Like many buzzwords, ‘digital transformation’ can mean different things to different people. Yet, essentially, it is always about using digital technology such as the cloud, mobile, big data, and analytics to enable large scale organisational change. In this way, businesses can quickly adapt to shifting customer demands while keeping up with fluctuating competition from both old and new rivals in their market.
Increasingly, previously unknown companies are making a huge impact on established markets, companies and brands. The key to their success is the way they exploit the ‘digital transformation’ phenomenon, disrupting entire markets in today’s digital world.
By throwing away the rulebook and fully embracing digital technology, iconic disrupters such as AirBnB and Uber are providing customers with the services they want – without being forced to simultaneously make huge capital investments. While these companies do not own their own physical assets, such as hotels or cars, they have still managed to dramatically change customers’ purchasing behaviour and unsettle whole industries in the process.
Today, new 'digital unicorns' are making their presence felt across various sectors. It is, therefore, even more important that established organisations digitise and automate their information, business processes, workflows, and analytics. If these changes are not implemented, organisations risk being left behind or going out of business.
Discovering ‘digital breadcrumbs’
One key challenge for large organisations attempting to move towards a digital future is getting to grips with the terabytes of information and content generated by employees and systems each week. With vast quantities of data being created – far too much for the human brain to read, process, and fully understand – information is moving beyond human speed.
But when organisations rely on outdated methods of managing and analysing data, keeping processes manual and only operating at human speed, they run the risk of being outperformed by their competitors. These companies can hold the advantage by implementing intelligent systems to detect and analyse predictive trends.
So how can a large organisation use this information to their advantage in order to generate the insights required to stay at the forefront of their industry?
By adopting a digital-first approach, businesses can use the information at their disposal to gain real business insights. Organisations can locate invaluable ‘digital breadcrumbs’ through the combined use of data and information analytics with content and process management technologies. Whether it’s insights into market trends, process bottlenecks, or customer satisfaction issues, businesses can intelligently make changes to create products which better suit customer requirements, improve organisational efficiencies, and implement self-regulating business processes which save both time and budget.
Digital technology has the potential to drive change on a huge scale – possibly overtaking even the Industrial Revolution to trigger major changes for both businesses and employees.
This revolution has now reached a tipping point: we’re beginning to see the automation of tasks which have previously required human intelligence to be performed effectively. Catalysts for this transformation will vary across industries, leading to different paces of change, but it will impact everyone in the next 10 to 20 years.
This impact is already clear. Consider that Tesla Motors can already provide customers with over-the-air updates to improve the functionality of their electric cars as easily as if they were downloading mobile phone software. Not only are owners spared a trip to the garage but Tesla cuts the expense of scheduling and managing customer visits.
Driving change from the top down
Although some companies opt to carry out wholesale digital change, the majority hone in on specific problems instead of seeing the bigger picture. They might, for example, digitise the management of their supplier contracts but fall short of integrating these processes with wider supply chain systems. Only a few innovative players are taking the leap to follow an enterprise-wide approach to integrating and automating their business silos.
In order to get these digital transformational programmes right, senior executives must get involved. The most successful initiatives are usually led by the CEO and, as such, carefully aligned with corporate strategic goals. With data at the heart of digital transformation, it’s no surprise that the chief data officer (CDO) also plays a central role in the process – and will continue to do so as the CDO role becomes more prevalent.
But never go digital for digital’s sake. A well planned strategy is necessary to understand where digital can deliver the best benefits for the business. This must go hand-in-hand with fostering cultural change. Change can be difficult to handle and reassurances must be given to employees potentially worrying about what a digital-first approach will mean for their own roles.
Just as the advent of the steam tractor caused concerns, today we worry about the impact of AI, IoT, and big data on human jobs. Yet, technological advances have always allowed for roles to be superseded by different, often more interesting, jobs. As we hover on the precipice of the digital revolution, we can expect a similar evolution.
The main difference is that today tasks which could previously only have been carried out with a human mind are being automated. This level of change will no doubt be difficult for a few, but we need to accept that this change is coming, and soon. We may as well embrace it, recognising that now is the time to move beyond human speed.
Adam Howatson, CMO, OpenText
Image Credit: Shutterstock/Nomad_Soul