Why it’s too late for ‘digital’ transformation

I’ve referred to digital “fill-in-the-noun” as the turrets of the 21st century enterprise executive. Digital disruption, digital transformation, digital leadership, chief digital officers — the list goes on and on.

It seems that in 2016, enterprises have finally realized that employees and customers use information technology. But it shouldn’t be surprising that stakeholders interact constantly with computers, handheld devices and the digital world. After all, the Apple App Store celebrates its 8th birthday this year!

Despite all of us using the “digital” moniker, the worst-kept secret in the world of IT is that digital as a term is meaningless if not defined in context. Today’s transformation journey is “digital” simply because it has to be in 2016. But the stops along that journey need to be considered in much more granular ways.

Try this: If you’re about to attend or organize a meeting discussing “digital” transformation, try this. Have your attendees define it in a 140-character tweet — without using the D-word — and share the results BEFORE the meeting to get that exercise out of the way. Have employees be as specific as possible given the tight limitations. You may be very surprised by the results.

One would think that technologists would have an unfair advantage in this activity, but I haven’t seen that they do. In fact, I’d argue that non-technical employees may in fact be better able to describe the changes going on in their lines of business without using the term digital, since they operate from the digital periphery more than their inside-out technology counterparts.

If your enterprise is JUST starting to discuss “digital transformation,” you’re way too late to the revolution, but you still need to have the conversation — and now. Just frame your discussion in a way that leads to genuine insights.

Under no circumstances define it as “digital.” Overemphasis on the D-word can have a real effect on meaningful communications and in fact peg your firm as just another “digital me-too.” Instead, start the conversation by getting specific about technology-driven innovation. Look closely at competitors or comparable companies and take note of those enterprises that treat digital like oxygen. See how you can get to that place of breathing without being reminded to inhale/exhale.

If you find it almost impossible to have a “digital-free” discussion, you may need an outsider to help facilitate (One way to jumpstart the creativity is a technology petting zoo). Your goal should be to get laser-focused on the specific strategies that are going to get you to that D-word (may it RIP) future.


Future-proofing with technology petting zoos

Journey to the Digital Enterprise


  1. Hey Feral
    Digital transformation is a present day business imperative that no business can take for granted. Every business part of the digital marketplace is trying hard to edge competition, take lead in transforming digitally but each of them finds themselves in a specific sphere in terms of the digital transformation. What do you think?
    Sophia Briggs


  2. Hey Sophia – I couldn’t agree more. My premise is that the word “digital” has become both meaningless and ubiquitous in 2016. It’s like saying “lets discuss our ’employee’ strategy”. I feel enterprises need to eliminate the word digital and discuss a SPECIFIC transformational strategy like social supply chain, or extracting insight from unstructured conversational data, or video content or peer-to-peer help desks.

    This strategy must be driven from the periphery and not in a conference room where employees spend hours of their lives they’ll never get back writing their inside-out definition of digital disruption on paper flip charts with magic markers. I want to focus ENTIRELY on that “specific sphere” you mention. And I want all of those specific spheres socialized across the enterprise so that both luddite and technocrat can visualize a precise definition. Otherwise it’s just digital vanilla…not even French vanilla.

    Make sense ?


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