The Trials, Tribulations, and Triumphs of Digital Transformation
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The slow death of the old ways
The majority of Hacker Noon's readers are early adopters and forward thinkers.
Many of you work for some of the most technologically-advanced companies on the planet.
The tech-savvy among us can quickly get used to the warm waters of innovation and open-minded tech initiatives.
A common result of this complacency and optimism is a kind of tunnel vision that ignores just how hesitant many other industries and business leaders are when it comes to the subject of updating entire systems to be more technologically sleek and efficient.
This friction between two disparate mindsets is why digital transformation exists.
In case this isn’t your area of expertise, digital transformation
is, essentially, the process of overhauling a business structure so that it makes use of current technology, specifically Cloud Services, in order to improve the business overall and update its approach to tech as a whole.
We recently had the opportunity to speak with Patrick Bruce-Lockhart, an innovative, award-winning executive in the technology industry who has supported dozens of large-scale digital transformations and has played a key role on numerous steering committees. He counts Nintendo
and utility titan Emera
as just two of the plethora of companies he’s consulted for.
His projects have leveraged technologies from nearly every major software and hardware vendor doing business today.
We talked about how the Cloud can take companies to the next level, what that transformation tends to look like, and, most importantly, the growing pains that take place during that transformation, with no lack of hesitance to accept change.
For early adopters, this article will be a fascinating look at just how much effort goes into bringing companies to the forefront of innovation.
For those of you working with companies that have yet to adopt and integrate these technologies, it will hopefully serve as a battle cry, as evidence that, yes, change can be difficult, but the benefits are far too good to pass up.
Regardless of your role, you have the ability to push for innovation. In the end, everyone from the C-suites on down will be better off for it.
The human element and the pitfalls of implementation
Just as leaders in tech can sometimes assume that everyone will want to stay on the cutting edge, company heads in more traditional industries, and even up-and-coming business wunderkinder, are often simply unaware of the immense importance and the potential benefits of contemporary tech.
The result? Entire companies and even entire industries fail to meet their true potential when it comes to how they operate, communicate, and how they provide products
The reasons behind this lag can be many, but almost all of them come down to human biases.
When dealing with a company, you’re never just dealing with a group of intelligent individuals who want the best for the company.
Yes, business officials are quite smart, and of course they want to do right by the company, but they’re not always the most open-minded people.
Each person has their own ego, their own personal history, and, most crucially, their own ideas about the way things should be done. After all, they’ve already achieved success. To a certain degree, they’re entitled to feel suspicious of younger professionals who are telling them they need to change course.
For digital transformation professionals like Bruce-Lockhart, it’s extremely important to establish proper alignment. In fact, Bruce-Lockhart has seen how bad it gets when things go wrong.
“Effective digital transformation is as much about the human process as it is about the technology. I have seen many attempts at transformation completely break down as a result of underestimating the importance of the people involved. Egos and politics can easily derail efforts.”
In these worst-case scenarios, everyone loses. Transformation pros don’t get to do their jobs and client companies miss out on the long list of benefits that could have been theirs if they had been more willing to change.
To try to avoid unnecessary slow-downs like these, committing the key stakeholders to a consistent steering committee is essential in order to manage the transformation as a whole and make major decisions.
Having served on many steering committees during his career, Bruce-Lockhart sees this as a necessity to set aside personal preferences and biases and work toward making real progress.
Reflecting on his past experiences in digital transformation, Bruce-Lockhart briefly listed some of the most successful (and unsuccessful) transformations that he’s been a part of.
“I’ve been through some extremely successful ones at companies like Emera, an international energy company, as they redesigned all their core systems to enable growth, and Nintendo when they revolutionized the gaming industry and converted to a utility-based model in advance of their Wii-U launch. I’ve also seen some extremely unsuccessful ones in banking, telecommunications, and the energy sector, and as such, there were a lot of lessons throughout those that apply to any company looking to change.”
In most instances, successful transformation also accompanies a larger shift in company strategy or outlook, which we’ll be discussing in more detail later in the article.
The gap between business and tech
Personal bias against the importance of tech isn’t the only reason the gap between business and tech
exists. There are also systemic issues at play here.
Specifically, this divide exists even in the educational system and the ways in which future business leaders are taught.
As Bruce-Lockhart pointed out, there’s a cycle of misinformation at work. It’s not that business students are told technology is irrelevant; they simply aren’t educated on aspects of technology that, in reality, are absolutely essential for contemporary business leaders.
“Very few business programs have a technology component as a requirement. Students spend their time completing a hundred or so case studies, and yet in real life, almost none of those scenarios can be executed without a systems component. I would argue that a foundation in technology is just as important to any business leader in 2020 as any other traditional core subjects.”
When students come out of such a program, they immediately find themselves at a disadvantage. Outdated business programs aren’t just doing their students a disservice, they’re actually assuring that the students will be overtaken by individuals who do understand the importance of technology.
Keeping pace with blazing tech
From a historical standpoint, this outdated approach, whether in an educational institution or a business itself, is easy enough to understand. Cloud Services are still relatively new, especially to the general public. Additionally, tech continues to advance at a blistering pace.
This continually growing gap lends itself to a simple metaphor.
Let’s say you only heard about a popular television show after it started its third season. To catch up and join the zeitgeist, you’d have to watch roughly 25 hours of the show, which is intimidating.
This intimidation keeps you from watching more than a few episodes. You know the characters; names and what they’re up to, but that’s about it.
A few years pass and now the show is about to end. Everyone’s talking about it. At this point, if you wanted to catch up, you’d have to watch for about 50 hours.
Already feeling behind, you don’t even bother.
This is the danger of never even beginning the process of digital transformation. The tech you’re not using will continue to develop, and the feat of finally adopting that technology seems nearly impossible.
As Bruce-Lockhart explained, there are usually certain individuals within a business (i.e. IT departments) who want to help the company keep abreast of important tech innovations, but they aren’t given the resources or the staff required to do this effectively while also maintaining the business’s current systems.
According to Bruce-Lockhart the problem is worsened by the current job market as it pertains to talented tech aficionados.
“Hiring the very best technical talent is becoming more difficult as the best minds want to work for the best tech companies, which makes attracting and retaining talent for the average enterprise extremely difficult and expensive. Many companies depend on Google searches, trade shows, or analyst reports to provide support and direction.”
The alternative, an alternative that Bruce-Lockhart heartily recommends, is to invest in the technological side of the company. If adequate talent is already there, great strides could be made.
But if there’s a deficit of talent, then it’s best to look outside the company for help. This is where the digital transformation industry comes into the picture.
This process isn’t just about introducing a company to, for example, Cloud Services, but to carefully think through the business problems, and then challenge your internal and external tech community to find creative solutions.
A changing business culture
We certainly wouldn’t want to end by discussing the many challenges and hurdles of the digital transformation process.
As we’ve already shown, there are plenty of conflicts that can arise, ranging from human prejudices and an unwillingness to change all the way to the tangible timeline and expense of digital transformation.
But when looking at the big picture, momentum is definitely shifting, albeit slowly.
Best of all, this shift may also indicate a systematic change in business culture itself, not just how businesses view and utilize technology and analytics.
Having spent many years in the trenches, Bruce-Lockhart feels that the old ways, synonymous with negative reinforcement and undying devotion to questionable business practices, are starting to crumble.
“I feel incredibly fortunate to have had a front-row seat watching some of the largest brands in every industry working to transform. There was a time when leaders could operate via fear and intimidation. These companies are disappearing. Leaders who continue on that basis lose not only their best people but foster a culture that encourages a focus on keeping your job instead of actually doing your job. This apathy becomes evident to customers, and given the many options in the market, it’s only a matter of time before they seek out alternatives.”
An open-minded approach to just one aspect of a company can quickly spill over into every other aspect as well.
Welcoming new technologies could very easily lead to changes in other departments and operations.
Suddenly, executives may decide to make a number of quality-of-life improvements for their employees.
Win-win changes like these have a slew of benefits. Happy workers do good work, and their company is all the better for it.
Digital transformation is by no means the only factor in creating better companies and better business culture, but it can have an impact well beyond what leaders may have first thought.
In the end, success in business often comes down to taking advantage of opportunities, and with its wealth of capabilities, Cloud Services and other contemporary tech represents an opportunity so big it can no longer be ignored.
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