Digital transformation: 4 outdated notions to move past

Becoming a digital business is a mindset as much as a process. Consider these truths for an updated take on what digital transformation really means
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When IT leaders and executives think of digital transformation today, they may imagine adopting agile teams, updating their infrastructure, or building and deploying a new digital product or application. But digital transformation isn’t just any one of those things – it’s all of them and more.

Becoming a digital business – one that thrives in an environment where the only constant is change – involves much more than a digital transformation project or a one-and-done investment. It requires an entirely different mindset – one of constant improvement, iteration, and change.

Unfortunately, many companies are operating on advice they received a decade ago, when digital transformation first became a buzzword, and everybody was simply “adopting agile” and “moving their tech stack to the cloud.”

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4 digital transformation truths

Let’s put aside outdated notions of digital transformation and explore the modern truths about how leaders and IT professionals can move beyond simply doing digital projects and truly build a digital business.

1. Technology is an enabler, not a be-all, end-all solution

Many leaders “do digital” things for the wrong reason. Some even do so for vanity’s sake, to claim they are at the forefront of the digital revolution. But when adoption of a new technology stems from a desire to shore up a company’s reputation rather than to solve core business challenges or unmet consumer or employee needs, it is destined to fail.

Leadership needs to work backward, from the human need to the technology solution. Know the people you are building for: What do they want and need? How will they use the solutions you are building? What would make them love what you deliver? Meet their basic needs as quickly as possible, study their usage, listen to their feedback, and continue to iterate and improve.

[ Want more digital transformation insights? Read 5 ways digital transformation drives customer success. ]

2. Great experiences are more than just digital

CIOs and other business leaders often assume that digital transformation simply means building or deploying as many scaled technologies as possible. But digital transformation is as much about face-to-face interaction (which customers prefer in some contexts) as it is about the latest digital products and tools.

Imagine this scenario: A patient with a chronic medical condition has built a trusted and important relationship with her healthcare provider. She sees her care team often and prefers face-to-face appointments and discussions.

The health system implements a new digital patient platform with the goal of simplifying and unifying communication with patients. The next time the patient books an appointment, she is directed to the patient app and finds a message with medical information she doesn’t understand. She’s confused about what it says, scared because she doesn’t know what it means, and surprised it’s delivered in such an impersonal way. Any positive sentiment from the in-person relationship that had previously been established has been eroded.

Digital transformation is as much about face-to-face interaction as it is about the latest digital products and tools.

This example shows why it’s important to strike the right balance between traditional in-person experiences and digital products and experiences, ensuring both share the same level of excellence, simplicity, and empathy for the people on the other side of the screen.

3. It takes a whole organization working together to become digital – not just IT

You can’t become a digital business by treating transformation as just another project and relegating it to the responsibility of a single team or leader. Digital is a mindset – not a destination – and it’s not just one person’s or one team’s job. It must be cemented into the organization’s culture from the bottom to the top.

Your company may have multiple business units, each with their own resources and capabilities in areas such as brand, operations, and digital product development. Customer experience must be the top priority for all of them – including IT. This priority shift, along with the use of actionable metrics, will allow your organization to build an enterprise-wide capability around digital product management and improve the customer experience.

4. Don't believe the hype – RFPs are more important than ever

Organizations have so many options when it comes to bolstering their digital transformation initiatives that some have begun to evaluate them without a clear mandate, thereby shortchanging the planning stage. This can be a mistake for companies looking to find the optimal mix of digital infrastructure, platforms, software, databases, and storage from the very beginning.

As painful as the RFP process can be, it brings focus and helps businesses and IT leaders clarify their goals and define their desired outcomes. That alignment is vital for a company to achieve their overall digital strategy.

Responding to a poorly written or unclear RFP is a waste of time for everyone. But a well-structured RFP gives vendors and partners the opportunity to differentiate themselves by demonstrating an understanding of the organization’s unique needs and presenting solutions that address them.

Despite persistent predictions that the RFP will disappear, its role in sourcing and evaluating transformation service providers is expected to remain and even increase.

Remember that digital transformation is a journey, not a destination. Be skeptical of advice based on the latest trends or so-called market disruptors. And instead of rushing to create a digital strategy based on outdated information, look at your organization’s current strategic, operational, and financial goals – and use those to frame your approach to becoming digital.

[Where is your team's digital transformation work stalling? Get the eBook: What's slowing down your Digital Transformation? 8 questions to ask.]

MJ Johnson is Managing Director in West Monroe’s Product & Experience Lab. MJ helps clients see what’s possible and pushes them to think beyond their current assets and capabilities. This introduces them to a future that includes better products, more productive people, and a more effective operation.