Digital Transformation Isn’t Just About Bits And Bytes—It’s About People

Howard Rosen; Advisor, healthIT innovator, engagement strategist, film/TV producer, storyteller, Founder (LifeWIRE Corp)

Digital transformation here, digital transformation there—“digital transformation” seems to be everywhere as the services buzzword of early 2022. But what does it mean, and is it anything more than a catchphrase we need to have in our investor presentations for this month?

Recognizing It As A Cultural Transformation

So, there’s a lot to unpack. First, what is “digital transformation”? Of a great many nuanced definitions, they can all be boiled down to a process through which you use digital technology to create new, or modify existing, business processes.

In a great many instances, this transition is looked at as strictly a technical transformation in which the people factor is tangential, which, if so, immediately puts you on the path to problems, as the resulting changes greatly affect staff and employees. It’s not just a process transformation, it’s also a cultural transformation. In other words, user experience is not just related to external customers but internal as well.

Engaging Employees In The Transformation Process

Recognizing the need for some form of digital transformation is perhaps the easiest part of the journey. Having made the decision, the next question is, naturally, how do you go about it? As observed by George Westerman, a principal research scientist with the MIT Sloan Initiative on the Digital Economy, “When digital transformation is done right, it’s like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly, but when done wrong, all you have is a really fast caterpillar.”

There’s a lot of long-term value to be derived, so it’s not something to only pay lip service to nor should it be a knee-jerk reaction as something decided on a Friday expecting it to be up and running the following Monday. As with all good and valuable intentions, there’s a lot that can go wrong.

Although it’s tempting to marvel at the new shiny digital “toys,” that’s actually the biggest obstacle. There are an amazing amount of “if you build or buy it, they will come” strategies regarding generating revenue and engaging consumers. And that may happen in the short term, but it becomes a deep well of hurt in the long term if the entire organization isn’t brought into the transformation.

There are two major reasons for this. First, the new technology might displace staff and/or employees need to work a multiplicity of functions that differ from before. Second, this can occur when a company only focuses on engaging the end user. You need to look at every affected level and employee of the organization as a consumer to engage in the transformation process.

Taking A Holistic Perspective

So, how do you view this more from a holistic perspective of the digital transformation experience? You need to consider the whole organization, the business objectives and culture in an interdependent perspective, in which you have an operational lead with insights coming from those affected directly. Although it’s easily understandable to have the CTO oversee the digital transformation process, in many organizations, it may not be so clear-cut as to the responsibility of the digital transformation experience as it relates to both internal teams and external stakeholders. It may be the CTO but just as easily the CIO or CMO that heads this up.

But effective change requires everyone in an organization affected by the change to be involved in understanding what’s occurring and appreciate their role in the change. In return, teams will more easily adjust (to the extent needed) as part of the solution as opposed to a barrier to manage.

Of course, at their core, technological advances are important in improving or building new business processes and solutions. But technology is just a means, not an end. Successful digital transformation requires effective and successful involvement of the people involved, whether customer or employee. Understand that there are many links to the chain, and it’s truly only as strong as the weakest link. So, it’s crucial to involve and engage the company ecosystem and culture.

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