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Speed and digital transformation might not be the best mix

Few would argue against the need for more customers to embrace digital transformation but Billy MacInnes warns against rushing that process

Digital transformation. Now there’s a phrase to make the heart sing. Or sink.

We all think we have an idea what it means even if a lot of us aren’t completely sure what it is. But we appreciate it should be a good thing because digitising business processes ought to provide more efficiency and greater insights in real time.

However, just because something is a good thing doesn’t mean everyone will rush to adopt it, as a recent story in MicroScope demonstrates. Despite the benefits digital transformation can bring, many people remain to be convinced.

A survey by Gartner found only a third of CEOs were planning to do something about digital transformation in the next two years. Gartner believes the consequences of delaying could be severe if businesses don’t set about digitally transforming themselves with more urgency because quicker digital savvy insurgents could emerge to threaten them.

However, while this argument may well be true, I have one reservation about using it as a motivation to encourage businesses to start transforming digitally: high profile digital disruptors, such as Airbnb in the hospitality space and Uber in transport, are not true examples of digital transformation.

They may well have built themselves on a digital model but they never had to transform their processes to achieve it, they have always been digital businesses. Which means that things were a lot easier for them because they didn’t have to disrupt their existing business models to achieve their success.

Speaking at Oracle’s Digital Transformation conference,  senior vice president for UK and Ireland Dermot O’Kelly argued it was “bad news” that CEOs did not think they had to do anything about digital transformation yet. “You don't have two to three years. Businesses now are doing a lot to digitise their business processes,” he warned.

But the reluctance exhibited by many CEOs to embark on the digital transformation process is understandable when you consider it could be a very complex and disruptive process for their organisations.

And it probably doesn’t help CEOs who view digital transformation as a daunting prospect when people like Oracle president of product development Thomas Kurian remark that “digital transformation is going to require companies to have a new software platform”.

As trusted advisors, channel partners are in a strong position to help clients on the move towards digital transformation, but they need to be able to placate and assuage clients fearful of the expense and disruption involved. They also need to be able to articulate the benefits and opportunities in a way that resonates with customers and convinces them of the need to begin digitising the most suitable business processes.

No one is arguing that organisations shouldn't seek to digitise more of their business processes but there’s a balance to be struck between risk and reward, when and how. Injecting a sense of urgency into the equation isn’t necessarily going to make that process better. Or safer.

This was last published in February 2016

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