These days you don’t have to walk too far before you hear discussions about transformation. The media, the marketing department, the boardroom – no space is free of some form of discussion about how businesses can transform their operations to fit within the new digital paradigm.
Some argue that the huge program of works being done to be faster, less expensive or better is not really transformational enough to be worthy of the name transformation – unless the business is totally reinventing itself.
Others – mostly technology vendors – are selling a silver bullet by pitching ‘the tool’ that will transform the way you do business, as if there’s a one-stop shop to getting the business digitally transformed.
Each discussion is understandable, but not entirely true. There’s a happy medium between full transformation and none at all, and it comes down to knowing what you have and what you need. Likewise, there’s no “one size fits all” digital transformation “app” that can get you up and running in no time, no matter what you’re told.
Let’s take a look at a hypothetical future in which all organisations have access to essentially the same technology. Clearly, if everyone is using the same technology there’s nothing to differentiate a business from its competitors. In this world the field is effectively level, where half the battle of transformation is finding a way to elevate one’s business above the rest.
If we take a close look at the organisations that are successfully disrupting traditional business models, we see that in most cases, technology – be it digital, transformed, from the cloud or as-a-service – is being used to support the real disruptors. The technology itself is a tool for the true transformation to take place through a relentless focus on client outcomes and customer experience.
The ideal digital business enables clients to interact with an organisation and its products through their preferred channel, streamlining and automating error-prone and time-consuming manual processes, providing and using real-time and predictive data to manage the business… the list goes on and on, and as far as I am aware there isn’t an app for all of that.
The task can seem daunting when charged with working with legacy systems and processes and an established way of doing things. It’s also easy to fall into the trap of throwing one’s hands up in the face of ‘digitally-native’ organisations and their perceived advantages of being able to move quickly and implement ‘fit for purpose’ solutions, without the baggage of legacy systems and entrenched processes. But in most cases these advantages are offset by lack of market presence, the need to build a client base and revenues from scratch, and low revenues requiring focus on capital raising while also building out the business itself.
The real challenge for traditional IT – as I outlined in my previous article ‘Thinking bigger is better: why your hybrid IT strategy needs to shoot for the stars’ – is the act of trying to balance this management of old and new leads to scenarios where IT finds itself stretched in terms of both resources and capabilities. But stretched or not, we must overcome the inertia of existing structures and processes or we may be opening the door to the more agile competitor always lurking nearby.
So let’s map out a plan of attack for a digital transformation strategy. There’s really three main areas that CIOs charged with leading a transformation should focus on:
- Legacy IT can be a help, not a hindrance: While digitally-native start-ups often demonstrate their ability to work efficiently on a small scale, delivering consistently when it moves towards large-scale projects is much more difficult. This is where some legacy IT can assist. It is incumbent upon you and the team to review your existing IT assets – particularly people and processes – and determine which elements are assets that can be used to deliver the minimum viable capabilities that the business determines is the “roadmap”.
- Commit to removing those processes and functions that now hinder, rather than support, the business through automation, re-skilling and the adoption of new tools. While you may start by leveraging your existing people and processes, you have to support the transformative business roadmap. The savings you deliver through automation and the money you make by being earlier to market as a result of being more agile are critical to your future success.
- Don’t allow the “save a dollar, make a dollar or defer a dollar” mantra result in overlooking critical capabilities, such as security. In fact, security, including threat awareness training, information protection, incident response and real-time threat management, are all areas where you may need immediate change and external expertise to meet both the expectations of your board and regulatory authorities across the globe. These days, an effective cyber strategy can be a positive differentiator.
A proper audit of what you have, what you don’t, and what you can get will allow your enterprise to still deliver on a large scale, while paving the way to update those technologies, people (through training) and processes to deliver on the smaller scale and match those agile start-ups. With a digital transformation of any kind, it’s important to note that we don’t always have to re-invent the wheel – some of what you already have will be critical to not only matching, but exceeding, the level of your digitally-native competitors.
And no, there’s no silver bullet here. There’s no single “app for that”. It takes time, research, auditing and the realisation that the process ahead is both not easy and entirely necessary.
The reality of the business world in 2018 is that all businesses are digital –if they aren’t, they soon will be – and that technology change is happening faster than ever. That puts IT at the centre of everything – so enjoy the ride.
After all, they say change is as good as a holiday, right?
Join the CIO Australia group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.