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What is Digital Transformation, Anyway?


12 Aug 2022 | Noel Ady

What really is digital transformation and how do you do it?

At gravity9 we work alongside a broad range of industries and teams. Quite often our efforts are aimed at the company’s ‘digital transformation’. Each client’s specific objectives seem vastly different, still the label is assigned: ‘digital transformation’. So, what does this buzz term ‘digital transformation’ really mean? gravity9 Founding Partner and Lead Consultant, Noel Ady gives us his take on the popular term.

The term digital transformation is widely used across industries. It’s an impressive term, it suggests the complete transformation of an organization, using digital ‘things’. But that can mean many different things to many different people. The word ‘transformation’ leads us to think it is just a process of running a few projects and at some point, the organization will be transformed! The term, in my mind at least, is vague and misleading.

Defining Digital

What is digital? I don’t think anyone would blame you for asking this question regarding the utilizing technology to support a given interaction with an organization. Many people believe ‘digital’ is to use some form of computer application or system, right? But that’s not it. The term in this context is loaded.

There are plenty of long-standing organizations out there who have been using technology heavily since the 60’s to support their processes and even reach their customers. However, often these are the same organizations implementing ‘digital transformation’ programs so, it’s not just digital applications and systems that transform an organization, it’s something else. I would say one of the most common statements made by new client project sponsors is along the lines of: “Can we talk about how Amazon make things so easy? And build something like that for our customers. Low friction, low cost, simple to use.” (Depending on which industry the client is in, you can swap Amazon out with Airbnb, Facebook, Revolut etc.) Generally speaking, and this is from my own personal experience, when organizations ask for digital transformation, they want; not just a system to support the process for efficiency for their staff, not just a beautiful, low friction and intuitive interface for the customers to interact with, not just a fully automated processes on the (behind the scenes – backend), not just high availability solution which instils confidence and screams reliability, not just convenience of having access to their organisation available across multiple platforms and device types like web, mobile, tv, watch, voice activated – they want all those things, plus some real, genuine perception they are trying to make things easy for their clients and customers, phew that’s a lot!

Putting People First

When it comes to being digital, you need to have given serious thought to your customers and workforce, what are their needs and wants? The customer experience satisfaction at Amazon doesn’t stop with the appreciation of only having to click one or two buttons to have the item ordered, it’s the confidence the item will get to you when promised. The whole request, fulfilment and charge is slick, invisible to the customer and delivers on its promise. Customers have a real sense of smell for a genuine service and will resist when the experience or service delivery isn’t exceptional.

What I’ve learnt is that digital transformation is to build a platform on which your clients and customers can ‘easily’ interact with your organisation to the point of delight through their own devices. It’s a tall order, but I sincerely believe it’s a matter of focus. Expertise in the following, are essential:

  • Domain expertise – know your business and work with technical teams closely
  • Service design – understand more than the user flow, but the full fulfilment flow
  • User experience design – design a truly engaging customer and staff experience – well thought-out applications
  • Software engineering
  • DevOps – know how to automatically update your product with little manual intervention
  • Quality assurance – it’s an overwhelming space

It is crucial to understand your own organisation of how it fits into the new world of digital consumerism. Many organizations are well established and have multiple legacy applications and systems so rebuilding everything is not an option. Increasingly newer organizations are challengers to the old world and want to bring new and exciting ways of interaction. It doesn’t matter where you are starting. With legacy systems or as a challenger the key is to understand how to go about it. I’ve listed 5 things I believe can help transformation projects move to success:

1. Divide and conquer, a transformation project for a large organisation is without doubt overwhelming. However, breaking down your opportunities, problems and objectives really helps frame and identity key areas of priority. Smaller problems are not just easier to solve they are also easier to comprehend and communicate. Your team need to be on the same page.

2. Focus on an area you can improve in isolation or a new service offering that outperforms your competitors. At gravity9 we have found growth from success. Isolate your experiment then open it up once you see success. Honestly, this doesn’t take long if you are focussed. Starting with a strong small team of experts will take you a long way. Getting started is often the biggest challenge, focussing on a slim area really helps getting momentum.

3. Be open. A digital customer journey may be nothing like your previous business process. You could have all the knowledge in the world about a given area of your business but being digital is a new world. In real life you can take a shortcut across a bendy path, in digital, the consumer is following a rigid path, so that path should follow the most natural, not the most structured approach.

4. Understand your process and your people. Stakeholders; employees, clients and customers should be a priority.

5. Be humble. No matter what your experience, you will learn things about technology, processes and more importantly your own organization and industry. Expect to learn along way. Every day is a school day on a technology project; and today, business is technology.

Carbon & Silicon

Mixing carbon and silicon (people and computers) causes chaos, confusion, frustration but also delight, excitement and a real sense of achievement. Plan for team growth and give them your full support. As with any large-scale project your people will make it or break it. Teams need support, time to gel and a level playing field of skills. A teams know each other, know what to expect from each other and respect what each can do. Prove the correct balance of skills from product ownership, development, QA, UX as you grow your teams to do in a levelled fashion making sure the skills needed for each concern has the appropriate level of resource allocation. Also, communicate the bigger picture to all involved. It is sometimes tempting to isolate teams and given them pointed instructions but giving people the full picture at every level provides a holistic sense of purpose. Without that purpose, people are less engaged and motivated. No matter their skills and experience, motivated and engaged people work hard consider the bigger picture and build with the full picture in mind.

In Summary. Although overloaded and somewhat misleading, the term ‘digital transformation’ has come to be the term we mean the change an organization goes through in order to delight their customers and clients. Customer service, no matter what industry, sells. The world is now trading digitally, makes sense the digital revolution is underway.

To hear more from Noel or to talk to him about a possible digital transformation project contact us here.