Digital Transformation: Firing Silver Bullets from the 1990's

Digital transformation is not new. Indeed, the basis of “digital transformation” was equally hyped and existed in the form of the ‘enterprise system’ [ES] value proposition for over two decades, except had a less attractive name. Indeed, the ES proposition, which dominated organisational ICT practice from the mid 1990's through to late 2000's, shares similarity with the more recent Digital Transformation era (as spawned by or from various forms of cloud, data, infrastructure, application and or mobility strategy, and so on) in so far as being “silver-bullet-technology (ies)” for solving all or a vast majority of organisational problems. i.e. The similarity is drawn because many organisations see a “silver lining’ with “Digital and or the “Cloud” and in a similar transformational light.

Consequently, this syndrome exists because organisations bring exposure upon themselves with by thinking digital transformation is about computing or technology.

Caution: That is not to say organisations can or should undertake digital transformation without high quality strategic or strategic-technical leadership at the helm.

According to Standish Group, organisations quickly learned, in 2004, that, in contrast to ES being a magic “silver bullet”, the success rates for projects ranged from just 16% to 29% (of all projects); where a staggering 55% exceeded budgets, 75% suffered deadline overruns and with poor communication at 40% a factor of change turbulence. Whereas ES commonly involved the transformation of organisations through singular systems (sometimes integrated together), such as CRM, ERP and or workforce automation, modern digital transformation, often involving various forms of Cloud, application-focused and or mobility strategy, differs from the ES era by presenting far greater and multidimensional complexity (in all forms of people, processes, outputs and technology change). The key alignment however, is both “ES” and “Digital Transformation” are people games.

In fast forwarding, Standish group's 2016 research goes on to suggest, notably in an era synonymous with the term “digital transformation”, a staggering 31.1% of projects are cancelled before they ever get completed.  That being, Executives, Business and technical managers appear to be having a hard time presenting a vision, organisational change proposition and or even architecting stages of maturity for “digital transformation”. This is because, like in the ES era, many make the fundamental mistake in believing “digital” transformation is about computing or technology. Consequently, establishing a viable investment and or cost justification for implementing “digital” (whether that be in the form of Cloud and or other technologies) in their organisations is proving extremely difficult. 

The problems begin - like with the ES era - with a disconnect between the end-user individuals that see value or actually experience the need for digital on the coal face (or would do) and the decision makers that rush to silver-bullet solutions. Examples of causes for how “Silver bullets are found” challenges include: 

·        Many executives, particularly those found in organisations that still operate with hierarchical forms however, have a filtered perception of the essential variables, complexities, current state and intricate factors needed for digital.

·        Executives, at the planning table, are often blindside the possibility that functions or stakeholders may be resistant to change and or may not be able to adapt to change through a digital transformation programme.

·        Many already perceive or discount digital to be “cloud” and that of technical programme; leaving it to “IT”.

·        Novice and novelty executives (expertly unequipped to engage in the field), or those that opt not to engage with and or listen to the expert function manager and end-users until such a time as the digital ‘battle plan’ has been already been devised – as a classic mistake.

Thus - the “silver bullet” of the digital led cloud proposition today, is as seductive to many executives, IT specialists, vendors and line managers, as the ES value proposition was. This is because “going digital” or “going cloud” allows them to disembody change ideas (or they perceive permits them to), package them as technologies, and distance themselves from the hands-on sport of helping people to change and or transform. As a typical symptom of “silver bullet syndrome” (failing to get to grips with the organisational engagement elements necessary for “digital transformation”) initiatives are distilled into or are reformed as “cloud strategy” or various other separated out, spin-off technical initiatives, often a repeat of IT-led “strategy” forms.

Given these circumstances, to improve the success rates for digital transformation programmes, there are literally thousands of frameworks and examples which usually express or infer redefining broader paradigms and belief systems of organisations. Most stipulate or stress these factors have to be addressed (and are inescapable), fundamentally, in order for a digital transformation programme to get off the ground let alone “succeed”.

Thus, the steps, amongst many, commence with:

1.      Establishing a contextual framework; organisation strategy is IT strategy

2.     New roles for a new paradigm.

3.     Shifting and flattening out to “Learning Organisation" strategy.

Contextual Framework

Some organisations and leaders may find the following either very difficult or as a catalyst; because the very purpose of going digital enables organisations to generate and adapt new and integrated digital services, replacing failing and or calcified hierarchies, where Portfolio owners, in a flattened out world, weave together different services to deliver new customer offerings or experiences.

Accordingly - Digital Transformation calls for new organisation strategy and a dissolving of silos, power-centres/executives/gatekeepers, refocuses career-self servants and “NO” people. To do this - a contextual framework, for the organisation, is required to be designed, tailored or augmented. The framework generates and foster long-game buy-in, collaboration and development of maturity states (and support) across various layers – to a “new belief system” and “vision”. Indeed – org-first digitisation frameworks dramatically change the nature, ownership and stakeholders of IT strategy, governance, reconfigures funding lines (and policy) and management activities; this is eroded in favour of learning-organisation strategy, new structure(s), new processes of authority and new roles. 

New Roles for a new paradigm

Tthe creation of highly-skilled executive-level strategic orchestrators; skilled in the interconnection between strategy, system dynamics (internal and external), data and analytics are one of several new executive roles required. This shift, reflective of “learning-organisation” strategy, establishes agility and acts as strategic mechanism that enables live in action-enactment, offering better up-down organisational synchronisation of defined visions for digital transformation (which is often very different across each function); and effective risk management. 

Learning Organisation Strategy

A “learning organisation strategy” model is a “new paradigm” and becomes a fluid strategic control mechanism used to coordinate the organisations members to collaborate to create and leverage emergent opportunity; continuously. The old PMO model is effectively abandoned. With end-users also at the executive table, new digital capabilities or specialisations are then generated in departments as the culture for empowerment brings out the best in people. This makes it “easier” to deploy targeted initiatives as they arise and shifts, successfully, the control to business-focused projects rather than dealing with IT risks and becoming a statistic.  

Digital Metrics

The overall keys to success involve establishing metrics, from new data structures, around analytics, but more beneficially, qualifying the performance in or of every step in the customer and or service-user experience. This, in itself, can drive behaviours that propel high quality business decisions.

By breaking down paradigms, by fundamentally “transforming” organisational strategy and approaches to enact strategy, organisations are able to deliver digital transformation and new applications with confidence, shorter cycles and lower operating costs; to achieve greater business value. In order to achieve digital transformation, with any hope of success, the end-user [must be represented by themselves], executive, strategy, development and operations processes must be tightly integrated so that they function not as disparate silos, but work in symbiotic tandem to streamline and activate vision-execution cycles. Doing so, the cultural and transformational benefits are profound.

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