by Nicholas D. Evans

4 strategic themes for digital transformation in 2018

Dec 19, 2017
Digital TransformationIT LeadershipIT Strategy

With so much focus on specific trends and technologies in the world of digital transformation, it’s often valuable to step back and make sure you can see the forest for the trees.

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Last year, my predictions for digital transformation were focused on the core DNA that organizations needed to put into place to achieve world-leading performance and results in digital transformation.

In addition to perennial themes such as leadership, people and cultural competencies, these new strategic themes for digital transformation included disruptive technologies, platform business models, digital services mastery and leading practices in corporate innovation.

Rather than focusing on discrete technologies, the themes were designed to help organizations focus on the bigger picture to advance their digital strategies, their overall digital transformation maturity, and their corresponding industry competitiveness and agility.

As an evolution of last year’s themes, the new strategic themes for 2018 are related to further institutionalizing digital transformation capabilities within the enterprise. They pertain to digital insight, digital frameworks, implementing intrinsic agility and achieving balance as follows:

1. Digital insight – from platitudes to actionable perspectives

Despite being over five years into digital transformation, in 2017 we saw the topic reach the top of the hype cycle with platitudes and pablum from vendors that in many instances was largely superficial in its content. Mantras and tech visions such as “people first” and the citing of emerging technology alphabet soup, together with “design thinking” thrown in for good measure, did little to advance the discipline or give organizations a clear path forward.

In 2018, the C-suite will look for organizations that can go well beyond the platitudes and offer a more structured, logical approach to digital transformation with more refined perspectives and approaches that strategically organize all the requisite steps and elements. These approaches will clearly delineate between business objectives and the platforms, technologies and techniques to get there. 

A great way to get started with more mature approaches is to look towards digital transformation maturity models such as those of the British Computer Society and many others. These models, by their very nature, need to be holistic across people, process and technology and incorporate all the requisite elements for success in digital transformation. If you still get “people first” mantras from your vendors and strategic partners, ask questions, and then ask again – using the Socratic method for example – to see how deep their thinking really goes.

2. Digital frameworks – from DIY to off-the-shelf platforms and accelerators

In prior years, there was little in the way of digital transformation frameworks or proven approaches to guide organizations along their transformation journeys and they typically had to figure this out for themselves. The role of the Chief Digital Officer has significantly evolved as part of this journey as well.

In 2018, we can expect to see a greater array of pre-assembled digital transformation platforms and frameworks from vendors that can help accelerate your digital journey. Platforms such as SAP’s Leonardo and GE’s Predix are some outstanding examples which I believe are incorporating all the right elements and doing so in an ecosystem-oriented approach.

When selecting a platform or framework, it’s important to determine what you want to accomplish and review the full functionality on offer. Ideally, the solution should provide a core platform as well as the requisite technologies, techniques and innovation approaches to help you take advantage of the core DNA elements highlighted earlier.

It will be important to look beyond one-size-fits-all approaches and look for highly-flexible, industry-oriented platforms with extensions and accelerators that give you the ability to pick and choose exactly the components you need, and to evolve and add services and capabilities over time. Integration with your current applications and infrastructure will also be critical to support evolution over revolution.

3. Digital intrinsic agility – from destination focus to continuous journey focus

Digital transformation is clearly a journey, not a destination, so even once you achieve success with major initiatives, there will be a need for continuous innovation and rapid response to change, and to challenges and opportunities as they arise.

In 2018, CIOs should focus on incorporating next-generation skills and capabilities so that agility – and continuous digital transformation – become an intrinsic part of the organization’s operating model.

As an example, platform business models are intrinsically agile because they enable rapid growth and changes to the ecosystem by relying on external producers and consumers to provide the actual – physical or digital – products, services and social currency.

Likewise, innovation programs can be designed to be intrinsically agile by ensuring tools and processes can handle a wide array of goals and objectives. In essence, you want the innovation pipeline process to be standardized, but the types of innovation flowing through the pipeline to be infinitely variable. 

4. Digital balance – from gregarious disruption to ethical disruption

With digital disruption in full swing, less scrupulous organizations are “disrupting”, but throwing rules, regulations and ethics to the wind, believing they can apologize later and pay token fines where needed.  

As an example, rather than just bringing in AI and hoping universal basic income will address the significant challenges posed for the workplace, think about how you might optimize human-machine work processes and so each can work seamlessly together.

In 2018, CIOs should focus on more than introducing a disruptive business model, but doing it in a way that’s more in compliance with existing rules and regulations and sustainable approaches such as the UN’s sustainable development goals for 2030.

In other words, don’t just let software eat the world, try to be cognizant of what your software might eat and the ramifications for both near- and longer-term society. Tie your disruption to your company mission statement and disrupt to make a positive difference.

In summary, with so much focus on specific trends and technologies in the world of digital transformation, it’s often valuable to step back and make sure you can see the forest for the trees. In 2018, ask what key insights will help guide your journey, what leading platforms and frameworks will accelerate your journey, how you can build in intrinsic agility into your digital operating model, and how you can strike that right digital balance and disrupt to make a difference.