The great “Digital Transformation”​ lie!

A while ago, I was one of the lead authors of a digital transformation approach called VeriSM; we draw a distinct difference between DIGITIZATION of a business and DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION.

With DIGITISATION, the business essentially doesn’t change; it’s only the methods used to deliver products or services that change. With the second, the business MUST change (transform). This includes a fundamental re-think about the nature of the organization, its strategy, and how it interacts with stakeholders — otherwise, nothing transformed.

Far too many digitization efforts are branded as transformational but have fundamentally no effect on the organization's culture, values, principles, and strategy. Therefore NO TRANSFORMATION has occurred! They create no NEW value; their focus is entirely on the optimization of what exists.

The effect of these (digitization programs) is short-term and will make little or no contribution to the business's long-term survival.

These projects have an efficiency focus and actually have the opposite effect to truly transformational projects in the long run. Efficiency does not expand the organization's horizons; it creates no new value — it narrows operational focus and destroys value long term!

I’m not saying that digitization is a bad thing, BUT if it keeps organizations from being future-proof and lulling them into thinking that they are OK — THEN IT IS A BAD THING!

I know it’s sexy to use the term DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION, and most probably an easy way to get a budget for digitization projects, but it’s a lie!

We are running the risk that IT will again be caught in a lie like we were in the year 2000 with our fearmongering!

Only this time it's worse! You are creating a false sense of security by telling this lie and will cost your organization dearly!

Transformation means you (the organization) become something different, something more, something better!

Digitization has nothing to do with transformation — it’s merely the tool used in digital transformation.

So here is a quick check if you are busy following yourself (and the organization) with your digital transformation initiatives:

  1. Has your business strategy, focus, or direction changed as a result?
  2. Has the initiative significantly impacted organizational culture, processes, market, customers served, services or products sold, the market segment you operate in, business model, and platforms? (If you can’t say yes for at least 50% — it’s a — NO).
  3. Are you fundamentally doing something different or at the very least doing what you use to do, in a completely different way or for an entirely different market? (At least one, although I’m not so excited by the last two as being truly transformational).

If you score less than 66%, you are fooling yourself and creating a false sense of security in the future survivability of your organization.

Many a reader would not like what I just said — TOUGH!

If you are offended, you have a difficult road ahead as you will find failure before success.

If you decide to act, despite making a mistake, remember fortune favors the brave.

Here’s a tip.

Culturally, the shift is about developing capable multi-skilled people, trusting (cross-functional) teamwork, becoming a learning organization, and embracing principles in Lean and Agile.

Please DON’T get hung up with Lean and Agile TOOLS and METHODS; I used the words, culturally and Principles, above with specific intent!

To quote Tom Peters, “if you are not confused, you are not paying attention” — experimentation and empiricism are key to SURVIVAL IN THE DIGITAL AGE!

Tom Peters again “fail, forward, fast” until you succeed, because it’s the ONLY way to survive!

This article is part of a series exploring the use of Agile ADapT™, a Digital Transformation Method for incumbent organizations struggling to compete in the digital age.

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Johann Botha

Johann Botha

Johann Botha, a digital change provocateur & getITright® CEO. Transform & build organizational agility, & digital-age capabilities. Consultant, speaker & author