If you’re in doubt as to how to inject excitement and validity into your technology improvement proposal, just throw in the words: digital transformation.

Repeatedly, and willy-nilly. That’ll do the trick – or will it?

What’s it all for and where does it end?

Like it or not, digital transformation, when applied and used appropriately, does convey an admirable and valuable goal. National CIO Review delivered a similar article to this (sorry, there’s nothing new in this world – and with the advent of ChatGPT-generated content, there will be even less) and defined digital transformation as ‘the integration of digital technology into all aspects of a business, changing the way the company operates and meets customers’ needs.’

The Enterprisers Project uses a similar definition but adds: “It's also a cultural change that requires organisations to continually challenge the status quo, experiment, and get comfortable with failure.”

When you put it that way, it sounds useful. And practical – right? But where does digital transformation (often affectionately called DX) start and finish?

What is and isn’t digital transformation?

Is upgrading your office printer so it saves scanned documents as searchable text files and sends them to your PC or online document library truly transformation? Or should it be reserved for the big stuff, like a new ERP, a move to the cloud, or blockchain?

The answer is yes to all. And also – no.

If any of these technology changes improve how your business operates and meets your customers’ needs, then yes, they are digital transformations. But should they fail to advance your business, and don’t form part of the larger plan, then patently, they’re not. Rather than being transformational, they’re just examples of throwing technologies at the business and hoping they, in themselves – with little applied strategy and forethought – will organically improve how your business operates.

The word strategy is what changes DX into something meaningful and valuable. And the word digital is what undermines it.

So, is digital a dirty word?

To some, most definitely.

Melissa Swift, U.S. Transformation Leader at Mercer, says that the word "digital" has a problem because it means a lot of things to a lot of people. "Say 'digital' to one person and they think of going paperless; another might think of data analytics and artificial intelligence; another might picture Agile teams; and yet another might think of open-plan offices," she said. "Digital" is a hot mess of a word. And this causes a lot of grief in organisations."

And that ‘hot mess’ happens because of a lack of definition and agreement as to what’s digital, and what’s not between stakeholders from the outset. It’s important to not just consider the addition of new fancier digital tools to the business as the conduit to transformation. Instead, it’s the thought behind how the business will leverage the opportunities these tools offer to create a better organisation. One that runs more efficiently and intelligently and works in a way that delights its people and its customers.

We give Kristy Brown, Fusion5 NZ’s Country Manager – Microsoft, the last (wise) words here:

“Digital transformation isn't about using technology for technology's sake. Without meaningful value you can define, it's just a technologist’s folly. And that's something as a business that you need to be on the constant lookout for.”

So, DX that.

What's next?

In our next blog in this series, we tackle ‘ChatGPT’ and why you’re going to be sick of it well before it’s even in its prime.  

Written with the input of Kristy Brown (NZ Country Manager – Microsoft), because we value human thought leadership over AI-generated content.   

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