Remaining competitive in an increasingly digital world is a challenge. Nearly every industry is being disrupted by digital forces, and it falls to technology departments to ensure that their organisation survives and thrives in the new world of business, guided right from the top by the CEO.
Digital transformation, in its simplest definition, refers to the change within an organisation associated with the application of digital technology. The transformation aspect of this new reality comes from changing operations based on innovation and creativity, rather than just the improvement of traditional methods.
Neil Bramley, B2B client solutions business unit director at Toshiba Northern Europe, agrees and adds, ‘Successfully implementing digital transformation within the business is not only a crucial step to remaining competitive within a rapidly evolving business landscape, but can also create business opportunities in both existing and new fields.’
Indeed, the whole reason for implementing a digital transformation strategy is to survive in a world where traditional business models are simply not making the cut – by driving innovation and improving processes.
It provides business leaders with teeth in the fight against the so-called ‘uberisation’ of industry, but also helps them to meet the ever-increasing demands from their customers. As it is now a matter of survival, the responsibility for digital transformation lies with the CEO, and not – as is traditional with an IT strategy – the CIO.
>See also: Digital transformation for the UK economy
Like implementing a cloud strategy, there is no one-size-fits-all digital transformation solution. Every enterprise is individual, with different needs and capabilities. The majority of organisations have begun their digital transformation journey.
Indeed, Rick Vanover, director of technical product marketing and evangelism for Veeam Software, suggests that universal digital transformation, across business, has been underway for some time.
Despite the popularity of digital transformation, or rather the necessity of it, many have different definitions of the strategy. The description outlined above gives an overview, but in reality the individual nature of the process means that it is difficult to totally identify and describe.
‘With technology subjected to constant change, there’s no endgame in sight for an organisation that is undergoing digitalisation – whether that be a traditional business updating its legacy systems or a new “born-digital” start-up,’ suggests Michael Allen, VP EMEA at Dynatrace.
‘As such, it isn’t a case of digital transformation so much as digital evolution. Those that stand still will simply cease to exist, so constant digital change is now just a standard business activity.’
Digital transformation is a constant journey that creates value across an entire organisation, but definitions – like this – are loose because they ‘don’t cover the whole story’, according to David Terrar, chief connections officer at Ctrl O.
Without a concrete destination in mind, business can continue down the path via a series of different avenues, leading to known and unknown possibilities – hence the difficulty in labelling it.
Regardless, businesses recognise the necessity of embarking on this journey, even if they are not entirely sure where they will end up. As mentioned, the majority of businesses will have already begun to implement a digital-first strategy, while those that haven’t will be quick to follow, or face extinction.
Enabling successful digital transformation, either within one department or across a whole organisation, requires the combination of emerging and mature technology. As the reader will be aware, technology is the key enabler of digital transformation.
The range of technologies needed to be adopted ‘can vary from company to company’ says Nick Mann, CTO and co-founder of RotaGeek.
However, he suggests that, overall, ‘The trend is moving towards mobile solutions and data-driven technology. This new age of data-driven product development allows for tailored approaches that can self-adapt to an organisation’s expanding client base. From start-ups to blue-chip companies, data has become the key factor in steering business, allowing insight into customer needs and optimising resources accordingly.’
Data is certainly at the heart of any business strategy that aims to transform its operations. The collection of this data is increasingly reliant on the emergence of Internet of Things devices, while the understanding of this data flow is deciphered by analytics in a variety of forms.
This, in turn, creates insights and helps power emerging technologies like machine learning, robotics and artificial intelligence, which are key in driving innovation, improving customer service and realising digital transformation goals.
>See also: The digital transformation of things
The cloud, and the flexibility and agility it offers, is also a key enabler of digital transformation. GovPress is an excellent example of this in terms of enabling public sector teams in their digital transformation, according to Harry Metcalfe, managing director of public sector digital services provider dxw.
‘GovPress is a cloud-based hosting platform for exclusive use by the public sector,’ says Metcalfe. ‘It’s a secure, robust and easily scaled service that an organisation and its users can rely on.’
This embrace of technology has enabled public sector organisations, including the Cabinet Office, the Ministry of Justice, NHS England and the Department of Health, to enhance their customer offering, despite the usual restraints of small budgets and short timelines.
Importantly, any digital transformation strategy should align itself with the overall business goals.
‘To paraphrase Michael Corleone from The Godfather: it’s not digital, it’s business,’ says Terrar. ‘Digital transformation is business transformation – it’s useful to use the D word to differentiate the new thinking required compared with business as usual.’
Maarten van Montfoort, vice president of north-west Europe at COMPAREX, comments, ‘It is essential, therefore, that any digital transformation project seeks to answer the fundamental business questions: what are we trying to achieve? What is our strategy? And how does technology enable us to achieve our aims? Pursuing transformation projects without answering these questions results in ill-defined projects that fail to deliver tangible benefits.’
>See also: 10 predictions for digital transformation
The benefits of digital transformation are clear: survival, innovation and opportunity. It will completely transform how a business operates in line with traditional business aims – it’s about integrating digital technologies into the core of the business.
However, embracing a digital-first approach will also create different strategic avenues to pursue. It will open new doors. This will inevitably lead to change within an organisation, in terms of how employees work and how the customer journey will evolve.
Digital transformation can act as the foundation for future business goals. But implementing technology into operations is, therefore, no longer the IT department’s responsibility. The introduction of this radical culture change, according to van Montfoort, ‘must come from the leadership, and there should be no separation between the boardroom and the IT department’.
He adds, ‘Too often, digital transformation projects are derailed by competing priorities and a lack of understanding about what digitisation can achieve. As a result, a huge number of digital transformation projects simply fail.
‘Ultimately, every business process is supported by technology, with the majority of organisations accepting that IT is a key driver for changing business models.’ Promoting a digital culture cannot be underestimated.
Research from Capgemini found that 62% of respondents saw corporate culture as one of the biggest hurdles in the journey to becoming a digital organisation. It is necessary for business leaders to communicate a clear digital vision to the company and assign digital role models.
It is also crucial that business leaders ‘consult with individuals at all levels of the organisation in order to boost digital literacy across the company’, says Jon Cook, enterprise sales director, UK and Ireland at Citrix. There is no point in investing in digital tools, necessary for digital transformation, if employees are not using them to their full potential.
This all ties into the required cultural transformation a business has to undergo in order to successfully implement a digital transformation strategy.
Cyril Garcia, head of digital services and member of the Group Executive Committee at Capgemini, remarks, ‘Digital technologies can bring significant new value, but organisations will only unlock that potential if they have the right sustainable digital culture ingrained and in place.
‘Companies need to engage, empower and inspire all employees to enable the culture change together; working on this disconnect between leadership and employees is a key factor for growth. Those businesses that make digital culture a core strategic pillar will improve their relationships with customers, attract the best talent and set themselves up for success in today’s digital world.’
Ultimately, digital transformation is essential in improving many aspects of society and is vital in driving the UK economy – indeed, any economy – forward. Within the public sector, digital tools are reducing costs while increasing the number of services offered. These services are faster and more efficient than could ever be imagined in a manual setting.
This transformation is needed, enabling public services to cope with increasing demand. ‘For instance,’ says Perry Krug, principal architect at Couchbase, ‘health services will have to use patient data as effectively as possible, both to improve patient health and to increase the time that doctors and nurses have to spend on other patients.
‘At the same time, they will have to use technologies such as the Internet of Things and augmented or virtual reality to treat and communicate with patients at home. The government has a critical role to play both in funding and driving a digital-first approach where appropriate, and in providing the incentives and infrastructure for the private sector to adapt.’
Those private sector companies that embrace a coherent digital transformation strategy aligned to business goals, combined with the necessary internal cultural transformation, will survive, thrive and captivate in the era of disruption.