I Thought Everything Was Digital Already?

Many thought leadership organizations believe businesses have entered a period, era or stage of Digital Transformation. In fact some of these thought leadership folks say they understand it when you claim “our software is the software of Digital Business Transformation”. Well, I am now certain those people are smarter than me because I thought we were already there. Then I paused and thought for a minute or three.

This time the Digital Business Transformation is about scale, maturity and perspective. Let me digress for a few minutes down Memory Lane.

I began my career at AOL in May 1995. You remember them, don’t you? America Online, sign up for $19.95/month with free disks from the mail. Steve Case, America On Hold, the screech of a 28.8 baud Hayes dialup modem (techies call it the handshake and for you real techies TCP/IP). You also remember the wonderful feeling you experienced when “You’ve Got Mail!” came through your speakers and your inbox displayed a few new, non-spam emails. Ahh…those were the days. Wasn’t that the Digital Transformation? So it’s odd to me, and maybe only me, that Digital Business Transformation is all the rage in 2014. I am not here to question whether or not DIGITAL has arrived, or when it arrived. Instead, here’s my perspective on what the Digital Business Transformation is this time around.

In the 90’s a company went digital by creating a website – www.yourcompany.com – and used it as a dramatic end to a TV or print ad campaign to show their digital presence. As you know almost nothing else changed in the company. The next wave of Digital Business Transformation included creating a web portal (e.g. a network of websites) that supported actual work. Web portals supported various types of requests via the website which ironically were later sent via US Mail. Consumers could submit customer service questions via email and get a response in email. Consumers could order only books from Amazon, subscribe to services like e-Trade and pirate some music on Napster -- interesting but minor and fragmented transformation. The Digital evolution continued and accelerated to today where 2014 appears to be the beginning of another wave. Why is this wave different? Through research I’ve learned it’s about Scale, Maturity and Perspective (from the inside).

This period of digital transformation is based on the premise that a critical mass of mature and scalable technologies are able to work together to deliver transformational value from the core of your business. 

This critical mass of technologies will be implemented to create more efficient digital operations, according to Matt Reilly from the HBR Blog Network, in his April 2014 article, American Firms Dream Of Growth, But Invest In Efficiency (as opposed to growth initiatives).

“On the efficiency topic, 87 percent of companies represented in the study plan to increase their investments in research and development – with a significant portion of this investment devoted to digital technologies such as mobile, cloud computing, analytics, social media, ecommerce, and machine-to-machine communication. Sounds good; “New investment in innovative technologies” makes a great headline for the next earnings call or annual report. But what’s underneath such headlines is fascinating: Most of the U.S. companies in the study generally view digital technologies as a way to streamline existing operations and improve customer relationships — not as an engine for growth.”

This wave of transformation will impact every customer interaction and every employee profoundly, and it’s already underway. Here are a few enabling technologies:

  • Intelligent processes which create a virtuous cycle of constant improvement based on digital feedback. Think of this as the digital version of process re-engineering from the 1980’s.
  • Big Data which is about the capture, curation, storage, search, sharing, transfer, analysis and visualization of large amounts of data enabling micro-action.
  • Model Driven software (e.g. no code) development which enables the creation of software by non-technical people.
  • Mobile solutions which enable nomadic consumerism and new ways for global employees to collaborate. Think UBER.
  • Wireless connectivity which enables things like geo-fencing, iBeacon.

These technologies coupled with others not mentioned but available are enabling some transformational stuff in Major League Baseball ballparks; Automobile collision avoidance systems; and Google Glass - Listen to Roy Choi, Culture Clasher and Straight Up #%&@#@ G. This is a cool video!

But we still have a long way to go and probably, you guessed it, there will be another wave of Digital Business Transformation.