Customer driving a car loaded with tech - Customers driving digital transformation concept.
PHOTO: Samuele Errico Piccarini/Unsplash

Earlier this month Thomas M. Siebel’s new book, Digital Transformation: Survive and Thrive in an Era of Mass Extinction, was published by RosettaBooks. Siebel looks at what appears to be the convergence of elastic cloud computing, big data, artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) and how this will impact the digital workplace.

If you don't know, Thomas M. Siebel is the founder, chairman and CEO of C3.ai, an AI software platform and applications company. From 1984 through 1990, Siebel was an executive at Oracle, where he held a number of management positions. He was the founder, chairman and CEO of Siebel Systems, which was acquired by Oracle in January 2006. Siebel has also been a frequent contributor to the debate on the best way forward for digitally driven enterprises.

Digital Transformation Now?

The book points out that large companies have inherent advantages in the digital transformation space. One reason is that there is often a large amount of quality data, which can be a powerful moat against the competition. What’s more, large companies have the resources, distribution and infrastructure to scale their efforts.

But for the most part, CEOs can no longer wait as the pace of change is accelerating. This puts considerable pressure on enterprise leaders to act quickly and initiate the digital transformation process. But do they really need to create digital workplaces? If an enterprise is working efficiently without the plethora of technologies needed to run a digital workplace, does it really need to change?

The answer to this question when we reached out to a number of companies was universally, yes — but with some interesting caveats. Globally there was agreement that enterprises should only invest in what they need and that the “right” digital investments are different for every organization, depending on what they’re trying to achieve.

Related Article: 6 Digital Transformation Challenges Enterprises Need To Overcome

Digital Workplace Is More Than Tech

It’s important to note that digital maturity is not about having the latest technology, it is about how you approach the intersection of people, process and technology. Jesse Shiah, CEO of AgilePoint, which has developed what it claims is a future-proof digital transformation platform, pointed out that technology empowered customers have continually rising expectations of digital interactions with businesses and are, therefore, driving the need for digital transformation.

“For organizations leaders, they must realize their biggest enemy now could be their own customers and they must put customers at the center of their business and encourage company-wide innovation to turn their unique competence into sustained competitive advantages,” Shiah said.

This has implications for IT leaders. Driven by the same dynamic, they must think about how to develop and continually improve 5X to 10X of applications with the same level of IT resources. They must think about how to form a partnership with business and empower business-user-turned citizen developers.

Related Article: How to Adapt Traditional Change Management for Digital Transformation Initiatives

Employee Pushback

For employees, though, the possibility of pushback is quite high. Very few will welcome and embrace changes, even if the benefits are clear. According to Shiah the key benefits of digital transformation such as automation, visibility and traceability, could make employees feel threatened. To overcome the pushback, it's important to educate the employees about the multifaceted goal of digital transformation such as:

  • Better customer engaging experience: To better serve the customers with rising demands and expectations. In the end, everyone wants to have happy customers.
  • Better employee experience with a digital workplace: To enable more streamlined collaboration, higher productivity, achieve better outcome to drive higher satisfaction as well as offer more professional growth opportunities. In sum, becoming a digital business is a must to stay competitive for the business.

Shiah added that to drive this, it is important to define an end-to-end strategy with a project, timeline, adoption and change management plan to roll out implementation of digital transformation use cases.

In this regard, it is also recommended to carefully select your pilot use cases. Ideally you want to start with simpler use cases but with company-wide visibility to deliver quick wins to build up the momentum and confidence.

Ilia Sotnikov is VP of product management at Netwrix, which develops information security and governance software, said that enterprise leaders really need to look at cloud migration and the difficulties it poses before embarking on any project because it is one of the key elements of digital transformation.

“Unfortunately,” she said, "I see that management often takes a too formal approach to cloud migration as a step to successful digital transformation. In fact, it was shocking when IDG reported that 38% of IT departments feel pressure from management to migrate 100% to the cloud."

Indeed, cloud computing does facilitate agility, innovation, employee productivity and cost reduction, but it is not a magic wand that can solve all the problems, so not every company needs total cloud adoption.

Decision-makers should ask themselves: What are the tangible benefits that this initiative will bring? How our business model will change with bringing in digital technologies? How will it contribute to our competitiveness? If they have no answers, there’s no point in thoughtless migration that may not bring any value and, instead, involve system downtime and disruption of existing business processes.

“In a nutshell, don’t pursue hype, think carefully about what works for your business model and don’t break what already works,” she added.

Customer-Driven Transformations

It’s hard to imagine any business surviving long-term without embracing the opportunity to transform at least key parts of their business. The reason is simply that the pressure to transform is coming not from within, nor from tech vendors looking for the next big thing, but from customers themselves.

Consumers and B2B buyers want a buying process that is simple, fast and highly tailored to their needs, said Geoff Webb, VP of product marketing at PROS. The capacity to deliver that experience, at scale and speed, will only come when digital selling becomes part of the strategy the business adopts. In the end, digital transformation, real transformation, is about changing the customer experience, and that isn’t an option any more — it’s a survival imperative.

“There’s a lot of hype around digital transformation, so much so that it’s starting to wear out its welcome in business strategy conversations. However, dismissing the possibilities transformation can afford businesses simply because of the hype would be extremely dangerous.

When any new technology or business strategy is introduced, there comes an inevitable point when the conversation has to shift from “why” to “how.”

Showing leaders how to transform their business, and how to transform quickly and effectively, will go a long way to removing the hype and enabling success for all those organizations that are close enough to their customers’ needs that the transformation imperative is already top of the agenda.