It’s time for “digital transformation” to pack its things

Digital transformation is so last year. It’s time to let go of it and move on. Why? Because it’s a buzzword that completely misses the point, leading businesses up the garden path and straight into a brick wall.

Lots of businesses don’t really understand what digital transformation is. I don’t blame them. Let’s see what Wikipedia has to say on the subject...

“Digital transformation is the change associated with the application of digital technology in all aspects of human society”.

Everybody clear? Thought not. Wiki’s definition is not just vague, it’s misleading. It implies that digital transformation is simply the computerising of existing business processes, when it’s not. It’s not about adding more tech to your business, or transitioning to the cloud. Yes, technology is a critical component of digital transformation, but it’s not the point. Incorporating digital technology into your business processes is just one means to a far more important end.

What is that end? It’s the same as it’s always been: happy customers. Perhaps the question to ask is not, “How do we make our business go digital?” but “How have our customers’ expectations changed?” and “How can we, as a brand, improve their experience and make their lives easier in today’s world?”

Away with you, Digital. You’re not needed.

The big problem could be with the word “digital”. Digital transformation has been used to describe anything from developing a social media strategy to creating a fully responsive mobile-optimised website to going paperless. They’re all digital, but that’s because we live in a digital world.

And yet, despite the fact that the D word is too wide and becomes ever more redundant by the day, we still have digital planners, digital marketers, digital strategists and now digital transformation managers. Marketing Week columnist Mark Ritson argues that being digital is like having electricity. He says that “the need to call out digital marketing is on a par with Apple launching an electric iPhone 7”.

At Ruby Magpie, some of the businesses on our books have already shed “digital” from their job titles. They’re starting to realise that there’s no such thing as digital marketing these days. As Diageo CEO Ivan Menezes once said, “There’s only marketing. Marketing in a digital world.” 

We need a new word — and a new definition

The danger of using the term “digital transformation” is that it gets siloed. In other words, the task of “digitally transforming” a business gets assigned to a particular team, often the marketing team because they’re already working in the digital environment. When a business does this, the transformation is unlikely to happen at all. A 2016 report by the International Data Corporation (IDC) predicted that by 2018, “70% of siloed digital transformation initiatives will ultimately fail because of insufficient collaboration, integration, sourcing or project management.” So, if you really want to bring your processes into the 21st century, each and every division of your business needs to be involved. 

Thom Groot from the AA has the right idea: “Digital transformation is another term for what I call business transformation. Digital is at the heart of businesses and in my view it’s a reflection of the fact that customer behaviour is changing. The digital age has accelerated that change and therefore businesses need to be fast at changing themselves to meet that customer behaviour.” 

Groot is right. We’re talking about transforming business processes to accommodate customers’ changing expectations, behaviours and needs. So make that your starting point, then look at how you can improve your levels of customer satisfaction and excel within your industry. It’s the oldest trick in the book. 

And yes, the digital world has made improving the customer experience a more complicated and at times intimidating prospect. But at the same time, it’s opened up a whole world of opportunities for us to innovate and grow. Plus, if we stop talking about digital transformation and start talking about making life easier for our customers, the transition of our business processes will be less intimidating and more likely to succeed.