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Is It Time to Retire the Term Digital Transformation?

5 minute read
Anita Brearton avatar
Is it fair to say we’ve digitally transformed and are now on a new path of technology evolution?

It’s funny how inspiration happens at the strangest times. Recently I was traveling to Georgia and arrived at the airport ridiculously early. With time on my hands, I headed to the Delta Club to get some work done.

As I walked by the Ladies room, I noticed there was no handle on the door; instead there was a fluorescent green disk, and I simply had to move my hand in front of the disk for the door to open. A contactless automatic door opener — fantastic! I only wish it hadn’t taken a pandemic to spark that innovation.

That little piece of technology brilliance got me thinking about digital transformation, how far we’ve come and how much the pandemic has accelerated efforts. For years, digital transformation was some vague, far-off concept. In my head I used to picture someone in the basement of a corporation throwing a big switch and suddenly transforming the entire corporation. It seemed like a monumental task outside of normal business operations.

The reality is that for most companies, digital transformation has come from the ground up, department by department. Sadly, there’s no switch to throw; it’s all incremental. Companies have been making great strides in technology adoption and evolution.

Digital transformation is the integration of digital technology into all areas of a business, fundamentally changing how you operate and deliver value to customers. — The Enterprisers Project

What Hasn't Changed Since 2020?

Outwardly it’s easy to see the impact of digital transformation. For example: Consider how we travel today in comparison to 10 years ago, from finding the best fares, to making travel arrangements and managing our way through transportation hubs. You can easily see parallels in how we shop, acquire food and make logistical arrangements. Internally, technology has permeated every function and job.

The pandemic has in many ways accelerated digital transformation as companies quickly responded to a changed environment and a need to introduce safety mechanisms for in-person interactions — finally, a killer app for the QR Code!

Technology has been critical in keeping remote personnel aligned, engaged and productive. The last two years have been growth years for video communication, workflow and project management tools. How we engage with customers has fundamentally changed and is now driven by technology.

QR codes

Related Article: Going Beyond Digital Transformation

Digital Transformation Is a Mandate, Not a Choice

Without technology businesses can’t operate. Technology and business performance are now tightly intertwined. Because of that, the term digital transformation is starting to feel anachronistic. Digital transformation is no longer a strategic “yes/no” decision. It is fundamental to remaining competitive and profitable. Automation and technology are critical to internal efficiency, product innovation and to delivering the best customer experience.

As terminology, digital transformation has served its purpose in catalyzing the adoption of new technology and getting teams to think outside the box. The focus now should be to ensure that technology direction is embedded in every department’s annual strategy and plan. Every single plan should consider the role of technology in supporting department and corporate objectives.

For the most part this is happening, albeit clumsily in many cases. There are still too many siloed and tactical technology purchases driven by point problems to address. I continue to be amazed by how many companies don’t have a single source of truth for their technology or a process to manage technology plans, implementation and lifecycle.

Learning Opportunities

Over time this will change, and technology plans will reshape themselves into critical initiatives for three key reasons:

Technology Is Becoming More Complex

The products we use are increasing in capabilities, and in many cases their full value can only be realized when they are connected to other systems. And, yes, I’m well aware that low-code/no-code solutions are supposed to make technology easier to use, and sometimes they do (e.g., Zapier). But many require some level of coding expertise in order to configure and customize technology to each company’s application requirements.

Data. Data. Data.

We are now collecting an immense amount of valuable data. The challenge is getting it to the right systems and places and then figuring out how to turn it into a useful asset. This is difficult and requires a focused initiative.

Opportunity for 1+1 to Equal 3

There will be an opportunity to connect systems and share data across the entire enterprise to improve performance across every department. What today seems like definitive demarcation points between departments with regard to technology and data will dissolve providing every department with more technology power and data to leverage.

As technology dots connect, organizations will leverage machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) to mine their data for insights to improve business performance and their customers’ experience. It was not too long ago that this seemed a long way off, but we’re now here just past the starting line. All in all, I think it is fair to say we’ve digitally transformed and are now on a new path of technology evolution.

Related Article: Learning from Digital Transformation Failures

Technology Skillsets Remain a Critical Objective

The one area that doesn’t appear to be making as much progress as it should with regard to digital transformation is skill acquisition. Technology skills should be a critical component of any hiring strategy.

I recently saw “ability to learn processes and software” under the list of skills required for a social media marketing position. In this day and age, that sounds a lot like “needs to be able to count to 10.”

There isn’t a corporate job that doesn’t require those skills; it needs to be a given, and job descriptions need to specifically identify the technology and process experience a candidate needs to have for the job that is listed in the same way that job descriptions for engineering positions do. It doesn’t matter what technology you choose to implement; if you don’t have the skills to use it there is no way to achieve a return on investment.

About the author

Anita Brearton

Anita Brearton is Founder/CEO and Co-CMO of CabinetM, a marketing technology discovery and management platform that helps marketing teams manage the technology they have, and find the technology they need. Anita is a long time tech start-up marketer and has had the great fortune of driving marketing programs through the early stages of a startup all the way to IPO and acquisition.