What We’re Getting Wrong About Digital Transformation
by Carl Robinson
Typically, if you attempt to define what “digital transformation” means, you don’t get one answer. While we use this term widely, there is no single definition that is universal. We often create an individual vision of a future state to aspire to. In other words, we envision our goals, our future, and our ultimate endgame in a way that usually only makes sense to ourselves or those within our own organizations.
It’s my belief that we have been using the term “transformation” wrongly. Transformation is a metamorphosis—a profound change from one stage to the next, not a future state. When we undergo this process, we can only know that we are transformed when we have achieved it. And we can only know what transformation means with hindsight.
TRANSFORMATION VS. EVOLUTION
Rather than speaking about digital transformation, we should speak about digital evolution. Evolution is about adaptability, favoring strengths and pursuing continued success. In other words, evolution is about the journey, not the destination. It’s about having a consistent approach and mindset that favor strengths and advantages. It’s about accepting that we continually need to adapt, learn, grow, and change.
With this mindset, we (and our organizations) maintain a state of readiness that prepares us for cataclysmic events. What constitutes a cataclysmic event will be organization-specific. It could be a merger of two large publishers changing the dynamic in the marketplace, or it could be a global pandemic changing the way people consume content. This continued state of readiness will allow us to respond positively to these evolutionary events. Douglas Adams writes in The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, “I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”
QUESTIONS TO ASK
When an organization undergoes the process of digital evolution, it’s important to consider the content, people, process, and technology. While the balance may be different for each organization, these four elements are the key building blocks that make for successful business transformation. Before embarking on a digital transformation journey, one must first think about the right balance of these elements for their organization. While the specific milestones or outcomes desired will be different in each company—as they should be—the process for thriving is the same. We need to ask, continually, where we need to adapt, what we need to do right now, and what we need to overcome.
Here are the key questions that all organizations should ask themselves as they prepare for digital evolution:
When embarking on a digital transformation, think about the journey. A journey signifies a change in which we move forward to achieve success and is backed by balancing the four elements: content, people, process, and technology. Once you start moving—start evolving—then your momentum will enable you to take bigger and better steps. Eventually, it will enable you to thrive.
- What’s the right balance for your organization? Think about the mix of content, people, process, and technology. Do you need to pay more attention to what you are commissioning? Or do you need to focus on your people and how they are working? Where are you out of balance?
- What challenges are you facing? This calls for brutal honesty. Think about what success would look like. What obstacles are in the way of achieving that success? It could be technology, or it could be the “siloization” of processes.
- How will you tackle challenges? Technology alone will not solve everything, and neither will a process change. Analyze the problem, and match it to the element that needs addressing. Figure out how you have to tackle the problem, and don’t be afraid to go back to basics and check your assumptions about what needs doing.
- What needs to change right now? Be tactical and strategic. What are the quick wins that will deliver an immediate benefit and keep people motivated? What are the big themes leading to success? Think incremental change: Fix the basics first, then add complexity and elegance to your solution. Making good choices about what should be first may require external expertise. Don’t be afraid to have your assumptions challenged—embrace the debate!