- Feb 5, 2019,
I had the opportunity to attend Forrester’s Digital Transformation 2017 event this week in Chicago. Without a doubt, Digital Transformation is a hot topic. The event drew a big, engaged crowd of leading companies, with a mix of business and IT professionals.
The Digital Transformation Journey Defined, Sort Of
The conference presented an expansive definition of Digital Transformation
“Digital Transformation means using technology to fundamentally transform the way a company delivers value.”
There are plenty of good examples and many companies have transformed already. Some, like Netflix, have actually been through multiple digital reinventions. They started as the digital disruptor of the video rental industry but have reinvented themselves twice since then, first shifting to focus on streaming services and later, as an actual digital content producer.
But will companies that make soap and razor blades actually shift more value production from soap and razor blades to digital business models? I’m not so sure. Does that mean they can’t pursue Digital Transformation? Clearly they can, given the wide range of initiatives that attendees described as their Digital Transformation initiatives, from digital signatures replacing paper to using chatbots to augment their customer service. Two things are clear: “everybody” is doing it, and nearly everybody means something different by it.
Some of the more interesting comments and questions I heard included:
“I’m here because my CEO says we should be doing this, but we don’t really know what ‘this’ means to us.”
“It’s no longer the big beating the small. It’s the fast beating the slow.”
“How will we know when we’re digitally transformed?”
And, my favorite, from a senior IT professional: “How do I do this without getting fired?”
The Need for Speed
Velocity and the need to move fast was a key theme at the event. Some of the key contributors to the pressure to move fast were:
- Decreasing switching costs – Your customer is less locked-in every day, which means that it’s easier for competition to take them away.
- Changing competitive landscape – Business has always been competitive. But today’s world is different. I’m reminded of the gentleman with whom I spoke who is a digital leader at a leading company in a 200-year-old industry who said “I’m not worried about my industry peers figuring out technology. I’m worried about technology companies figuring out my industry.” He’s right to be concerned. Banking is about as old and established an industry as there is, but millennials would prefer to bank with Amazon, Faceook, or Google if they could.
- First-mover advantages – With major technology waves, it’s often the first movers who gain the most advantage, despite the risks of adopting cutting-edge technology. Consider the banks who moved early on Big Data – they wrestled some fairly primitive open source tooling, but gained a level of insight into their customers that their competition simply didn’t have.
That said, activity is not to be mistaken for progress and there were many cautions to move fast, but thoughtfully. Cyril Lamblard, the Global Head of eCommerce at Nestle Nespresso, said “The tendency is always to feel like your peers are moving faster than you are. But you have to start with your customer. How do you do something that makes a difference for them? Let that drive prioritization of your Digital Transformation initiatives.” Sage advice.
Mobility in Focus
Mobility got plenty of attention at the conference, reinforced by the very usable and functional conference app itself (shout-out to DoubleDutch, the conference-app specialist that provided it).
John Rymer, Forrester analyst, talked about the mobile app developer shortage, predicting a shortage of 500,000 developers in the coming years. He talked about how companies need low code platforms as a “force multiplier” to address the shortage. Notably, he described this as a business rather than a technology imperative. The point was to think about these platforms not like a must-have tech toys, but as an enabler of business velocity and advantage. His comments may be less forward-looking than they sound as many attendees described “quick wins” they were getting by better leveraging mobility.
Keeping it Simple
Amidst this tornado of technology against a hyper-competitive market landscape, there was still a calming refrain around simplicity. We hear this all the time from Capriza customers. They know they need to keep evolving with technology, but they want the evolution to make things simpler – simpler processes, architectures, user experiences, and more. They’ve lived through multiple technology waves that increased complexity, and they want the Digital Transformation wave to remove complexity. So speakers talked about “improving by removing,” and used the example of Michelangelo’s David, wherein the famous sculptor described his approach as simply removing the unnecessary marble to expose the beauty within.
Watch This Space
For me, the conference theme felt familiar, and reminded me of the early days of the internet. Companies realized that it was a really big deal well before most of them knew what to do about it, and significant advantage went to those that moved first. I expect Digital Transformation to evolve in a similar way. As more people become aware of the successes and failures of their peers, they will develop a clearer vision of how to make Digital Transformation a reality inside and outside of their organizations.
Hopefully without getting fired…. 😉