Business and digital transformation

There’s something in the power of three that is a call for action.  In this case to do something about three questions I got more or less together on ‘transformation’ Well, not quite together.  The first one I got almost a month ago and did nothing about, but yesterday two more arrived thus invoking the power of three.

The first one was: ‘Do you have any good links to Business Transformation Programmes reading or anything you’re doing that would serve as an intro.  I think it will be recommended that we buy in some consultancy but my instinct is we can probably do it ourselves with selected support?’

Yesterday, I got: ‘What’s the difference between digital transformation and business transformation?’

Also, yesterday (from a completely different source) came: ‘We are currently doing a strategy/org design project for the IT function of a pharma company. We are not finding relevant/compelling org design/operating models to help them move to the next level as the company takes baby steps towards digital transformation. Any suggestions or sources for such information?’

Before launching into a response, I looked to see if I’ve written about transformation before.  Yes, five times – the first time was in 2010:

I scanned what I’d written to see if I still agreed with my past self or not, and what links and info I could glean from those blogs on the three questions.  In re-reading these I felt as if between 2010 and now the ‘transformation’ field has risen to bandwagon status but may almost be at its peak. I’ve just seen the first article (probably of many) explaining ‘Why so many digital high-profile digital transformations fail‘.

In one way it seemed redundant to write another blog on the topic but I’ve found that there’s always a learning or development of ideas in the thinking/writing process and in a way, I can hardly avoid transformation.

I’m writing this in Dubai.  It’s an immersive transformation experience.  Every time I come I see the city transforming.  The latest new thing is the Dubai Frame – an edifice/experience showing a glossy version of the past, present and future of this transformation  from desert village to global player in 50 years.  A quick look at the Smart Dubai website or skim of the World Economic Forum article, ‘How digital technology is transforming Dubai’ gives a feel for the scale of the transformation ambition.

In this city of transformation, I’m wondering whether there’s any agreed organizational definition of ‘transformation’.  What do people mean by the term – what is the common ground on its usage?  Scott Anthony, in an HBR article, has a good stab at answering this.  He describes transformation as:

  • operational – doing what you are currently doing, better, faster, or cheaper
  • core – doing what you are currently doing in a fundamentally different way
  • strategic – ‘This is transformation with a capital “T” because it involves changing the very essence of a company. Liquid to gas, lead to gold’

As he points out ‘Defining what leaders mean when they drop the word transformation matters, because these different classes of efforts need to be measured and managed in vastly different ways.’

For my first questioner – the one who asked for an intro to business transformation a good intro step would be to have the discussion on what leaders mean by the word.  Once they’ve agreed, then some choices can be made on whether to proceed with support from external consultants or on a DIY basis (or mix of both).

The second question was ‘what’s the difference between digital transformation and business transformation?’  Jaret Chiles comes up with a suggestion that met with approval from the group I’m working with this week. He suggests that:

  • Business transformation encompasses the cultural shift and business processes driven by changing market demands; i.e., the company’s culture of change and business drivers.
  • Digital transformation encompasses the tools and processes implemented to support business transformation; i.e., applications.

Confusingly though, some organisation’s use put ‘digital’ and ‘business’ together to form the phrase ‘Digital Business Transformation’.  IMD a management school, for example, has a Global Center for Digital Business Transformation and a report from Deloitte that caught my eye ‘Strategy, not Technology, Drives Digital Transformation’ – partly because I believe this should be the case, but often isn’t –  has a section in it titled The Culture of Digital Business Transformation.   Maybe putting Digital+ Business together is right in the cases where businesses are transforming through the application of digital technology.

The third question was about operating models for digital transformation.  Operating models are another much discussed topic but a series of 6 articles on Digital Transformation from Insead Knowledge helps by starting with discussing a 10-point framework (operating model?) for digital transformation.   Alongside the framework comes a recommendation for describing it the process as a digital ‘journey’ and not a digital ‘transformation’, again a hint that the word ‘transformation’ has had its management-speak day.  (Other articles in the series include resistance to digital change, culture and supporting structures).

What’s your view of business v digital transformation – where would you point people wanting an intro to business transformation or a digital operating model?  Let me know.

Image: Palm Jumeirah, and the World, Dubai

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