If digital transformation is a journey, what’s the destination (and are we there yet)?

digital transformation

With the 62nd Grammy’s coming up, I’ve been thinking about awards categories. If such events included awards for “buzzword of the year”, perhaps the term “digital transformation” would be a strong contender to pick up a trophy (for the third year in a row!).

While there is no doubt that digital transformation was IMPORTANT in 2018 and 2019, surely 2020 was the year where this idea really came into its own. This was the year where such transformation was no longer an initiative, but instead an imperative. It wasn’t about driving new digitization projects, but instead holding on for dear life as things quickly spiraled out of our control and we implemented new processes and ways of working, sometimes overnight.

With lockdowns and social distancing, the tools, processes, methods and systems we provided for the people we serve and the people we employ changed forever. Our customers and colleagues had no choice but to find new, digital and socially distant ways to interact with each other and with us. We quickly found out that if we couldn’t meet (and protect) them where they are, they’d find an organization that could.

Now that we are a year into this pandemic, should we still be thinking about digital transformation or something else? Some of my new colleagues from Alfresco who recently joined Hyland, shared a fresh perspective on this term with me, which is what really got my wheels turning.

“It’s not so much about digital transformation” they explained, “it’s about striving for digital operations”.

This resonated with me because it focuses the mind more on the destination, rather than just on the journey to get there.

As an extension of digital operations, it’s also vital to bring “digital experiences” into the picture. These are the digital interactions between your employees and the people you serve – your customers, patients, students, constituents, vendors, agents or however you describe them.

So, if digital transformation was the journey, what’s the destination? It’s the lightning-fast world of digital operations and experiences.

Are we there yet?

This is a question that each organization needs to answer.

Here are a few “sign post” questions that might indicate you still have some ground to cover:

  • Do you still have paper-based processes (which are now not only slow and costly, but now carry a legitimate health risk)?
  • Do your employees spend a lot of time searching across multiple applications, repositories and systems to find all the information relating to any one customer, transaction or event?
  • Is your critical business information held hostage in individual people’s email inboxes, fileshares, spreadsheets or documents?
  • Do your customers have only limited self-service options and need to call you for inquiries or to make new requests?
  • Are you implementing an increasing number of individual cloud-based department apps to solve near-term challenges, while recognizing that these are adding more disconnected information silos which you will need to integrate and secure down the line?
  • Are your employees using inappropriate filesharing tools to share sensitive business information (such as email and unsanctioned cloud-sharing apps)?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you still have progress to make on your transformation journey.

A sobering thought

If the term “digital transformation” is still very much on your mind, it’s likely that your organization has been around for a long time. Often, organizations that have decades-old systems, processes and technologies are the ones who have the most “transformation” to undergo.

remote workforceBut think about this. Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, many newer organizations were ‘born digital’. They built their organizations with the latest and greatest digital tools available, giving them a huge advantage over more-established, traditional organizations. They didn’t just utilize the cloud, they built their entire systems and operations IN the cloud. They didn’t extend the reach of their business applications to mobile devices, they delivered their experiences as mobile apps in the first place.

Even prior to the pandemic, these forward-thinking organizations were already being highly disruptive in their own marketplaces. Long-established organizations that owned gorgeous branch facilities as part of their winning strategies quickly found themselves competing with fully-digital organizations that invested in gorgeous mobile apps instead, sometimes bypassing the need for physical locations altogether!

It’s not a stretch to imagine that some of these “born digital” organizations were prepared to adapt to the circumstances of 2020 better than organizations who were still planning their digital transformation strategies.

Slow and steady wins the race?

So, if your operations and experiences are not yet fully digital, should you look to make incremental improvements over time, or take a serious look at investing in radical and transformational change?

I’ll use an analogy to help you think through this question.

My brother moved to Latvia in 1994. When my family and I went to visit him, it was like stepping back in time. There were old-fashioned stores where everything was behind the counter. There were no supermarkets, no parking meters on the street and many of the modern ways-of-life that I’d taken for granted growing up in the UK simply didn’t exist.

Latvia sure felt like it was WAY behind the UK in terms of “modern” conveniences.

However, things changed. As Latvia joined the European Union and started investing in its digital infrastructure, the country did not have the burden (in some cases) of transforming existing and aging infrastructures and equipment. 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! This was the mid-2000s! I didn’t even have a mobile phone at the time! But for my brother, the cost simply showed up on his phone bill.

Suddenly Latvia felt very cutting edge, and the UK felt like it had a lot of catching up to do technology-wise (Please note: I’m no economist, and this is not a dissertation on the political climate or finances of any country!).

On my last trip to Scotland, which was around FIFTEEN years after that trip to Latvia, I was finally able to pay for parking via my mobile phone at some parking locations. To me, it looked like these technology upgrades happened in locations where the existing equipment reached the end of its useful life, or where there was a significant financial motivation to add it (at busy tourist spots). But even today, it’s still not available everywhere.

How does all this relate to the need for organizations to digitize their operations and experiences today?

In this analogy, Latvia was like a “startup” org that had an influx of investment and the opportunity to implement the VERY latest technologies, instantly putting them streets ahead of other countries (at least when it came to mobile payments!). The UK was like a “long-established” organization whose ability to innovate in these areas was restricted by the existence of aging, legacy infrastructures.

Obviously, these countries are not “competing” which each other and the ability to buy a soda or pay for parking from a mobile device is just a fun convenience.

However, your organization IS competing with other organizations, for the attention of customers if nothing else. The ability for a customer to be able to interact digitally with their provider is not just a fun convenience, it’s an absolute necessity. In fact, you could even say that it is a matter of survival, because if you are not already doing this, you will have competitors that already are.

So, which strategy more closely resembles your organization? Are you:

  • Implementing the very latest technologies available, aggressively digitizing your operations and customer experiences?
  • Waiting until your equipment, processes and technologies reach the end of their useful lives before you make the investment?

Perhaps a better question to think about is: How would your COMPETITORS answer the above questions?

One thing is for sure, waiting 15 years to implement technology that’s available RIGHT NOW is not an option. So, take a close look at your organization and ask whether you have a long way to go on your digital transformation journey or if you are truly there.

If you recognize that you need to make progress and make it quickly, engage with Hyland. It’s what we do. We help organizations of all sizes, in almost every industry all across the world to digitize their operations and experiences. We’ve never won a Grammy, but respected industry analysts have long recognized us as a leader in our field.

If there were awards for buzz words, perhaps “digital transformation” wouldn’t win right now. It’s SO last year. Maybe this year’s nominees would be “The next normal”, “hyperautomation” or my favorite “the internet of behaviors”.

The more technology terms change, the more the need for change remains the same.

This interesting stat (published prior to the pandemic) underscores just how much ground organizations on the whole still have to cover.

“The pace of adoption and absorption [of digital technologies] into organizational practices in the United States, Europe, and China … are still far from the digital frontier,” according to McKinsey Global Institute. “On average, they have stood at only around 20 percent of the total potential.”

That’s right, 20 percent. Some quick “back of the napkin math” tells me that there’s still 80 percent untapped potential!

Throughout 2020, many organizations had to transform how they operated, some almost overnight, just to make it through. Now as we are beginning 2021, how do you ensure that you not only survive the coming year, but thrive in the whatever “normal” will look like in the future?

First, let’s compare and contrast two basic concepts, digital readiness and digital transformation. Then, we’ll perform a digital self-check.

Analog pain

Digital optimization is the key to extracting real value from your data. It’s all about removing business silos, seamlessly integrating core or legacy systems, eradicating reliance on shadow systems (spreadsheets are a perfect example) and making information easily accessible across your business.

So, not only do you need a roadmap, you need to know how to fully utilize technology before you refocus your organization. Otherwise, you’ll end up with digital processes that aren’t optimized, they’re just the same old messy processes without all the paper.

Digital transformation

Now that we’ve taken a look at how to prepare for our trip, we need to explore the route.

Digital transformation is a foundational change in how your organization delivers value to its customers. Successful digital transformations do not begin with technology. Instead, the focus is on overhauling your organization with customer-focused goals in mind, like building new, digital, customer-centric products.

That said, it’s important to remember that your transformation is just as much about leadership and the ongoing journey as it is about technology. It’s not just about making information available digitally; it’s about what your organization does with that information – making decisions, driving processes and serving customers.

At a high level, digital transformation represents a fundamental rethinking of how your enterprise uses technology to radically change performance. It’s about putting all that information that pours into your organization in the hands of people to make more-informed decisions – whether that’s planning for the business or providing excellent customer service.

As I mentioned earlier, we need to think of digital transformation as a journey, one that sets your organization up to grow – smarter, faster and stronger. And a big part of that is to let go of physical infrastructure and embrace the cloud.

Digital self-check

Without a clear vision of where you are, where you want to go and a defined strategy of how you’ll get there, you risk heading in the wrong direction. So, before making any organizational changes, it’s important to agree on why you’re making them.

Is what you are trying to achieve disruptive to your business and to your industry? Are you focusing on new business models and gaining net-new revenue streams? Do you want to offer digital products and services to your customers?

If the honest answers are yes, you may well be conducting a legitimate digital transformation. If not, maybe it’s time to make a nice cup of cocoa, fire up the old Victrola record player and listen to some Grammy-winning Bing Crosby songs.

Glenn Gibson

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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