Everyone’s talking about ‘digital transformation’.
C-suites and boards list it among their top 2015 priorities. Newly minted experts abound. Big consultancies have launched dedicated practice areas, despite being as in need of transformation as their clients are. Digital agencies paint ‘transformation’ as just another fancy way to say ‘marketing’ in order to claim it as their own. And for every expert, consultant, journalist, futurist, keynote speaker, marketer, executive and analyst who utters the phrase‘ digital transformation’, the words come to mean something different.
Wikipedia offers us this not-so-helpful definition:
“Digital transformation refers to the changes associated with the application of digital technology in all aspects of human society. Digital transformation may be thought as the third stage of embracing digital technologies: digital competence → digital literacy → digital transformation. The latter stage means that digital usages inherently enable new types of innovation and creativity in a particular domain, rather than simply enhance and support the traditional methods.”
Then for safe measure, tacks on this odd interpretation:
“In a narrower sense, digital transformation may refer to the concept of going paperless.”
So if I understand this correctly, digital transformation is technology implementation, just one stage in a process many companies haven’t even begun yet, or a way to declutter your desk.
As I’ve worked with leaders in a wide range of large and mid-sized organizations, I’ve found that definitions that attempt to define ‘digital transformation’ by what it isfall well short of the mark — while definitions that define ‘digital transformation’ by what it’s meant to achieve come much closer. The simpler the better. And the more clearly it shines a light on a fundamental business challenge and/or draws a meaningful distinction between the current and desired future states, the more likely it is to resonate with a buzz-weary executive who might not even be certain he wants anything to do with digital at all.
For my part, I’ve landed on this straightforward definition:
Digital transformation closes the gap between what digital customers already expect and what analog businesses actually deliver.
In practice, what does that gap look like? What might it take to close it? The application of technology? Increasing the level of digital literacy among your leaders or team members?Reimagining the business, it’s model and structure, how it creates value, and how it makes money? The answer is different for every business, but the end result shouldn’t be: digital transformation should make your business better.