Imagine you are in the Himalayas where an old monk approaches you and says:
What is the sound of one hand clapping?
At first you may think you know the answer to the old zen koan, until you realize that the answer you had in mind was the sound of two hands clapping. Close, but not the same. Then follows confusion and possibly even some frustration at being asked such a ridiculous question. But if curiosity and self-reflection kicks in, the question opens an opportunity to explore the inner workings of your thinking and through that mental exercise transform your thinking.
Holidays are over and you fly back home leaving the monk's confusing riddle behind and rush straight into the first management meeting. A senior manager lights up the Power Point and points at the only slide:
You shall do digital transformation!
Usually, upon hearing those words, heads will nod and knowing looks will be exchanged and everyone agrees, that this is really important. It seems like everyone knows exactly what those words mean and therefore it is equally clear, what must and will be done.
But just like in Hans Christian Andersen’s story “The emperor’s new clothes” few will admit they cannot see the invisible thread, because that would imply, they are not skilled at their trade. In reality, most people are confused or frustrated, because it is not clear. What is digital transformation? What does it mean? Is it good or bad for me? Why do we even have to do it?
Procrastination, hyper-activity and really, really wanting to change
When change knocks on the door, different responses can be anticipated. The default response is to do nothing (“it may be fine for others, but our company is different”). Sometimes it comes with the soft escape clause, that we will wait and see. This may feel like a winning strategy. If everyone else screws up, we look good. If they succeed, we copy what they did and avoid the mistakes. It might actually be true, if that was what digital transformation is about.
Another possible response is to loudly declare, that we will do digital transformation, set lofty and ambitious goals, add “digital” to all communication, throw in as many references to “AI” and “machine learning” as possible, pay someone to develop a chatbot to talk with customers and call it a day. Obviously, no one does this, but - hypothetically speaking - it could happen.
But let’s say we - hypothetically speaking - really, really want to make changes to our business, because we want to grow, or save costs or simply to have a business in 5 years’ time. Whatever the case may be, we must be absolutely clear in our minds (as in one hand clapping) that “digital transformation” is not the goal of the exercise. It is not even a specific activity.
Transformation is a process. It requires time, effort and energy also known as work.
Transformation is a process. It is easy to understand when we talk about transforming raw materials (such as bricks and mortar) into finished products (such as a house). The transformation does not just happen. It requires time, effort and energy, in other words – work.
Furthermore, the term “digital” tends to make the thinking start from the technology. It is a good idea to seek information about new technologies as they will likely open for new capabilities unavailable in the non-digital realm. It is however rarely a good idea to decide on a technology and then decide what the strategy should be. “Digital” as in digital technology is a tool to achieve a business goal. “Transformation” is the process through which to achieve it and also here it requires time, effort and energy. It is wise to remember, that digital alone will not cut it. Processes and organizational capabilities are also part of the transformation.
The result of digital transformation is to have a digitally empowered organization with processes adapted to leverage the digital technology to deliver the business goals.
Several initiatives and technologies can take you to your goal, but not all will. While you for sure need to have a path leading to the goal, we find it useful to break the journey into smaller steps and to check after each step, that you are still on the path (oh no, the boring old milestones). The smaller steps ensure that technology, organization and processes are growing together and moving in the right direction. The sum of all these smaller steps across the organization, the processes and the technology constitute the digital transformation journey. The result is not having moved from analog to digital. The result is to have a digitally empowered organization with processes adapted to leverage the digital technology to deliver the business goals. And thus each goal on the digital transformation journey becomes just another milestone as the journey continues.
Pablo Picasso once said:
Computers are useless. They can only give you answers.
As a tech company, we in Acumex hardly believe that computers are useless, but he does have a point. If we don’t know which questions to ask from our technology, we may indeed get useless answers. We suggest that you start from your business, develop a clear understanding of why you need transformation and what you want to achieve with it. Then find out how people, processes and technology together will make the journey possible and start walking down your path.
And when you get there, you may know the sound of one hand clapping.
Reach out to us to explore how we may be a part of your digital transformation journey and also check out what our friends at Coignite are writing about digital and business transformation. Lots of great inspiration and help there too.