digital flow

Digital transformation is dead, long live the digital flow

4 February 2019

digital transformation
digital flow

For a few years now already, I share my thoughts on the IT priorities for organizations for the coming year. A common thread  also for several years now, is the importance of the digital transformation for organizations. Last year I talked about the human side of the digital transformation. But what is going to happen in 2019? Or better said, what should companies start working on in 2019, when talking about digital transformation?

The catchall container ‘digital transformation’

Digital transformation is a buzz word in the business and tech world. However, the umbrella term evolved over time. The blogposts from Narry Singh and Mindi Chahal in June, 2016 and March, 2017 talk about digital transformation 2.0. They talk about creating a digital mindset and setting up digital roles and responsibilities. Last year, in March, 2018, a book of Chuck Martin was published about digital transformation 3.0, where he stipulates there’s a technological tsunami on the horizon and it’s about to shake every business to its core. This transformation is being driven by seven major elements of the Internet of Things: Artificial Intelligence, Digital Voice Assistants, Smart Homes, Drones and Robots, Connected Cars, Sensors, and Virtual and Augmented Reality. It will truly transform the customer experience and the way we do business together.


Go For It!

Nevertheless, it is time to go one step further, and to truly Go For It. Let’s take the digital transformation to the next level… “digital transformation 4.0” for those who wish to continue to count. Not to be mistaken of course with the Industry 4.0 concept launched a few years ago, which is about the digital transformation in manufacturing. In the digital transformation 4.0 world of today you need to go all in. Actively embrace the world where digital thinking is completely integrated into our lives and should become an attitude of all of us. Every time you are dealing with a problem, also think about how technology can help you in getting the resolution.

Now you might ask yourself isn’t that already the case? That is only partly true. Today, every organization is working on their digital transformation. That’s for sure. When I talk to customers no one disagrees that this is a top priority on their agenda. Several to multiple automatization projects are set up. Experiments around technical hypes are being delivered. Especially, in larger organizations, a Chief Digital Officer, or a Chief Information Officer with those responsibilities, is in place to be in charge of these projects.

But are those companies actually achieving the desired results? Not entirely. Some organizations kick-off one initiative after the other, without looking back; other organizations get paralyzed by the uncertainty that is awaiting them and don’t do anything. How do you calibrate your decisions where to invest and where not to invest? In summary, what I notice, is that digital is still too often considered to be a separate project, a separate track, next to the day-to-day ‘business as usual’ activities... Don’t take me wrong, it’s ok to have multiple velocities in your organization, it’s even recommended, but at a certain moment in time the different tracks need to come together again, on a regular basis, for all personnel within the organization, not only a happy few. Some companies even create a separate digital brand, actually acknowledging the above split, and fundamentally creating silos within the organization. Even with the best intentions, and knowing that it will shake your business to its core, the reality is that digital often remains a side-track, not delivering the desired results.

Why is that? Well, that is because we didn’t change our attitude the last couple of years.  The technological complexity around us grows exponentially, and the world is changing faster than ever. It becomes very difficult to keep up. So, where do you focus on nowadays? Do you dream big or do you try to execute fast? Do you prioritize the long term innovation initiatives or do you give priority on the short term operating challenges? Do you focus on the people, or do you go for results? How do you cope with these dilemmas? Can you make choices in this long list of sometimes conflicting priorities and projects?

Frankly, we no longer have the luxury to choose today, as we no longer have the time to do one after the other. It’s about ‘both-and’ thinking today, it’s doing both at the same time, in parallel, using the power of the opposites. Unburden the operational IT AND innovate for tomorrow. Delivering results AND let people grow.  With this, a new style of leadership becomes a necessity: paradoxical leadership. I can recommend the book of Ivo Brughmans where he explains this in much more detail. It allows you to deal effectively with opposite directions and dilemmas by connecting and combining opposite forces.

Get your organization into a digital flow

Now let’s apply this leadership principle to our digital transformation challenges of today and get to my key message for 2019. You will need to manage your digital paradoxes and get into a digital flow. That’s the key phrase for 2019… Get your organization into a digital flow. More specifically, unburden your operational IT, keep your existing environment running optimally, free up valuable resources to work together on strategic innovation at the same time. A digital flow is not about 1 moment of digitization, nor a set of digital transformation projects. It is about making it a cornerstone in your operational organization. It’s about injecting the ‘both AND’ digital attitude in your organization. It’s not just about the destination, it is about the journey. So let us no longer talk about digital transformation, as it implicitly articulates there is a beginning and an end, but let us rather talk about a continuous digital flow, as a never ending story, without beginning nor an end, connecting both today and tomorrow. Together. That should become the new normal starting from 2019.

Get your organization into a Digital Flow

Written by

Image removed.Tim Claes

Sales, Marketing & Internal Communications Director (CCO) at Realdolmen

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