Digital Transformation Defined?

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I was having coffee with a friend yesterday and she said something that stuck in my mind.  She said, “Our company defines digital transformation as…”  To be honest, they had a great definition.  It fit in with what I knew about her company’s culture and values and I’m sure it is useful to have a common definition for all of her company’s associates to use when interacting with each other and clients.

It also got me curious about what other definitions of “digital transformation” are floating around out there.

You see, I have lived through a number of these catchy, non-specific buzzwords and phrases that leaders use to summarize (and often justify) the enormous levels of resources (dollars AND people) that are being expended in pursuit of the next silver bullet.  (Anyone out there remember “Moving to the Cloud” or “Omnichannel”?  Enough said…)

Fearing that “digital transformation” was another of these faux strategies or fad phrases, I did what every curious person I know does… I consulted Wikipedia:

Digital transformation refers to the changes associated with the application of digital technology in all aspects of human society.  Digital transformation may be thought as the third stage of embracing digital technologies: digital competence → digital usage → digital transformation, with usage and transformative ability informing digital literacy. The transformation stage means that digital usages inherently enable new types of innovation and creativity in a particular domain, rather than simply enhance and support the traditional methods.

In a narrower sense, “digital transformations ” may refer to the concept of “going paperless”.

Huh… Ok…  After slugging through that definition, and not finding the clarity I was looking for, I Googled “digital transformation definition”.  Narrowing down the 11,700,000 results by focusing on items published in the last year (1,410,000 results is much more reasonable) and assuming that the sources who have the best SEO analysts are the obviously experts in “digital transformation”… I found a couple of definitions that caught my eye:

From my friends at the Altimeter Group (A Prophet Company), who are looking at it from a customer-centric perspective define digital transformation as:

The realignment of, or new investment in, technology and business models to more effectively engage digital customers at every touchpoint in the customer experience lifecycle.

And Agile Elephant says:

Digital transformation is the process of shifting your organisation from a legacy approach to new ways of working and thinking using digital, social, mobile and emerging technologies.  It involves a change in leadership, different thinking, the encouragement of innovation and new business models, incorporating digitisation of assets and an increased use of technology to improve the experience of your organisation’s employees, customers, suppliers, partners and stakeholders.

Obviously there are way too many definitions for me to post here, and quite frankly if you’re reading this, you have access to Google… so if you want to see more, knock yourself out…

Here’s what I take away from all of the definitions I read.

Digital Transformation Is:

  1. About changing the approach an organization takes to provide services, achieve objectives and solve problems.
  2. A mindset change that requires leadership, and in fact all levels of the organization to think differently.  It is a belief that the “way we do it now” won’t always work and we need to constantly look for new and better ways.

Digital Transformation Is NOT:

  1. Just about external stakeholders.  It should improve the way your customers, employees, team members, partners and vendors all interact and work together.
  2. Slapping in the newest technology and calling it a win.

Is your company undergoing a digital transformation?  What does it mean from your company’s perspective?  Is it code for “we are frantically installing technology because we have consultants who tell us we need to” or is it truly a fundamental change in the way you use technology to enhance your ability to serve your customer and solve problems?  I am truly curious and would love to hear your thoughts!

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Author: Dan Estby

Daniel Estby is an expert in program and project management, change management and communication with broad experience helping companies of all sizes to define, plan and achieve their objectives. Follow him on Twitter, @DanEstby.

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