This is part 1 in a 2-part blog series on Digital Transformation programs. Click here to read part 2.

The digital transformation wave is growing and generating considerable anxiety and excitement within organizations everywhere. The concept of digital transformation is simple, yet profound.  Businesses have leveraged technology to automate longstanding processes since the industrial revolution.  Using technology to change the business itself was the territory of high-tech companies, dot coms, software developers, and Silicon Valley start-ups.  Not anymore. The Netflix, Uber, and Airbnb’s of the world led disruption of traditional industries by rethinking technology to better compete, creating new markets, inventing new ways of doing business, and engaging consumers through innovation.  The Blockbusters, taxi cab companies, and hotel chains taught us to take note.  Companies from all industries are now clamoring to either create their own disruption or avoid negative impact from others leading the charge.  This is resulting in a flurry of strategic whiteboard sessions to launch digital programs everywhere.  In fact, nearly one half of our clients have a defined digital transformation initiative either in final planning stages or well underway. Unfortunately, many programs have the trappings of digital technologies, but are often devoid of meaningful strategic change or focus to ensure future competitiveness.

Today, industries across the globe are realizing they too could face competitive displacement by better use of data, technology, and a different level of strategic planning to outperform competition.  The internet has become more than a place for eCommerce or idle browsing.  Data is becoming more than standard financial and operational dashboards. IoT is becoming more than sensors sending basic data.  Artificial intelligence, predictive analytics, social media, consumer behavior, augmented reality and other disruptive technologies are creating a landscape for opportunities only limited by imagination, regardless of how traditional, asset-based, or “safe” an organization feels.

Perhaps you also have a digital transformation program and feel you can breathe a sigh of relief.  You’ve seen the reports on internal digital investments.  You sat through the presentation on how these new technologies are being implemented.  You’ve seen the bio of the program leader tackling these initiatives.  Your people are involved in the transformation. You’ve even seen the big-name consulting firms working away in the conference rooms on the program.  Your company will not be left behind as other companies launch their digital journeys.

Large shifts in business strategies, processes, tools, or talent commonly reflect E.M. Rogers’ standard Diffusion of Innovation Theory.  There will be “Innovators”, “Early Adopters” and eventually “Laggards.” While this theory covers many forms of adoption, digital transformation is spawning a new group to this model model, which I refer to as the “Imitators”.  Imitators understand future threats, accept the call to action, but fail to commit to the level of change required to drive meaningful value from the effort. They generate activities which create a false sense of security for the future, without tackling the elements to prepare for the future.

Imitators check every box to portray early adoption, but in fact, place themselves firmly in the “Laggard” category by allowing a placebo to placate fears as others move aggressively forward.  We are implementing a mobile inventory tracking tool – that is digital transformation.  We are moving servers to the cloud – that is digital transformation.  We are investing in our business intelligence platforms – that is digital transformation.  Perhaps these are components of a digital disruption strategy or maybe not. The problem is that many technology initiatives were conceived far downstream of business strategy, and likely would have occurred even if “digital transformation” never existed.  Perhaps they are simply IT initiatives, continuing to improve processes as they have done for many years. They are probably worth doing and might even bring value to the business, but they are not changing or evolving the business itself. Inventory tracking is still inventory tracking.  Servers are still servers.  Reporting is still reporting.

How can you tell if your initiatives are driving real transformation to ensure your business competes in this new future? Stay tuned for part 2 of this blog series, where we will explore indicators for an effective digital transformation program designed to achieve meaningful results in business performance.


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