Published: 2nd March 2018
Author: Malcolm Lambell, Chairman at The Leadership Gallery
“Digital transformation is something new, and something many businesses haven’t done before.”
I am not so sure…
When people ask me what my first digital transformation was, I’d say 18 years ago, when Internet banking, digital TV and WAP phones were becoming the norm. I was the IT Director behind one of the first online banking services in the UK, and I would argue that Digital Transformation isn’t actually that new.
Sure, you need know a bit about the tools; artificial intelligence, apps, blockchain, virtual reality, the Internet of Things, etc. But that’s made easier if you suspend the belief that they are some kind of magic bullet for your business that will change everything overnight. They are just tools that either can or cannot be applied to your business model to improve the way you do business. Maybe they won’t be game changers, but if they can be applied correctly they will add significant value.
That’s not to say I don’t see the opportunity in the new tools – I have been in technology for over 35 years and have seen so many phases of change. However, I am the first one to admit that we are now in the midst of a technological ‘perfect storm’, but I am sure you all know that and don’t need reminding.
The challenge is that new, disruptive companies are able to disrupt because they don’t have the legacy of systems, data or process to hold them back. So, the key issue for existing ‘non-digital’ businesses is how to build the culture and energy to transform.
Old-style transformation meant moving from ‘point A’ (now) to ‘point B’ (a well-defined future state). I have done numerous major transformations in my career as a CIO, and their greatest challenges arose from having to change one of the most complex things in the business world – culture.
Culture transformation is a more demanding task now, because point B is no longer a ‘defined future state’ – the rate of technological change means the approach must be flexible and able to adapt. No one can really assess the impact of a new technology; for instance, it wasn’t thought that text messaging would be a useable service in the early days.
My point is that digital transformation is still just transformation, but requiring a particular focus on culture to make it happen in a legacy business.
When a business decides on technology themes that are worth exploring, no matter how well thought through, led and funded any initiative is, it will be significantly less effective if the business does not test its progress and alignment against a defined roadmap. In other words, testing that cultural capability and acceptance is happening in line with digital change.
I have known many new digital or technological initiatives to fail because an organisation did not test its appetite and capability for change. By that I mean the assessment of organisational dynamics, the alignment of processes, the effectiveness of reward mechanisms, and, most importantly, the state of business culture.
There are three key aspects of change; technology, processes and people. I think culture could be added to this list, as seamless technology integration, robust processes and capable people may fail to be maximised without an appropriate culture.
Companies need to assess alignment with the business strategy, and in turn they need to know that the strategy can be delivered by the organisation.
The Leadership Gallery has developed intellectual property contained in a suite of tools that will test your organisation’s alignment with proposed change and expose any risks to its success. With the accurate measurement of issues comes the opportunity to pre-emptively address them, ensuring that your business has the culture and capability required for digital transformation success.
Malcolm Lambell has spent 20 years in executive CIO transformation roles, with a further seven years leading his own consultancy – Transformation Partners.