Breaking through the noise: What have we got wrong about digital transformation?

Digital Transformation -- it’s a term used and adored by many, and a concept that private and public sectors are striving for. But what is it really? 

With the term cropping up in various contexts, it has become increasingly hard to pin down what digital transformation is into one common consensus. Rather, it has developed into a go-to term synonymous with a revolving door of new tech trends.  Moving on little from the wave of CIOs of the mid-2010s who moved things to the cloud and coined it as 'digital transformation'. 

However, the intentions behind it -- change, choice and making things easier -- are undeniably beneficial to all, if approached and executed right. To ensure we achieve this though, there must be a culture shift in how we view digital transformation, and with that, the debunking of many unproductive misconceptions that have been floating around the term for years. In turn, a consistency in our understanding and approach in digital transformation can be achieved and leave us with the best outcomes. 

Seeing beyond the appearance

As mentioned, digital transformation is often glamorously tagged onto an array of technology, whether that be AI, automation, or machine learning. The risk here is that the shiny technology itself becomes the center of focus and our attention turns to who is adopting what new cutting-edge technology -- rather than how they are utilizing the technology to progress forward and enhance operations, innovate and drive efficiency and value.  

In reality, transformation sometimes involves unsophisticated yet essential projects such as digitizing important information recorded on paper quickly and effectively, making sensitive data easier and safer to access. Court documents are a good example of this and play a pivotal role in many of the basic functions of the justice system. This kind of digitization enables operations to run efficiently and for the courts it means a more effective use of time and resources, replacing manual tasks and reducing the risk of human error. We cannot underestimate the power that these sorts of processes have in aiding the wider picture of delivering tangible results to the everyday citizen. It is these sorts of projects, especially for the public sector, that deliver great value and where the attention should be shifted. 

Digital transformation isn’t about image or being glam, nor is it exclusive to the big companies who can afford to utilize it for grand uses of technology. Rather, it’s about fulfilling outcomes. 

Dump the one-person project

In more recent years, there has been an increase in new roles being created around transformation. These roles are armed with the technical knowledge and expertise to imagine the best next steps to progress in the ever-shifting landscape of digital. Yet, is it really up to one person to envision and drive a potentially momentous direction towards tomorrow? Isn’t there power in numbers?

This is where teams within a business must unite under their own internally organized structure. Whilst digital transformation experts are often essential to getting down to the nitty-gritty, a common understanding across different departments is needed to successfully deliver. Instead of seeing it as a singular project manned by a single person, transformation should be led by a team of different people who collaborate, working towards a clear understanding of what it involves and where they want to go. This leads to clear checkpoints and roadmaps, avoiding confusion or wasting money, time, and resources. 

Embrace it for the long-haul

By its very nature and use of wording, the phrase 'digital transformation' implies it is a project, something that takes us from A to B and has a clearly defined end goal, finishing in a 'big bang' moment. There are a plethora of examples where it has been claimed that a company has 'transformed' a part of itself digitally, marking it as a past-tense achievement as they move into the next chapter. But the process never stops. 

In order for companies and sectors to transform using tech, they must see it as an on-going journey. Technology, as we know, moves at an unrelenting pace and stopping after each hurdle risks leaving sectors stagnant. Whilst this never-ending program, splitting off in several directions may seem daunting, an established digital foundation can allow teams to be ahead of the game and both move at a pace that works for them and brings significant benefit. A 'digital foundation' allows organizations to shift and change in line with requirements. It is a place for all the components involved in transformation to sit and evolve at the rate needed today and tomorrow -- all without the mess of wires and piled-up hardware. 

Making space for a new way of thinking

Digital transformation is not the issue in itself. If anything, it is the answer to many of the problems that both the public and private sectors find themselves up against every day. Instead, we’ve lost ourselves in the noise and excitement around its potential and consequently have become distracted by the hype of grand projects and the latest technology.

We must debunk what we have come to know as 'digital transformation', surrounded by the above misconceptions and probably more. A digital foundation can help realign the noise and help compartmentalize the responsibilities that often overwhelm businesses who are trying to do best in their efforts to overhaul processes and operations. By detaching it from the lure of technology and instead aligning it to the potential of worthwhile outcomes, we can begin to make the authentic steps needed to make small, yet tangible changes. Customer and market demands are always evolving and so is the journey to meeting them with digital solutions. That’s really why digital isn’t a destination, the target is always moving and so is the requirement to get there.

Image credit: airdone/ Shutterstock

Justin Day is CEO and Co-Founder at SASE Platform Provider Cloud Gateway.

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