Digital transformation has become something of a buzz phrase in the business world. Everybody seems to be in the middle of one. And while there is good reason for this sometimes frantic enthusiasm, anytime a phrase becomes so heavily leaned upon at businesses conferences and in ‘thought leadership’ articles, it’s worth treating it with a healthy dose of scepticism.
So that’s exactly what we’re about to do.
The reasons behind this mania for ‘transformation’ are numerous, but we suspect they come down to a few simple points.
First, digital technology really is changing everything. If we think of the biggest businesses to arrive in recent years, they are almost all digitally native startups with a clear, disruptive plan. Companies like AirBNB and Uber have found radical new business propositions by leveraging technology rather than any more traditional innovations. And this has led to a recent poll taken by Microsoft revealing that 41% of business leaders believe their current business model will cease to exist within five years. This has, quite rightly, led many business leaders to prioritise radically overhauling their operation and infrastructure as soon as possible.
So there is a legitimate cause for the hype.
But a second, slightly less heroic reason, is simply that business leaders have to keep face in front of one another, and once a critical mass breaks, basically everyone has to be ‘transforming’ their business and ‘disrupting’ the norms, simply in order to fit in. This is how we end up with numerous businesses approaching their ‘transformation’ is rather elaborately unimaginative ways, slapping needless technology onto their existing processes and pretending that this equally progress.
So there are also some less legitimate reasons at play.
The third reason, however, is perhaps the most intriguing, which is digital transformation sounds exciting, impressive, and progressive –things we’d all like to think about ourselves, no matter how inaccurate. It is increasingly the case that digital transformation has become – in some quarters – a vanity project wherein leaders can assert themselves and their vision on whatever legacy business they are in charge of. And this brings us to the nub of the issue.
When thinking about this current slate of ‘transformations’, it’s important businesses – particularly small businesses – don’t get carried away with the noise of it all. Many businesses really do need to reimagine their approach, but just as many are not under nearly the same threat, and in the mania of transformation they may well lose track of what really matters to their business.
Instead of thinking radically, businesses right now need a serious dose of sanity. They need to be taking in their competitive environment and working out the real pros and cons of changing their tech component. For many, a traditional IT setup is enough for them thrive, especially if it’s properly setup and well managed.
So next time you hear about digital transformation or the need for radical disruption, just ask: is that really necessary for your business?