Digital Transformation: A Misused And Misunderstood Term?

Steve Letford

Digital transformation has become a bit of a buzzword. Everybody wants it, but not everybody understands it. Worse, a lot of organizations simply adopt a new system or solution and call it a day, with vendors declaring publicly that they have digitally transformed them.

As an account executive, I am involved in digital transformation conversations every day. In doing so, I’ve noted a few thoughts and collected other people’s insights that resonate about digital transformation.

Digital transformation begins with people, not technology

Consider the people who make up your organization. Now imagine that starting tomorrow, they must all use a new digital tool to perform their jobs. We’ve all seen the chaos that can cause if such a strategy is not planned and implemented well: Help desk calls, complaints, feedback surveys, just for starters.

Thankfully, digital transformation does not begin by changing a toolset, but by changing a mindset. That means adopting the perspective of your customers and employees.

Once you understand the problems they face, you can start searching for solutions. Those solutions may involve digital toolsets, but they should not begin with them.

Digital transformation does not rest on a single solution

Many companies will adopt an ERP/CRM solution then say they have achieved a digital transformation. However, a transformation should establish foundations for future innovation and continue that journey.

Think of this as dealing with a lack of sleep. Adopting one digital solution is like drinking a cup of coffee. A digital transformation is like adjusting your lifestyle to get more sleep every night.

Digital transformation is an overhaul, not an improvement

Here is the fundamental difference between driving digital transformation and adopting new systems: A new system simply improves existing processes, while a digital transformation may eliminate those processes. To put it simply, new systems are steps and digital transformation are leaps.

Digital transformation does not end

What’s your organization’s process for adopting a new program? Is there a start and end date? Are there progress milestones?

I don’t believe that digital transformation has an end date. On top of that, its milestones are more ambiguous. This is because digital transformation has no destination beyond innovation and self-disruption. Instead of being a journey to a destination, it is simply a journey to always stay ahead of the competition using digital tools.

This is often what turns organizations off digital transformation—it can’t be quantified, it’s hard to disrupt yourself, and many fear that it can’t be controlled.

On the contrary, digital transformation is what enables control. After all, companies that do not stay open to innovation will eventually be controlled by their agile competitors.

For more on this topic, see People Are The Engine That Drives Finance Transformation: Part 2.


Steve Letford

About Steve Letford

Steve Letford is a Senior Account Executive based in Auckland, New Zealand. He has been involved in the transformation of organisations for the past 10 years, with an unwavering passion and deep commitment to the delivery of Innovative business solutions that provide tangible ROI.