The aim of a digital transformation initiative is to help organizations meet the demands of an increasingly complex world that have been exacerbated by technology. But the reality is that if you aren't changing and evolving as a business you a have a much larger problem on your hands than merely 'becoming more digital'. The promise of digital transformation then is really a misnomer.
Using technology to transform your business starts with beliefs and mindsets. It manifests in technology stacks, digital platforms, and networks of networks. It culminates in new, and often better, ways of working. Digital transformation is just one part of a larger organizational puzzle.
Like its big sister innovation (another misnomer), transformation has always been integral to business. The difference is that its evolution has historically occurred at a much steadier pace Today, the swift change is commonplace as fashion companies become media houses, newspapers morph into membership clubs, electric companies shift into software businesses, and car companies innovate into transportation networks.
But it's only in the last half a century that the promise of exponential growth fuelled by the internet has really been a thing. Technology itself is not enough. Here are 3 things to consider when undergoing your next change initiative:
Foster Intent-Based Leadership
David Marquet served in the U.S. submarine force for 28 years. As a captain, he realized that being a leader meant giving people control rather than taking it. With his radical approach for the time, he empowered his crew to become leaders too. In the process, his submarine, previously ranked last in retention and operational standing, moved to be first in the navy.
Digital transformation starts by providing people with agency and encouraging them to participate and take accountability for their actions. The results mirror the digital network; information flows where it needs to go and when. And most importantly, decision making whether individual or collective, is decisive and efficient. It's led by those with the most expertise, richest information, and relevant data.
Giving people control over their work empowers them and the teams that they form. By virtual, they can move fluidly and adapt quickly - which is really what digital transformation is all about.
Build Apps on Top of your Operating System
Aaron Dignan of organizational design firm, The Ready, and Lee Bryant a co-founder of digital transformation outfit, Postshift, both speak of the company as an operating system (OS). Much like your iOS update that improves your software, the organization also runs on an operating system made of all its moving parts. An upgrade in an organizational system translates to reduced overheads, improved efficiency, better customer experiences, more responsiveness and a myriad of other benefits.
The trick then is to have a robust and reliable OS while you experiment with the layers that rest on top. A prime example would be Tesla's battery charging stations which function as steady and reliable operating system, while the cars themselves work like software. The OS becomes the vehicle (pun intended) on which the automobiles run.
Think About an Abundant Economy of the Future
If building machines at the scale of molecules sounds a little far-fetched, think again. It's been happening in the world of medicine for some time, and nanotechnology is primed to spread to many other fields in the coming years. If the computational power of a roomful of supercomputers now lives in a little device in your pocket, think about the potential of many IBM Watsons living at the scale of atoms inside your body.
Our economy is premised on scarcity. Demand exists because there is a shortage of supply. But what happens in a world of abundance where there is enough of, well, everything? In this future, we will have a whole new understanding of creativity, value, business, work, and society. In this scenario, the very idea of digital transformation will appear redundant. The world will be truly wired, everything connected, to each other and the very notion of becoming more digital - an antiquated idea.
Perhaps organizational development is a more fitting name to describe what's required of companies to stay fit for the future. Thinking in this way cannot only help you create a culture of participation and harness technology for good, - it can help you get on with running a smarter business.
Jonas Altman is an entrepreneur and a writer. Thousands receive his monthly roundup on doing the future of work: Sign up to get the digest