Digital transformation: Fantasy or reality?

I recently had the privilege of hosting a round table session at #AIIM17 on the topic of digital transformation. An interesting mix of information experts, vendors, business and IT professionals attended this session, from a wide variety of industries and backgrounds.

The first question for the group was the title of this post – Is digital transformation a fantasy or a reality? Here’s the synopsis of the discussion.

It’s a reality and cannot be ignored!

This was the definitive answer in the room. However, the group interestingly raised the idea that this has been a reality for a long time. What we are experiencing now is the next phase of a continuum, which started around 25 years ago with the digitization of paper, and now, encompasses so many more elements of organizational operation. The image displayed on the “Wikipedia” page dedicated to this topic well illustrates how widely encompassing this phrase has become, by showing a traditional British telephone box painted black with the “telephone box” sign replaced with the label “wifi-hot-spot.”

C-level executives cannot ignore this trend. “There are three key drivers of transformation: changing consumer demand, changing technology and changing competition,” according to an article in the Guardian.

Put simply, C-level executives cannot afford not to be digital in order to survive and thrive as an organization.

A feeling of deja vu

Perhaps because of the enterprise content management (ECM) experience and heritage in the room, I suppose it wasn’t surprising that the conversation began to circle around the cost, time and headcount savings possible once an organization manages information digitally.

What were to me “classic” tales of efficiency gains, from digitizing and automating processes, were being discussed as examples of the benefits of digital transformation; for example, a fully automated accounts payable process, a digital mailroom, etc. This sounded very much like the same value propositions and examples that we have used while explaining the benefits of ECM for many years.

When we discussed a question relating to the relationship of digital transformation to the concept of ECM, the consensus in the room was that the idea of ECM – managing digital content in a centralized location with governance, controls and automation – is an essential part of any digital transformation strategy.

The cold hard truth: Not all organizations need to “transform”

This is where the conversation really got interesting. The group started discussing the cold hard truth that the only companies that really have to undergo a “transformation” are the ones who have been in business for a long time – those that have a legacy of paper-based processes, outdated software applications and old-fashioned architectures. They have to re-imagine how they operate, rethink the software needed to support their initiatives and redesign their information strategies.

As one participant noted “A digital backlog is hell.”

Born digital: A competitive advantage

Conversely, some of the biggest new disruptors in the marketplace simply don’t have to undergo a digital transformation, as they have been born in the digital age. They have the latest and greatest digital tools at their disposal, often with their businesses built around the very capabilities these tools offer.

I used an analogy to illustrate this. My brother moved to Latvia around 1994, and when we went to visit, it was like stepping back in time. Old-fashioned stores where everything was behind the counter, no supermarkets, no parking meters on the street or many of the things I’d taken for granted, growing up in the UK.

However, as Latvia joined the European Union and started investing in its infrastructure, it was not burdened with transforming an existing and aging infrastructure. Latvia simply implemented the very latest available technologies.

I was blown away, for example, when my brother showed me how he could buy a soda or pay a parking meter by text message. Text message! The cost showed up on your phone bill.

Suddenly Latvia felt very cutting edge, and the UK felt like it had a lot of catching up to do.

So, for those leaders today who are thinking about their digital transformation strategy, this simply cannot be a future fantasy idea. The reality is that they MUST transform, and do so quickly to respond to changing consumer demand, changing technology and changing competition.

Glenn Gibson

Glenn Gibson is Director, Global Technology Evangelist at Hyland. With 20 years working in the IT industry, he’s collected several certifications over the years as a VMware Certified Professional, Citrix... read more about: Glenn Gibson

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