“Digital transformation is a complex, carefully thought-through, realisation of a leader’s vision to completely re-architect a business.”

What is digital?

I think ‘digital’ is much more than its dictionary term of expressing signals in a series of 0 and 1 digits.

For me, it encompasses:

  • smart devices;
  • the explosion of data;
  • cloud computing; and
  • social media.

The proliferation of smart personal devices has put the word ‘digital’ into everyday use and galvanised businesses to change. Our eyes are opened to new ways of doing things that were previously out of reach. Leisure, work and commerce have evolved once more. With these devices came an explosion of data, driving the need for greater storage, availability and fungible use of vast amounts of information, answered by cloud computing. 

Analysis and manipulation of data has transformed business models while introducing new ones, alongside regulations to control how it is used. Social media has provided a platform for us to share and contrast experiences at scale. Traditional marketing and PR, as well as the personalities of employees and brands, have never been more transparent.

Promises of great products and services are tested and discussed online, every moment.

Analogue to Digital

Many businesses begin their digital journey with a plan to digitise data and processes. Paper based information, and the processes that manage it, are made available online and in mobile devices. These processes aren’t changed or redesigned to optimise them for the online or mobile world (beyond that which is required to make them work). A business case to digitise is rarely about how processes or experiences can become more efficient and user-friendly by exploiting the potential of the digital system they will inhabit.

Digitising data is an entry point to digitalisation.

Digitalisation programmes redesign customer journeys and business processes to optimise experiences and achieve efficiencies. They have tended to be at a product or service level. New digital channels, or ‘touch-points’, have emerged from a plethora of digitalisation programmes; apps for banking, ordering food, monitoring and controlling your heating and water consumption, or shopping on the go. 

Beyond the realities of the incumbent, disruptive start-ups (with their fresh thinking and PE backed funding), are well positioned to launch new digital business models enabled by nascent technologies. Big tech firms are doing the same, and with greater success.

Household names like Amazon and Facebook have reimagined and recreated commodities retailing and advertising through their digital platforms.

Packaged holidays and overnight stays can also be booked online, or via your mobile device, eliminating high street stores, paper and enthusiastic sales reps. You can even take a virtual tour of your hotel before arriving, from the back seat of your Uber. 

Digital Transformation

Incumbents, fearful of disruption, disintermediation, and displacement are responding through digital transformation programmes.

This is a wholesale – and ideally ‘top down’ – transition towards a digital first model (people, processes, IT and systems).

Digital transformation is a complex, carefully thought-through, realisation of a leader’s vision to completely re-architect a business. 

As an executive in a large and successful firm, some years ago I was reminded of the need to remain relevant and to evolve with changing consumer expectations. Arriving at the entrance to Facebook’s HQ I saw their name and brand proudly displayed for all to see, and when departing later I also saw the old Sun Mircosystems name on the back; Mark Zuckerberg’s reminder of getting strategy right, and brilliantly delivering it. Together.