There has been a recent avalanche of “go-digital” articles challenging executives to transform their organizations. Most have a technology bias and expound platforms, using charts & do-lists. But spinning digital transformation as merely a “tech play” risks putting many business executives at a disadvantage.

The technology is mostly about choosing the tools and resources, including expertise, to get the job done. The real work is changing the way the people in the organization collectively think.

Think Digital, Think Ecosystem

Who else in your supply chain, or value chain, affects the customer experience? What innovations can be revealed by thinking “end-to-end” and placing yourself in the customer’s shoes? What steps can be shortened or even removed?  This is business think first, tech insight second. There are well-established tools to improve processes – I like swim lanes, popular with many Agile analysts. There’s also the Lean, and IT service improvement. They all have proven value, not to go into here, but I will refer to this page with a 7-minute video outlining the fundamentals of Lean Transformation 1.  The real point here – think end-to-end, think about improving customer experience, think bottom-up to get insights. Anyone who’s delivered ITSM or Agile projects knows first-hand how many insights on improvement come from people on the ground delivering the service. Operations and logistics people know at least as much as analysts about what is broken and what doesn’t work well. Ask them.

Think Digital, Think Collaboration

How can you leverage digital technology to change the way you collaborate with your customers, your partners and your suppliers? How about with stakeholders you haven’t met yet? There’s a decision-making process around the collaboration steps – evaluate, discover, sponsor, resources and deliver on a digital change goal. Decisions must be shared, which ensures collaboration is stitched into the work culture.

To be innovative in digital, stop thinking you (or an appointed exec) should have all the answers, or even that you understand all of the needs. Nor should you believe that one person has the capability to be in charge of the concept realization and delivery when it comes to digital transformation. Going digital at any level is not just an opportunity to bring a collaborative shared-goal culture to play – success demands that.

Think Digital, Think Re-invention

The essence of “thinking digital” is to think how digital technology can be leveraged to re-invent the business processes and the drivers of business value, not just the technology. The ecosystem view noted above will give insights into re-inventing for value. Think lean, think start-up. How would a competitor with no legacy see your space and look for niche value to exploit? Examples are abundant that show the no-legacy approach for digital business is more likely to succeed. Uber, Airbnb, TripAdvisor to name just three. And studies by McKinsey & Co, among others, show it’s an agility game. Organisations that have been successful through scaling market and operations reach now find that success is an obstacle to innovation & speed. Even those classed as digital leaders find the organisation overhead has obstacles that slow down from early gains. This Harvard Business Review article 2 covers research pointing to two factors that make the difference – legacy processes, and organization silos:

Re-inventing isn’t a whiteboard activity. It demands leadership, openness, well-knitted teams, experimenting, and a lot of change management.

Think Digital, Think Agility

Think how to update your service and product features on-demand. How could your customers be enabled to enhance your offering by adding their own features? Think how your experienced operational people and business analysts could drive innovation as an embedded delivery process. The Agile approach is for product owners working with the development teams through a transparent regular release and review process. Units of work are delivered by scrum teams, with fast deadlines and iterative reviews. Functional testing is continuous and owned by the business. The core of Agile is deliberately light (lean) because we know from decades of project management tools that they become their own overhead. Adopting Agile enforces the lean and deliver-fast mindset.

Think Digital, Think Customer Engagement, Culture Change and the Un-organization

Those that have worked on digital and automation projects know that the strategy is the easy part – execution is where the headaches are, and where the leadership gap is biggest. The change mission for executing a digital strategy is huge and ongoing. Where is leadership available from places you’re not looking? That applies to being aware of new competitive threats, even more so in the digital era.  Your leadership talent might come from mentoring younger execs with a flair for fresh thinking; from people who get volunteer projects done (lean is the rule in that sector); or from reaching out to potential partners & collaborators. Remember, again, the best solution will be a combined effort.

Think digital, think of the un-organization. Not dis-organization, that’s a backward step. Think of how to grow a culture of self-organised teams, focused on output, not on process. That could mean some or all of the processes are automated, simply because some of the processes that work to get speed of delivery don’t scale without being automated.

Think Digital, Think Incremental, Iterative

We’ve worked through the essential drivers for a successful digital execution. Every aspect of your business, your culture, your teamwork, your organisational flexibility and most of all your leadership will be tested and found wanting. Where digital platforms have been deployed successfully, the first step is forming a leadership pool that shares the vision and drives culture change. The mindset for delivering digital is an ongoing commitment too.

Typically a digital delivery culminates in the “big launch” but the operational processes must be in place to follow through. A launch may be embodied by the Minimally Viable Product (MVP) that proves your market insight, establishes a commercial foundation, and provides an open feedback channel for improvements. Think digital, think full circle, think continuous improvement.

Going digital means, first, thinking digital.



“The Lean Transformation Framework” Lean.Org, Video accessed March 2016 
“The Most Digital Companies Are Leaving All The Rest Behind” Harvard Business Review, accessed March 2016

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