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The death of digital: What does the future hold for business transformation?

Posted on 1/11/2017 by Gary Fay

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It’s true: the ‘d’ word will soon disappear from business vocabulary. In a world where everything is digital, particularly for a generation of people who are ‘always-on’, the term is on the verge of dying out.

The full integration of digital with so-called ‘traditional’ methods of doing business will soon mean an end to the separation between business and digital functions: in the near future, digital will be woven into the very fabric of operations.

The world of business will not be superseded by digital: digital will be absorbed into organisations. And in turn, the IT professional who understands the difference and is willing to get on board with this evolution will have an edge over any peers who fail to concede their outdated notions about the role of technology.

So what does the death of digital mean for the future of business transformation? How does the IT professional transition towards a role that is central to operations rather than at the fringes?

It starts with people.

Generation C

You’ve heard about millennials and their distaste for presenteeism and hierarchy in the workplace. You’ve probably read about Generation Z - the younger demographic, more interested in stability than consumerism.

But there’s a new group to consider: one that isn’t defined by their age, but by their behaviour. Generation C are digital natives, always connected (hence the ‘C’), and incredibly tech savvy. Technology is an extension of themselves - they eat, sleep and breathe connectivity, never straying far from a device. In fact, 91% of them sleep next to their smartphone. This group holds a great deal of value, influencing $500bn of spending per year in the US alone.

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Digital is currently seen as a stand-alone function and a disruptor to current ways of working. But Generation C thinking, both by customers and employees, will force businesses to integrate digital, and ongoing transformation, into its DNA.

The future of digital transformation

Until now, digital transformation has been something of a systematic process: build better digital platforms, update your legacy software systems, create digital marketing channels.

Forward-thinking companies have started to view digital transformation as a cultural shift, rather than simply a technical exercise, but most still struggle to execute effectively. In fact, 84% of digital transformations fail - often due to inefficient communication and leadership rather than technology and processes.

The truth is, placing digital at the forefront of a transformation effort is like putting the cart before the horse. Innovative business strategy, world-class customer experience, creating new value, embedding agility into operations - these are the things that propel businesses forward. Digital’s role in the picture is to enable the business, not to drive the business.

In order for this evolution to be meaningful, a mind-shift is required across organisations: away from viewing IT as a department and towards seeing it as a shared asset. Many businesses have recognised this by creating strategic IT business partner roles as part of reorganised structures.

With an increasing need for fast information and short time-to-market, individual business functions require more control over the technology they use. The collaborative role of the ITBP (IT Business Partner) is to facilitate the needs of the organisation through the central IT function, which continues to control the governance, procurement, and delivery of solutions. IT becomes the custodian rather than the controller of a company’s digital ecosystem - an unconventional and perhaps uncomfortable shift in mindset for a profession so traditionally risk-averse, but a necessary shift nonetheless.

The changing role of interim staff

Highly skilled interim change managers are often brought into organisations to strengthen capabilities at speed, lead transformation efforts, and get projects in place effectively. But as the importance of embedding digital transformation as an organic function of the business is realised, these roles will be phased out and replaced with in-house change capability.

With this in mind, it is increasingly vital that IT managers develop their business partnering and change management skills. McKinsey reports that whilst most executives believe IT should act as a partner to the business, this rarely happens. But when it does, the benefits are dramatic: effectiveness can increase by over 300%. At a time when transformation skills are rare in technology, IT managers who can demonstrate a change mindset will distinguish themselves from their peers. A willingness to collaborate, an openness to agility, and a readiness to share accountability for projects form the foundational skills for this transformation.

There is no doubt that digital progress has changed the way we interact with the world and each other forever. But one thing has not changed: people are the lifeblood of any business and must remain central to strategic efforts. The future is not about effective digital transformation, it’s about continually transforming businesses to be effective in an ever-evolving digital world. IT professionals who embrace this concept and work to become facilitators of change will place themselves ahead of the curve.