our partner PA Consulting. Previously I have supported B2B B2C IT companies from SME's to NASDAQ enterprises, and also in the mutual sector managing IT for a large healthcare organisation supporting over 900,000 members.

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