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The Digital Transformation Myth

By Malcolm Lambell 23/3/2018

Digital Transformation – something new and something we haven’t done before!

I am not so sure.

Firstly, when people ask me what my first digital transformation was I say 18 years ago! Internet banking, digital TV and WAP phones. I was the IT Director behind one of the first online banking services in the UK, so I am not sure Digital Transformation is that new.

Sure, you need to know a bit about the tools, Artificial Intelligence, Apps, Blockchain, Virtual Reality, Internet of Things etc. But that’s not that that hard, especially if you suspend the belief that they are some kind of magic bullet for your business that will change everything overnight. They are just tools that can (or cannot) be applied to your business model to improve the way you do business. Maybe they won’t be game changers, but if they can if applied correctly they will add significant value.

Don’t get me wrong I am no luddite that doesn’t see the opportunity with the new tools, I have been in technology for over 35 years and seen so many phases of change. I am the first one to admit that we are in the midst of a technology perfect storm, but I am sure you all know that and don’t need reminding.

Having said that I must admit I get quite annoyed with anyone who says ‘the default for our business is digital’ without even understanding what that means.

The issue is that new disruptive companies can do just that – disrupt because they don’t have the legacy of systems or people to hold them back. So, the key issue for existing ‘non-digital’ businesses is to build the culture and energy to transform.

Old style transformation meant moving from point A (now) to point B (a well defined future state). I have done eight major transformations in my career as a CIO and they are hard because you are often changing one of the most complex things in the world – culture.

But it’s harder now because no one knows what point B looks like. No one can really assess the impact of a new technology. (For instance, did anyone ever think that texting would be a useable service – of course not, certainly not in the early days).

So, my point is Digital Transformation is still just transformation, however, it’s a bit harder as you need to build a different culture to make it happen in a legacy business.

And that is the tough bit. So, you decide on some technology themes that are worth exploring, some of them may even disrupt your own existing product lines, but no matter how well it is thought through, well led and funded, it will fail if you don’t test your company’s alignment with the approach. In other words, its cultural capability and acceptance.

How many times have I seen major new initiatives fail because there has been no thought to test the appetite for the change? By that I mean organisational dynamics, aligned processes, reward mechanisms just to mention a few, but most importantly culture.

Experts say there are three key aspects of change technology, processes and people. I think that misses out the most important – culture. Culture is not the same as people.

Companies need to assess alignment with the business strategy and they need to know that the strategy can be delivered by the organisation.

 

Malcolm Lambell has spent 20 years in executive CIO transformation roles plus seven years leading his own consultancy, Transformation Partners.

Malcolm is, amongst other roles, an Advisor working with Sullivan and Stanley

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