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Digital transformation is a chicken-and-egg thing

Salesman painting tree instead of city

Digital transformation was once again at the forefront of another technology conference, although once more things got somewhat circular as people mostly grappled with what the term actually means.

While the constant stream of buzzwords can irritate those outside of the marketing department, one which Telecoms.com doesn’t mind too much is digital transformation. This is mainly due to the fact the implied projects actually have substance, even though the definition of the term varies dependent on who you are speaking to.

At the Managed Services World Congress this week digital transformation was a strong theme throughout the majority of the presentations, though how the introduction of these new technologies, processes and business models would impact the people in the organization was generally a side-point. With the lure of discussing exciting new technologies seemingly too much for many of the speakers, the cultural and social implications of any transformational project was overlooked for the most part.

Digital transformation isn’t necessarily defined by people inside an organization, or the customers which the organization serves, but it is an important thing. Whenever engineers look at a new piece of technology there is a risk some can get carried away. The long-term potential and big picture strategies are what the business will focus on and this is fair enough to a degree, though the idea of digital transformation is to take an organization from where it is currently, to a position where it is capable of competing in the connected world. People are a very important factor in this process.

This is what was slightly concerning at the conference. For the majority of the speakers the cultural implications and the social side of digital transformation was an afterthought. There was a general sense of ‘once the technology is in place, they’ll get it eventually’ in the approach. For the most part your correspondent got the impression technology was leading the direction of the conversation, as opposed to businesses using technology to evolve.

While digital transformation could mean the introduction of new technology to improve processes, it could also mean changing how a business is organized and operates prior to the introduction of new technologies. Is your workforce ready for the introduction of new technologies? Do you have the skills present? Is the structure capable of delivering the new digitally orientated business model? This is the problem with digital transformation; because there is no clear definition, there is the risk of important factors being overlooked.

It’s easy to get too philosophical (or even pompous), but it is an interesting point. Are we leading the growth of technology or is the growth of technology leading us? Is this a case of innovation for the sake of innovation? Are enterprise organizations considering whether its internal culture and attitude towards technology maybe the reason it is not competing in the digital economy? Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

As with any good argument, there are two sides. Although being consultative through any new process is encouraged, it can be the glass ceiling on innovation. Henry Ford once mused that if he had listened to his customers he would have spent his career figuring out how to make faster horses. Sometimes technology has to lead people or progress will be slow.

With opinion so widely spread on the topic of digital transformation, it is unlikely there is going to be a consolidated decision on the best way forward. There seemed to be a sense of ‘boys and their toys’ at the conference with little thought given to the impact on the people and an organizations culture during a digital transformation project. This has the potential to lead to some expensive mistakes.


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