In 2008 I was asked to speak during a press conference at an industry event to explain to a room full of reporters the value of Cloud Services and how my company was leveraging them to advance our business. At the time I headed technology for the United States Golf Association (USGA) and had just inked a deal to do Disaster Recovery and Business Resilience in the Cloud.

The Cloud was just creeping into our vocabulary then as the latest technology buzzword. Most didn’t know what Cloud meant and there was great skepticism of its usefulness and impact. Frankly, I was no more informed than anyone else, but I did have confidence that using the Cloud for our resiliency program was a pivotal shift in the right direction for the USGA. Our limited staff and funds could not provide the speed, agility and overall cost model that the Cloud services offered. Luckily it proved to be the right bet!

Digital Transformation has much of the same feel today, as there is similar confusion over what it means, uncertainty of how to leverage it, and skepticism of its long-term impact. Just as in the early 2000’s when the characteristics of Cloud were muddy and definitions varied depending on who you asked, our industry is in that same tussle today with Digital Transformation as being a real “thing.”

At the Institute for Digital Transformation we believe that Digital Transformation is about a business transformation, and that IT Transformation is a sub-set. Meaning, Digital Transformation is a shift in a company’s business framework that focuses expressly on creating an enhanced and engaging customer experience through products and services.  Where-as, IT Transformation is the shift in how the IT organization interacts and delivers technology services, applications, and environments to support the overarching business’ transformation.

This is where the Cloud comes back in. Most CIOs will list “Cloud-First” as a top priority and initiative. For organizations that have resisted a move to the Cloud to-date, the sand in the hour glass has run out. So, it makes sense that a CIO (especially newly hired ones) put a Cloud-First program at the top of their list. This can affect the infrastructure team the most.

Spinning up servers and storage internally does not provide business value, particularly in the drive to edge the company closer to delivering a unique customer experience.  The resource draw for these activities are usually a significant percent of the budget1, and pouring those skills and dollars into other tech-support activities that CAN drive direct customer impact is an imperative. A Cloud-First initiative is a transformation within IT that underpins the environment needed to enable a customer-focused business rebirth.

Let’s dissect this through an obvious example, email management and support. Cloud email services are now over ten years old, they are mature. The internal IT staff isn’t going to offer anything new or groundbreaking in supporting email for the company. Taking a commodity service like email off the internal team’s plate means that they can focus elsewhere. The burden of supporting email or other non-differentiating systems needs to be lifted from the internal team so that their skills can be more effectively repositioned.  (See Infrastructure is the Cornerstone for Digital Transformation2 for more ideas on how to effectively pivot the infrastructure team.)

The Cloud is a path to restructure and more productively re-align your resources, both financial and human. Cloud-First is a key initiative in an IT transformation, but it isn’t a Digital Transformation.

Digital Transformation is at its core a business metamorphosis. The IT organization is a critical force in achieving the change required in this business program. IT, working hand-in-hand with the business, is the key entity needed for ensuring the enterprise can deliver new and delightful customer experiences through your company’s products and services.

Clarity on the purpose and targets of the Digital Transformation (business transformation) and of the IT Transformation will help you more succinctly plan and execute these disruptive but necessary change efforts.

Just as going to the Cloud was a winning bet in 2008, looking back years from now it will be clear that driving a business focused transformation, with the customer at the center, was a powerful game-changer. You can bet on it!