Has ‘digital transformation’ become a meaningless buzzword?

Digital transformation is one of many tech terms that can be seen as a buzzword that’s been used often in recent times. The tech industry has been said to be a renowned buzzword generator, and a concern is often raised regarding overuse possibly leading to a loss of meaning.

“We are all guilty of over-using buzzwords, particularly in marketing and technology,” said Richard Mathias, senior technology architect EMEA at LiveArea.

“We use terms so frequently they can lose their original meaning. ‘Personalisation’ isn’t personal, it’s simply varying levels of relevance and segmentation based on data. ‘Artificial Intelligence’ has become a synonym for anything data or analytics driven, even when the process is entirely manual.”

But can this be said for digital transformation as a term? Here are what some industry experts had to say on the matter.


A lack of focus on what digital transformation should mean on the part of decision makers can lead to a lack of communication.

But according to Lee James, CTO EMEA at Rackspace, there has been much confusion around the meaning of the term as a whole.

He said: “Digital transformation has undoubtedly reached buzzword status, to the point where it has lost its true meaning and become surrounded by misconceptions. This, in effect, means many are left in the dark on how to actually do digital transformation.

“The common misconception around digital transformation is that it is a central activity; a project run across the whole organisation. In reality, digital transformation is inherently fragmented across different parts of the business, and often starts in a particular business unit or is aligned to a particular industry sector.

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“For example, the marketing function alone could undertake a digital transformation project to develop a new application that serves a particular customer segment.

“Yet, this fragmented nature is also one of the key barriers to successful digital transformation, as it results in a lack of collaboration across teams and means they aren’t all working towards the same business objectives.”

Focus needed in current climate

It isn’t easy to discuss digital transformation as a concept without taking the current coronavirus pandemic into account, and some companies may say that the process has been undertaken just to continue operating in the current climate.

However, the process could be upset by a lack of focus or thought towards long-term objectives when the term ‘digital transformation’ is brought up, which may have contributed to its buzzword status.

“I am allergic to the term ‘digital transformation’,” said Jonquil Hackenberg, managing partner at Infosys Consulting. “It’s beyond a buzzword. What does it even mean, beyond the walls of consultants and boardrooms?

“Terms like digital transformation shouldn’t just be ‘terms’ – they should map out how a business can move from physical everything to digital everything, where it makes sense, from strategy to implementation to long-term goals. This is particularly vital in unprecedented times like these.

“Those who weather the storm the best will be those who can adapt to remote working and dynamic supply and demand planning, both of which need a digital presence. It means carrying on, quickly, with every employee working from home, and also having a cloud copy of your physical operations, or a digital twin, to make sensible decisions remotely in an ever-changing situation.

“It also means moving to the internet for advertising and sales strategies, rather than physical in-person sales, and being able to rapidly slow down or halt production and then ramp it up rapidly as the world re-emerges. For future crises, we can expect digital transformation to no longer be a ‘transformation’ at all – but rather a reality.”

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Network performance adds importance

Bassam Khan, vice-president of product and technical marketing at Gigamon, took an opposing stance to the previously presented notions, stating that the term is crucial to a company’s future under the current circumstances.

“Far from becoming a meaningless buzzword, digital transformation is very much a reality and continues to impact all businesses in one way or another – with some thriving thanks to the innovation and growth it enables, and some still grappling with how to adopt the right infrastructure and network functions to fully support it,” he said.

“At the core of digital transformation is network performance – you need a fast and secure network to scale, adapt and innovate – but keeping it fast and secure isn’t possible without accurate insight into network traffic as applications become distributed and containerised. Application and traffic intelligence allows IT leaders to truly understand what their network needs to run efficiently and route the right traffic to the right tools, thereby enhancing speed and reducing bottlenecks. This way, optimal network performance can power agility, scalability and transformation.

“The expression ‘digital transformation’ couldn’t be further from losing its relevance, and current events make it a non-negotiable imperative to have digitalisation as a key priority for all businesses who wish to remain agile, and survive.”

A need for analytics

“I wouldn’t say ‘digital transformation’ has become meaningless,” said Laurie Miles, director of analytics at SAS UK & Ireland, “but organisations striving to achieve it need a clearer understanding of what success looks like.”

Miles went on to explain that a digital transformation initiative can indeed lose its initial intentions if a platform isn’t put in place for scaling operations, and this requires analytics.

“The term only loses its meaning if you can’t, for example, put analytical models into production with the ability to scale up their application.

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“To change this, organisations can adopt a single analytical platform for their data, as opposed to having it spread across the enterprise in departmental silos. For many, an efficient way of achieving this is to transfer your data into the cloud, which can be a vital first hurdle as it’s often cost effective and means all the relevant data is available for people across the organisation to use and generate insights from.

“However, organisations need to consider legacy systems and what analytics they’re using already. Independent software vendors can not only provide the single analytical platform which provides a solution from data to discovery to deployment, but also software that can work alongside existing open source code they might already be using or have expertise in.”


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Aaron Hurst

Aaron Hurst is Information Age's senior reporter, providing news and features around the hottest trends across the tech industry.