Last update: 13/07/2016 10:25
Every business that I see says it has started its Digital Transformation. What the heck is that, Digital Transformation?
According to Box, Digital Transformation is all about "embracing new ways of working and putting the customer at the centre of your business" (sponsored content). Really? Is that it or is this only a part of the picture? If I agree on the content presented in this article, I have a slightly different view on the combination of the factors at play. Let's see this briefly.
It is not that I think that refocusing on the real benefits of the customer is wrong, that would be folly, nor that new ways of working is not profitable (or essential) for all dudes. It is more that I think that the Digital Transformation has become another one of these meaningless buzzwords that have invaded the world of business and that Management is completely lost in front of the changes that are needed and that take the world by storm when they keep acting as pure command-and-control structures.
The Digital Transformation is more about understanding that software is eating the world quickly and, companies, if they want to survive, need to adapt to this reality. Accounting Bureaus, in their usual way of working, are no longer needed: software can do most of their work, and better. Taxi drivers are under the pressure of models like Uber. Automatic mowers replace gardeners. Translators are replaced by Automatic Translation Machines. Software robots write specialized articles for newspapers without humans noticing the difference. Many mortgages are no longer offered by banks: they're offered by IT startups that have found new ways to avert risk. Surgeons and doctors are helped by software capable to cross-check limitless data to provide detailed analysis and diagnosis in a much more accurate form than humans. Six-wheeled robots deliver groceries from supermarkets. Regular Parking ticket machines are outdated and can be replaced by automatic detection and automatic payment systems (and … automatic fine machines). Companies not offering AAA services (Anything, Anytime, Anywhere) are considered dinosaurs doomed to extinction. Companies not complementing their services with what their customer basis expects as simply normal are challenged in everything they do and if competitors appear that change the game they quickly disrupt the sector. Etc. Etc. This is the true sense of Digital Transformation. For a bank for example, it is essential to understand that it has become an IT Company; it must reinvent itself in the light of the current and moving state of technology, it must understand that it no longer attracts the best engineers, and that if customers had a true open market in banking, they would definitely go somewhere else (to go somewhere else is useless when all places offer the same undifferentiated services). What is true for banks is true for many other sectors of the economy, more and more, quicker and quicker.
Simultaneously, people who are capable to create the software
companies desperately need — the good programmers, often young, the
knowledge workers — do not want to work as most companies are
organized today: they require new ways of working and want to have their say in
the way their own work is organized. It goes far beyond the standard
working hours, or having a daily standup every morning, possibly a sprint
planning or a retrospective, funny couches or hammocks in a corner, etc.
Actually, these developers don't get why it takes 10 minutes to have their own
personal blog online in the cloud at 11pm whereas it takes weeks in the company
they work for. They don't understand why it takes them half a day to buy and set
up a brand new machine whereas it takes weeks and tons of red-tape to have it up and
running at the place they work. They simply can't understand why it requires so
many meetings with so many fake stakeholders to take a decision that impacts
THEIR work for a simple tool, or a USB connection, or … They can't figure out
why it takes them literally seconds to get a new database in the cloud whereas
it takes weeks or even months from their cubicle at work. They do not accept the
difference companies make between internals and externals (for example a
difference in the price meals are offered at the dining hall, a difference in
the number of working hours, a difference in the way remote work is applied, or
simply a difference in the way remote connections are offered, …). They do not
accept that backend systems get shielded the way they are, that nobody imposes
some (basic) rewriting of such outdated software whereas they themselves must
offer the best of what technology is capable of (and remember that organizations
which design systems are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the
communication structures of these organizations). They do not want to work FOR
the Business: they want to work WITH the Business! They do not accept having no
influence on the requirements of the software they must build and do not accept
that the old-fashioned steerco meeting will tell them WHAT they must build and
HOW it must be built (
Imposing process drives away talent – Adrian Cockcroft). And above all, they want purposeful
jobs, they require MAP: Mastery, Autonomy and Purpose (Dan
Pink). If their employer cannot satisfy them, here's exactly what they
think: "Write it yourself stupid!", and this is not the reaction of only
Millennials, people born who
cannot even imagine the world in which their
grandparents lived and into which their own parents were born – Peter Drucker in Post-Capitalist
Society, 1993, ISBN 978-0-06-198596-6.
If companies are reluctant or even simply slow to adapt to this new paradigm,
their verdict is immediate: such knowledge workers leave (
knowledge workers own
their knowledge and can take it with them wherever they go – Drucker) with an ugly opinion which they communicate
swiftly to friends and followers on the many social media they're active on, no
matter how big the company they leave is, whatever its name. The word is quickly
spread to hundreds or thousands of their peers who can/will relay the message
and … too bad for you! Their speed largely surpasses the speed at which
their companies operate, which is not the least of the challenges companies
wanting a true Digital Transformation must face.
Again simultaneously and fully independently, customers want to be considered as the true treasure of any company. All companies of all sorts have understood it, which they used lavishly in all contexts. This "customer-centric" mantra I have heard for ages and yet haven't got the occasion to work for many companies that truly respect their most valuable asset (except for Nantucket and Viveo Cognitive Systems). Actually, my experience is that the more a company announces such a commitment towards customers the less it truly listens to them. Again, this has become a meaningless buzzword full of emptiness. Words may count but actions are the true measure. Companies must have a consistent communication in full sync with what the market can perceive.
This trilogy, all wrapped up in speed, is what crystallizes a divide as coined by Drucker, here the divide of Digital Transformation: (1) digitalization changes the nature of the services that are offered (software eats the world) (2) knowledge workers know they know better than most of their managers (which is often the case in companies whose managers haven't become knowledge executives yet –  ) and (3) customers want to be at the center of the preoccupation of the companies. Wherever we see this triangle forming, we see the "divide" of Digital Transformation forming. This is even aggravated when the legacy systems of the "mastodons" are no longer under control: when no one dares to touch it, when it is left undocumented, … Any Digital Transformation must embrace this triptych.