Digital transformation isn\u2019t new. Indeed, it has been on the CIO\u2019s agenda for at least 35 years.\n\nI assisted in designing and stage-managing my first symposium on digital transformation in 1987. The keynote speakers were the CEO at the emerging technology supplier and the Chairman\/CEO at one of the world\u2019s largest and most technologically sophisticated financial institutions.\n\nThe messages delivered from both the supply and demand sides of the tech industry back then were not terribly different from those currently pulsing through podcasts, webinars, zoom calls, and analyst whitepapers today.\n\nThis doesn\u2019t mean there has been no progress.\n\nDespite the term itself having been relegated to buzzword status, a result of decades of overuse and misuse, the fact is digital transformation is THE thing great CIOs do, every day.\n\n6 truths about digital transformation\n\nAfter over three decades of hard work, we\u2019ve learned a lot about what digital transformation is and what it is not. Here\u2019s a summary:\n\nDigital transformation is not digitalization\u2014digitalization is applying new technologies to existing business processes.\n\nDigital transformation is not a strategy\u2014a strategy has an end point, a set of tactics designed to achieve that end point, and a timeline.\n\nDigital transformation is not a fixed duration project\u2014digital transformation isn\u2019t achieved in three months, six months or 18 months; it never ends. \n\nDigital transformation is hard\u2014BCG data indicates that only about 30% of transformation initiatives succeed.\n\nDigital transformation is important\u2014indeed it is existential; the future is digital. As fellow futurist Gerd Leonhard pithily proclaims, \u201cReal-life is out.\u201d\n\nDigital transformation is less about upgrading the at-scale technology stack and more about upgrading your strategic thinking.\n\nIT strategy in the digital age\n\nFrom a macro standpoint, everything that the internet did to the music industry is now happening to every other industry. The path forward begins with strategy and strategy begins with conversations\u2014conversations with customers, employees, suppliers, and stakeholders.\n\nWe need to stop talking about digital transformation and start paying more attention to the conversations taking place throughout (and outside) the enterprise.\n\nDr. Karen Stephenson, one of the great seminal thinkers of this century advocates identifying, analyzing, and augmenting these conversations to create maps showing the \u201cropes\u201d of the institution (i.e., how things really work), as compared to the org chart, which describes an institution\u2019s \u201crules.\u201d\n\nAnthropologists and sociologists will tell you that humans pathologically sort themselves (and others) into categories. It is via conversations that such categorizations reveal themselves. Rendering these categorizations explicitly is the starting point of the path to the future.\n\n4 steps for leading through transformation\n\nThirty-plus years of digital transformation has provided a rich data set of how workplace populations react to technology change. We know there is a digital ethnography of sorts. There are digital natives, workers who grew up with digital tools; digital immigrants, workers who are open to learning and changing; and digital refugees, workers who aggressively avoid digital tools. Each group needs tailored leadership.\n\nSpend more time on strategy. A compendium of academic research regarding where work time is spent indicates that executives currently spend roughly one hour of every five on strategy. Executives need to spend more time on strategy. The Center for Management and Organization Effectiveness estimates that the average leader spends 25 minutes per day on strategy and planning.\n\nBeware the compliance trap. In the U.S., roughly 12% of GDP is spent on regulatory compliance. Faced with massive uncertainties, many organizations have essentially given up on crafting strategy, deciding instead that regulatory compliance will be a surrogate for strategy. Does anyone really want to work in a company whose core skill is compliance?\n\nEmbrace uncertainty. Honest futurists will admit that modern forecasts are no more accurate than the auguries generated by ancient gizzard squeezers seeking to advise Roman generals when and where the Visigoths might attack. The future cannot be predicted, but it can be prepared for. It is possible to be on the right side of major trends.\n\nThe path forward requires setting in place processes for identifying early signals of change (some call this Pivot Hunting.) Upon recognizing inflection points, one needs to take advantage of them. The owner of a set of underground parking facilities in Paris, recognizing that parking spots were not required when workers were not commuting into work, pivoted and converted the lightless underground facilities into organic mushroom farms.\n\nTell a story. We live in a confusing world. Employees and customers need a personalized message explaining where you were, where you are now, and where you are going.