Digital Transformation, Evolution or Adaptation?

Two of the biggest buzzwords being tossed about with great roiling enthusiasm by the major consulting firms from Deloitte and McKinsey to EY and BCG is “Digital Transformation.” The sheer volume of content is a virtual tsunami. Their very dedication to this mantra is that this mysterious concept will save any business in any industry and solve all of governments problems.
Cutting Through The Hype of Digital Transformation
At it’s most very basic, all “digital transformation” means is applying some kind of technology to an area of a business that uses old technologies or none at all and in some way connects to the internet and makes use of network effects.
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To most businesses it is the CEO and CFO thinking “this means a big budget spend on technology” and for CIO’s it means “how do I really address this with the CEO?”
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For a small or mid-size business, it means something only big businesses can do and it will cost a lot of money. But it doesn’t. Not anymore.
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The Problem with the word “Transformation”
Whoever did coin this term certainly had the best interests of industry. The term ITC or IT had become tired and connoted major expenses on hardware and software development. But the word “digital” became more pervasive and was fresher than IT. The word “transform” was intended nicely with the concept of transforming a business to the modern, hyper-connected world.
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Problem is, if one is transforming ones business, it suggests the business is in a bad place or will very shortly die. Only a transformation into a mythical unicorn will save it.
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Technology can still be a competitive advantage, but it doesn’t mean transforming to a chrysalis and changing it’s very mission that has made it profitable to begin with.
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Evolution or Adaptation
Instead, most businesses either need to evolve or adapt. They can be interchangeable to some degree. We prefer the word “adaptation” because for about 95% of businesses, all they need to do is adapt their use of technology. Some will need to evolve more. Most just need to adapt. For about 98% of small businesses, including newspapers and magazines, they just need to adapt.
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When we think in terms of evolving and adapting, it is less onerous and threatening. Less frightening than when the CEO calls an all-hands or sends an email blast of how the company is undergoing a digital transformation.
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Some businesses do need to transform themselves. That is a reality. The term digital transformation isn’t entirely off-base, but it can be wielded too broadly.
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How Do You Know?
If profits are tanking and competitors are eating your lunch (i.e. Blackberry succumbing to Apple) then you need to transform. Blackberry has transformed. Belatedly they saw they’d missed the boat on smartphones. So they looked at what assets they had and they transformed and are now, slowly, transforming towards profitability. Most businesses aren’t in that bad a shape.
Take a broad look at your industry, then look at your business within the industry. Then look at broader trends. Look at neighbouring industry sectors. You’ll get a sense quickly enough of where you are.
The reality and truth about digital transformation is that most businesses don’t need to transform, they need to adapt. That’s a whole different and often less expensive, way of thinking.

About the Author Giles W. Crouch

Giles Crouch is a design anthropologist and CDO/CIO. He spent over 20 years in globally-focussed marketing communications for technology products and services, but his roots are anthropology in a modern sense. He uniquely ties his deep knowledge of technology, marketing, design thinking and design anthropology as a polymath to help clients seeking digital advantage in today’s complex world. Giles has been regularly interviewed by international news media on topics such as social media, blockchain, artificial intelligence and it’s impacts on society. He is a passionate practitioner of design thinking and anthropology. Giles is prolific writer and public speaker, lecturer and keynote. He has also completed over 250 netnographic research projects since 2009. His secondary activity is as Group Publisher with Human Media Inc.

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