August 14, 2019

Translating buzzwords: Digital Transformation 

Kris Elliott

Regardless of which industry you are in, when you are working at the leading edge of innovation you can’t help but be inundated with the latest jargon surrounding the emerging technologies. To make matters worse, there is often very little consistency or agreement around the definitions of these terms. This can be compounded by the linguistic contortions some vendors perform in order to get the latest buzzword to apply to their products and services in order to ride the marketing hype as long as they can.

For example, if you ask 10 different software vendors what ‘Digital Transformation’means and you’ll likely get 10 different (although loosely related) answers. They will often tailor their explanation to suit their products and sometimes omit the parts that don’t. The result is a mess of miscommunication, vagaries, and marketing spin. It’s no wonder that customers struggle to make sense of it all when the ‘experts’ can’t even seem to agree.

When it comes to Business Process Automation solutions, it is no different. There are words and phrases that get thrown around with little consistency around their usage. So, in an effort to cut through the confusion, I will be writing a series of blogs on various terminologies in an effort to help readers make sense of it all.

Digital Transformation

When we look for definitions of the phrase, there are a lot of major brands who have all weighed in with their own. For example:

Salesforce describe it as something that –

“…begins and ends with how you think about, and engage with, customers.”

Citrix define it as:

“… the strategic adoption of digital technologies … to improve processes and productivity, manage business risk and improve customer service.”

DocuSign are getting closer to the heart of it with their explanation –

“Digital transformation is a complete change in the way an organization does business, and involves a shift to using online and other digital technologies for transactions throughout the organization.”

However, the best explanation I’ve read so far about what digital transformation is has to be the one offered by RedHat:

“Digital transformation is what’s happening to organizations as they adopt new and innovative ways to do business based on technological advances. It’s the process of fundamentally changing something using digital tools and describes adopting technology and—potentially—cultural changes to improve or replace whatever existed before.”

They further elaborate on this by adding that “Digital transformation isn’t a product or solution to be purchased, but it affects everything IT touches in every industry. We feel technology’s absence (or malfunction) more poignantly than its presence. Our world is digital, and we expect technology to work for us, seamlessly. Most of the time it does. … But it’s when technology doesn’t work for us that we feel its absence the most. … That’s why organizations have to invest in technology that serves employees and consumers alike in ways we expect. … One innovation leads to another; new technology leads to process improvements which lead to better products and services. Then customers demand even more improvements because they’ve grown accustomed to certain experiences in our daily lives.”

I recently read a piece by HBR (Harvard Business Review) called Digital Transformation is not about technology. The article is basically founded on this same point and says that while Digital Transformation provides the possibility for efficientcy gains and customer intimacy, if the organisation lacks the mindset or has flawed processes then these kinds of projects will like “…magnify those flaws”. While I agreed with most of their reasoning, I would suggest that perhaps their title is missing a word and should read Digital Transformation is not ONLY about technology.

Digital Transformation is not just a technology shift and nor is it solely about process automation. As Redhat correctly points out, it isn’t something that you buy. It’s a cultural shift in the way a company operates and in the way it engages its customers. It’s a new mindset demanding high levels of customer empathy, a focus on both staff and customer experiences, and a certain technological prowess. But more importantly, Digital Transformation is a journey, not a destination. Afterall, “transformation” is a word used to describe the process of changing, not one used to describe a post-change result.

In saying that, many parties would argue that a constant state of digital transformation is a good thing. That once you have implemented the latest modernisation project you ought to move on to the next in a constant state of reinvention. In which case, achieving that perpetual state of evolution is arguably Digital Transformation as a goal rather than a process. However, cases where is this approach is successful are fairly rare, the momentum of change is difficult to maintain over a long term, and there are just as many cautionary tales.

I’ve lost count of the number of blogs and articles I’ve read that use Uber, Netflix, and AirBnB as examples of digital transformation, and each time I read one I inwardly cringe a little. Those references frustrate me because whenever people cite them there is a huge risk that the audience will miss the point, or even worse, have a false expectation of what it could mean for them. Those companies were undeniably disruptive and turned their industries on their head. You can absolutely argue that they digitally transformed their respective industries by using new technologies to innovate value into dated paradigms. They used technology to meet changing customer expectations and bought new approaches to the customer experience. However strictly speaking, they aren’t examples of Digital Transformation at a company level, and certainly not in the context that most people use the phrase. Those companies didn’t exist in the old industry models and then transform into something new. They all crashed into their industries as new players with a new approach. They disrupted industries and pressured the existing players to digitally transform, however they themselves aren’t themselves examples of Digital Transformation. The point of the example is not that Netflix disrupted the movie rentals industry, it’s that Blockbuster couldn’t change to keep up. Netflix isn’t the lesson of Digital Transformation. The cautionary tale of Blockbuster’s failure to change is. Similarly, the way Uber introduced app-based driver tracking is a technology that taxi companies are frantically trying to adopt. Uber is not the example of Digital Transformation, the taxi companies response to Uber is.

Digital Transformation is not simply a synonym for Disruption, and it doesn’t necessarily happen in one industry shattering step. It can be a gradual culture of change coupled with an evolution of technology and process.

So, where does UpFlow Solutions fit in all of this…?

Depending on the industry, Digital Transformation can manifest in a wide range of different projects. Some of those projects could be hardware related and incorporate technologies such as the GPS tracking delivery vehicles or creating self-service purchasing methods. For other organisations these projects could be focused more on the customer experience, such as making the onboarding process easier after choosing a Financial Advisor or delivering administrative efficiencies for companies that export all over the world. For UpFlow Solutions, our expertise lies nearer to the second examples.

UpFlow Solutions are specialists in Digital Transformation projects that focus on document centric Business Processes. While what we deliver doesn’t incorporate the broadest extent of what Digital Transformation can encompass (for example, we couldn’t help a supermarket install self-serving checkouts), our solutions are essential arrows in the Digital Transformation quiver.  We help transform the way businesses use documents to gather information, the channels by which information is validated and ingested into the business, the workflows and decisions this information can trigger, and the outputs around how the information is integrated into line of business applications and ERPs.

Ultimately, while the usage of the phrase ‘Digital Transformation’ can be wide and varied, the more important question is “What does Digital Transformation look like for your business?”. If you have ever thought about this question, then I’d love to hear your answer.

If you have any questions or would like to have a chat about how we can help, please contact us today.

Kris Elliott
Solution Sales Executive

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