How to move beyond digital transformation


Business has always been Darwinian: the organisation has had to adapt, evolve or die and there are countless examples of businesses that have failed to do so.

In retail, think Blockbuster, HMV and Woolworths – all failed to see fundamental changes in customer appetite, consumer patterns and delivery mechanisms and paid the ultimate price.

But they were also victims of technological change that has increased the rate at which businesses need to adapt. Speed, scalability and the capability to seize the initiative are now more crucial than ever.

It’s therefore no longer just a question of whether the business can evolve but whether it can rapidly transform. Transformation is a disruptive state that involves the complete rethink of the way a business functions in terms of its organisation, processes and infrastructure.

>See also: Digital transformation in 2016: how far have we come, and how far have we left to go?

It’s a fundamental change that creates a momentary state of flux but which promises real dividends in the long run because it catapults the business into a more competitive state.

It’s important to note that businesses don’t choose to embark on transformation; it chooses them. Transformation is often a painful but necessary process in order to remain competitive.

For established organisations, transformation is essential. These companies may have the advantage of a presence in the market, backed up by an enviable reputation, but they can also tend to be hobbled by legacy infrastructure and a rigid hierarchical staffing structure.

This can leave them at the mercy of more nimble newcomers – start-ups who have inevitably sprung from the cloud, enabling them to grow rapidly and adapt on-the-fly, facilitating quick reflexes to changes in market conditions. Of course, the incumbents were quick to recognise the need to compete by moving to the cloud.

Cue the first wave of digital transformation driven by cloud services. Adopters were quick to realise the benefits of a low-cost, highly scalable infrastructure with the added incentive of managed services.

Cloud services were a great leveller but if you were one of those organisations seeking to restructure the process, it wasn’t an entirely smooth one.

Organisations found they needed to devote time and resource to ensure a smooth transition, that internal adjustments were needed to ensure services were managed appropriately, and that the increased reliance on third parties meant that other aspects, such as security and data protection, were prioritised. Even so, many regarded cloud services as a one-step change.

In reality, adopting cloud service is only one aspect of a rapidly evolving technological landscape. Other disruptive technology on the horizon includes the Internet of Things (IoT), from the wearables employees bring to work, to the office kettle and other unsecured entry points on to the network, not to mention IoT enterprise equipment used to create and deliver goods and services.

These are the emerging drivers of transformation and are likely to prove equally disruptive, prompting the question how can the organisation transition to a state of readiness in anticipation of future technological change? Is it possible to achieve a state ‘beyond’ digital transformation and assume one of constant readiness?

Digital transformation is a costly and risky business. Planning is therefore critical but can itself become an issue, with the project lifecycle taking months if not years to complete.

A recent survey by Unisys found more than half (54% of respondents) regarded their progress towards digital transformation as average or below average, and yet 65% recognised the imperative for change in the next year with regards to mobile app development, cloud, social media, data analytics and security.

The survey statistics demonstrate that there’s clearly an appetite for change, and willingness to embrace it, but there remain stumbling blocks. The same research found that a major issue was how to dedicate personnel to digitalisation, with most IT Teams too busy ‘firefighting’ to provide the strategic focus required to bring about effective digital transformation. Without the focus of this resource, achieving a state of readiness cannot happen.

However, it doesn’t need to be this way. There are examples – think Google and the like – of innovative organisations that have put the processes in place to avoid the pain of transformation.

The cultures and systems they have implemented are designed to anticipate change and allow for reinvention. Instead of gearing up the organisation to enter a transformative chrysalis stage, the organisation operates in anticipation of change, with processes and systems in place that lend themselves to being adapted.

Other organisations can replicate this futureproofing to cushion the blow from disruptive technological transformation. Obviously, trying to emulate Google is a non-starter for many, but there are key takeaways that organisations should be looking at, both from their own experiences when transitioning to the cloud and from those exhibited by transformative trailblazers like GAFA.

>See also: Five ways to reorganise in 2016 and embark on a digital transformation journey

Firstly, bear in mind that pivotal to the success of any transformation are the people. Ensure digitally savvy key people are put at the helm not only when projects are underway but also when the company is in ‘peace time’, and that their views are sought when other strategic decisions are on the table.

Encourage a culture of digital literacy that pervades the organisation so that change is communicated and anticipated on a regular basis, establishing expectation from grass roots to the board.

Next, look at how processes are applied throughout the company. Are they rigid? Are they regularly challenged, tested and reviewed? How easy is it to adapt and respond to change given market dynamics?

One of the most problematic areas here is information security. Do your security controls sit on top of your other systems and applications, or is security embedded or ‘baked’ into business practice so that it does not define working practices.

Solve the security piece of the puzzle and you immediately create a more flexible and robust service offering.

Finally, seek to explore new avenues for growth presented by big data analysis and new technological methods, from cloud services to IoT. Then, rather than simply meeting demand, you can anticipate and even drive it, as a ready, responsive and proactive enterprise.

Sourced from James Henry, UK Southern Region Manager, Auriga

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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