Much has been written on Digital Transformation from so many perspectives. There is no shortage of brochureware, keen software vendors and salespeople pushing their one-of-a-kind product which will solve all your digital woes overnight, and there is most certainly no lack of opinions on what it takes to run a successful digital transformation. We attempt to learn from successes as well from spectacular failures. We map out the dos and the don’ts, distil multi-year journeys to cookbooks and methodologies, sort top quadrant technologies from the wannabes, idolise the winning CIOs and draw conclusions using questionable analogies. Why? Because here we are on the precipice, staring across the abyss where the successful few find the grass to be far greener than whence they came from.
The pressure is on, the urgency real but try as we might, we cannot nail that perfect process, build that solid bridge that gets us across the digital divide sure footed and unscathed. Those naïve enough to believe that the solution will dawn on them in a moment of deep inspiration or during yet another weekend brainstorming retreat, have already lost. The rest, well, they just get started. I salute you!
Of those who get started, all will fail. And that’s ok for Agile organisations who will fail fast, learn and fail again and again. The others will pour millions into the abyss, make headlines for all the wrong reasons, heads will roll and new big bang projects started. The ones savvy enough to know that this is a marathon, not a sprint will find their way eventually, for after all, failing is validating learning.
Now stop for a moment and consider government departments and not-for-profits. Having operated for years on miserly IT budgets, incurring enormous technical debt as a result and never having run an even remotely ambitious project, now suddenly coming upon a large sum of money as the CEO decides that the time has come to digitally transform (thank you glossy magazines!). What happens next? One of two things. We realise that we are clueless and we outsource the whole lot – the thinking, the planning and the doing. Or we start massively hiring with no real plans, with no experience managing large teams and scant knowledge of the technology which we are planning to build our new digital ecosystems on.
In either case we have our internal leaders driving the whole operation. But the trouble is that with no experience, no track record of successful transformation of any scale and no past projects to base the strategy on, our leaders are either driven by fear, expressed by governing the digital transformation efforts to death, or unrestrained optimism failing to govern at all. In either case they are bound to apply their sprinting mentality to a marathon course. This marathon analogy then goes as follows: we are quick to get off the mark and promptly committed to finish in our new personal best time (how hard can it be – take our 100m pace, multiply it over 42 km and that is that). The run starts and we completely fail to take into account the map of the course, the elevation, the need for hydration and nutrition, the blisters fast forming on our feet and the lack of body conditioning which should have been taken care of over many weeks before the race. The result…a painful protracted journey with many stops along the way, wrong turns and a few unplanned toilet breaks – and this is for those who still manage to muscle their way over the line. The rest will quit after a few miles exhausted, blaming it all on their choice of footwear.
Unless you have been firsthand involved in a true digital transformation, I forgive you for labelling me a hopeless pessimist and clicking off to a happier looking article. This is fine, see you back when you hit the wall at around 30 km into the run. For the battle hardened still reading on, I have good news. There is absolutely a way to be successful and most digital transformation efforts can be salvaged no matter how deep the hole is. And it all starts and ends with your people.