Written by: Dr. James Robertson
Date: 11th August 2022

In preparing to write this article I visited Google in search of current thinking and came across an article entitled “What is digital transformation?” by “The Enterprisers Project” at https://enterprisersproject.com/what-is-digital-transformation where they define Digital Transformation as “the integration of digital technology into all areas of a business, fundamentally changing how you operate and deliver value to customers. It’s also a cultural change that requires organizations to continually challenge the status quo, experiment, and get comfortable with failure.

Also in Google, Salesforce at https://www.salesforce.com/eu/products/platform/what-is-digital-transformation/ writes: “The definition of digital transformation. — “Digital transformation is the process of using digital technologies to create new — or modify existing — business processes, culture, and customer experiences to meet changing business and market requirements. This reimagining of business in the digital age is digital transformation.”

They elaborate by saying: “It transcends traditional roles like sales, marketing, and customer service. Instead, digital transformation begins and ends with how you think about, and engage with, customers.  As we move from paper to spreadsheets to smart applications for managing our business, we have the chance to reimagine how we do business — how we engage our customers — with digital technology on our side.

“For small businesses just getting started, there’s no need to set up your business processes and transform them later. You can future-proof your organization from the word go. Building a 21st-century business on stickies and handwritten ledgers just isn’t sustainable. Thinking, planning, and building digitally sets you up to be agile, flexible, and ready to grow.

“As they embark on digital transformation, many companies are taking a step back to ask whether they are really doing the right things.”

Also via Google CIO.com athttps://www.cio.com/article/3211428/what-is-digital-transformation-a-necessary-disruption.html writes “Digital transformation marks a rethinking of how an organization uses technology, people, and processes in pursuit of new business models” and it also writes “Digital transformation is a foundational change in how an organization delivers value to its customers.”

Another definition from a colleague, source unknown, “Because digital transformation will look different for every company, it can be hard to pinpoint a definition that applies to all. However, in general terms, we define digital transformation as the integration of digital technology into all areas of a business resulting in fundamental changes to how businesses operate and how they deliver value to customers. Beyond that, it’s a cultural change that requires organizations to continually challenge the status quo, experiment often, and get comfortable with failure. This sometimes means walking away from long-standing business processes that companies were built upon in favour of relatively new practices that are still being defined.”

Following is my analysis:

1.      It is NOT magic – it requires tough, pragmatic leadership.

As with all computerized solutions Digital Transformation is, at some level invisible, only the consequences of its use are really tangible.  For this reason there is a risk that people will view Digital Transformation as being, in some way, magical and not capable of being understood and managed.

As with all computerized systems Digital Transformation must be managed by strong leaders who are pragmatic to the point of being tough to ensure that it works and delivers what is hoped for.

2. Digital Transformation is a natural consequence of the level of sophistication of Computer Technology today.

Computer Technology today is massively sophisticated if we think back fifty years to the time of log tables and slide rules and the very first digital calculators.  What we see today in terms of Digital Transformation is the natural consequence of the progressive sophistication that has evolved in the intervening fifty years.  In some respects we are seeing today the systems that people dreamed of decades ago that were out of reach but which are now very much to hand for those with the vision and the drive to undertake appropriate projects.

3.    Digital Transformation reflects the reality that most people in business have been using computers all their lives.

A few days ago I attended a 50 year reunion of my High School final year class, average age 67.  As I considered what to write in this article it struck me that they were the last generation NOT to leave school completely computer literate.  The reality is that almost the entire business population today is made up of people who at least at a basic level have some level of computer literacy and therefore no fear of computers and no mystique such that they are able to visualize off the wall solutions that go far beyond anything that exists at that moment in time.  AND they have the knowledge to direct the necessary projects successfully.

4.  Digital Transformation is enabled by the confluence of pervasive network communication and The Cloud.

We refer casually to “The Cloud”, possibly without really thinking what it really is – a pervasive network of telecommunication connections that tie together just about every computer on the Planet coupled to massive Date Centres with computing horse power that is probably beyond the full comprehension of all but a small number of people.  Our ability to do things with computers today is almost limitless and the boundaries are being pushed back further and further year by year.

5.    Digital Transformation is facilitated by the availability of diverse technologies including Artificial Intelligence, Big Data and The Internet of Things.

Coupled to the above points we have a huge diversity of specialist technologies of which AI (Artificial Intelligence), Big Data and IoT (The Internet of Things) may be the most important.  These enable us to computerize / computer enable an infinite collection of devices and accessories and allow them to control processes and activities in ways that a few years ago were inconceivable.  Coupled with this the reality that machine learning has reached a point where extremely powerful rule based systems deliver pseudo-intelligence at levels that a few decades ago were the subject of science fiction writers.

The power and affordability of the technology has also resulted in “Big Data”, the ability to record and store vast amounts of data relating to every possible subject thereby enabling all sorts of analyses that even a few years ago were out of reach because of cost.

6.  Digital Transformation reflects the reality of numerous visionary thinkers who deeply understand what computers can do.

As stated above, we have reached a point where the dreams of previous generations of business people who were computer aware are now being realized, probably at levels BEYOND what was conceivable twenty or thirty years ago to all but a limited number of visionary thinkers who have, at some level guided and directed the evolution of the complex systems that most people take for granted today.

7.    Digital Transformation is a natural cultural outworking of 70 years of peaceful business evolution.

So, my conclusion?

Digital Transformation is a NATURAL CULTURAL outworking of 70 years of peaceful business evolution that has seen global collaboration and learning progress at dramatic levels in order to create systems and services that are dramatically powerful with ever increasing potential to generate new systems that push the envelope even further.

8.      Digital Transformation brings with it Ethical and Human Challenges

Taking account of the above it is important to note that Digital Transformation brings with it Ethical and Human challenges that need to be managed, in some respects at a National Policy / Legislative level as evidenced by the current hearings with regard to Facebook, etc. 

Overall Digital Transformation has a substantial impact on the way we work and the way we do things and this needs to be addressed at the level of what I term “The Critical Human Foundation” – the reality that whatever one does with computers is founded on what people do with the technology.

9.    Digital Transformation – Practical Impacts

In considering the above points it is important to recognize that Digital Transformation embraces every aspect of what we generally refer to as “I.T.”  It relates to better software systems, better systems integration, new hardware, mobility products, etc, the Cloud, mobile computing, better software etcetera – a whole range of scenarios that impact business growth.

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