It has been exactly a year since the publication of my latest book on “Delivering Digital Transformation: A manager’ guide to the digital revolution”. During that time, an extraordinary period in all of our lives, we have seen many businesses face a fight for survival, endured personal challenges that have redefined how we view the world, stretched our thinking about the relationship between work and home life, and experienced so many changes in such a short amount of time that many of us are feeling increasing levels of stress and fatigue. It seems an opportune time to look back to review how we were viewing digital transformation at the end of 2019 and to look forward to consider the implications of what we’ve all experiencing in 2020.
Seen through the eyes of a pre-covid world, digitally-mature organisations were already beginning to view digital transformation as not just an internal technology infrastructure upgrade, but also an opportunity to move costly in-house capabilities to the cloud, and to shift sales and marketing to online multi-channel provision. Digital modernisation programs taking place across many organisations were aimed at accelerating the digitization of their core assets, rebalancing spending toward digital engagement channels, fixing flaws in their digital technology stacks, and replacing outdated technology infrastructure with cloud-hosted services.
Such programs were seen as essential for organisations to remain competitive and relevant in a world that increasingly rewards those that can adapt quickly to market changes, raise the pace of new product and service delivery, and maintain tight stakeholder relationships. Little did we know the importance of those activities. The shock of covid highlighted the differences between those organizations that had made progress in their digital transformation activities, and those that had not.
Adapt quickly to market changes, raise the pace of new product and service delivery, and maintain tight stakeholder relationships.
The focus today, with the benefit of hindsight of the past few months of rapid change, is a more fundamental revamp of business practices, a realignment of operations toward core values, and a stronger relationship between stakeholders, partners, and consumers of services. Beyond technology replacement activities, many organizations are rethinking their approach to all aspects of their business models: which customers they serve, what those customers value, which channels are most appropriate to reach them, how costs can be managed more effectively, where to compete and who to partner. Digital technology has been both a foundation for sustaining business through times massive disruption, and a mechanism for transformation in business strategy as we plan for growth.
These driving forces for change are particularly well described in Scott Galloway’s excellent analysis of the business implications of the pandemic, “Post Corona: From crisis to opportunity”. Two particular characteristics redefine the business landscape from his perspective. The first is the “great dispersion” that has accelerated trends such as home deliveries, working from the home, and ultimately to question the role of cities and what it means to be a “nation”. The second is the “great disruption” forcing a rapid change in the adoption of digital business models and ways of working. Success will be defined by how organizations address these two shifts. Furthermore, Scott emphasizes that many industries will be turned on their head: Areas such as Higher Education where they have moved far too slowly to react to the digital realities we now all face.
Such concerns were central to the thinking captured a year ago in the “Delivering Digital Transformation” book. The focus of the analysis highlighted 3 areas where today’s leaders, managers, and practitioners must arm themselves with tools for both understanding and leading in the digital world: Agility, Innovation, and Disciplined Management. Let’s revisit these three in light of current experiences.
Agility: Faced with massive uncertainty, organizations must be able to design, test, and deliver new products and services more quickly than ever before. This requires new technologies that support rapid user-centred design, constant field testing, and instant deployment on a very broad scale. More fundamentally however, the experiences of the last year have emphasized that such change requires a different mindset. Today, the maniacal focus on business continuity has shifted toward looking to the future. Digitally-savvy leaders must direct the organisations’ engagement and delivery toward short delivery cycles where Minimum Viable Products (MVPs) trialled with consumers drive feedback to help the organization discover winning business models through multiple “pivots” in market strategy, capabilities, and positioning.
Innovation: Coming out of the difficulties of 2020, meaningful growth requires the collaborative process from idea generation to solution delivery to be optimised. Innovation practices must be flexible and repeatable. But also aligned with business goals to support the emerging business reality. Leaders must be ready, willing, and able to guide teams in an innovation-focused interactive environment. In the past, management had a tendency to separate innovation from operation. Innovation was perceived by many leaders as high risk, and largely left to the experts in the R&D department. Today, establishing practices that increase innovation speed to delivery will be a measure of successful leadership.
Disciplined Management: The past year has emphasized that sustainability of our businesses requires management approaches that balance flexibility with rigour. The increased stress and inefficiency that surrounded the somewhat chaotic approaches employed in 2020 must be replaced by more responsive techniques that guide and support workers. Effective management post-covid requires that we adapt our working environment to remote collaboration, shorter planning cycles, and flexible partnering styles. However, this speed and flexibility must be wrapped in an appropriate set of techniques to instil discipline and avoid chaos.
Much has happened in the past year. Delivering digital transformation has been central to the business strategy that has helped organizations to survive the turbulence they faced and will be at the heart of how they move forward. Reviewing the key ideas from 2019 in the light of this years’ experience has been useful. For today’s digital leaders emerging from the dark days of the pandemic, delivering digital transformation requires setting out on a journey with many unknowns, and on whose path many twists and turns will be encountered. Much can be accomplished by viewing this digital transformation journey through three lenses: Agility, innovation, and disciplined management.