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Why there is more to digital than ones and zeros

These days no business strategy seems complete unless it is qualified by the adjective “digital”

How do we view the current and ever-changing plethora of ideas and models that fill our in-boxes every day?

The current big idea is “digital transformation” – which often gets used in different situations to mean a number of quite different things. We’ll come back to that in a moment.

If we are developers or in service management/operations, we all get bombarded with imperatives around “digital transformation”, as well as many flavours of agile, lean and supply chain memes, in addition, of course, to the regular technical/enterprise themes, such as ITSM/ITIL, BRM (business relationship management) and SIAM (service integration and management).  What we thought we knew – about enterprise architecture or ITSM or COBIT Prince2 and TOGAF a few years back – all seems to be lost now in a morass of “ologies”, “isms” and other new shiny things.

So how can we make sense of this – do we simply ignore new ideas until they start to impact or bite us? What criteria do we use to decide when a new thing is important and relevant for us? How, in particular, can we absorb new ways of working into our existing models?

One thing to be aware of is context – your view and level of interest in the need to “transform” will depend on what sort of organisation you are currently in and where you sit within it. It can be easy in a large process-driven organisation to simply shrug off new ideas as being too difficult or “not done here”. Also, your view of, say, SIAM will depend on your situation, whether you use a managed service provider or have a retained IT operation.

For many new initiatives, there are no right or wrong absolutes – only relevant opportunities and threats.

While we hear so much about “digital” transformation, what we really need to focus on is “organisational” and “people” transformation. In technology, we need to develop our skills in terms of people management, communications and organisational change in order to really understand and achieve value.

Leadership the key

One aspect of leadership is about being aware of new ideas and being able to quickly “see the wood for the trees” in terms of seeing what is important. This requires us as practitioners to keep up with new developments and innovations – this takes time, but delivers huge value to teams and individuals alike.

Also, as technology advances and we implement more automated systems, the opportunity for human interactions is reduced. These rare interactions must therefore be of a high quality if we are to maintain good PR and relationship management. “Leadership” must be encouraged from all staff, not just “leaders” or managers – where this means taking ownership and responsibility, and demonstrating/leading, through action, how to do things successfully.

Digital transformation is currently the outcome and hype around a “perfect storm” of trends, demands and activities, but what does it really mean?

Digital transformation is a term of convenience, although in reality it means so much more – organisational and cultural transformation, people and sociological transformation. We are in the grip of a revolution driven by the demands and potential of technology, which has created a new generation of people (millennials) who have a completely different way of thinking and working, as well as different expectations from technology and work.

Making a success of digital

  • DevOps – using automated provisioning and continuous testing and integration, DevOps provides a new cultural palette for IT collaboration.
  • Cloud – allows reduced cost and increased time to market for new services.
  • Omnichannel – the plurality of interactive channels for using IT services demands high standards of technical capability and resilience, as well as opening up how people use technology.
  • Customer experience – now taken seriously as an approach for technology. It can simplify and clarify the key areas for technology teams to focus on for performance and measurement.

The term is used loosely to describe the convergence of a number of technologies, ways for working and business expectations. These include using big data, the internet of things (IoT), automation, cloud, robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), mobile and other technologies in a co-ordinated way to improve efficiency, capability and customer experience.

This is also combined with business demands for greater speed and flexibility in delivering new solutions, so agile, DevOps, lean and other new techniques are employed to build and deliver technology solutions faster, better and with fewer obstructions.

In addition, other models and frameworks such as BRM, ESM and SIAM are helping to expand the commercial and cultural use of existing models such as ITIL/ITSM COBIT and BRM, broadening the scope of service management beyond IT and across organisations.

Social media is also in there as a new culture and way of communicating and collaborating.

It is a perfect storm of opportunity, demand and change, driven and supported by a profusion of models and frameworks, tools and techniques. The possibilities are endless, the demands are high and the potential for chaos and disruption huge.

Read more about digital transformation

There is no single element of digital transformation that can be singled out as an autonomous entity. Digital transformation does not just mean doing cloud, DevOps, and so on, or being more customer-focused, or working in an agile way. It means being able to combine all or most of these elements to meet business and customer needs. This is the true realisation of the “outside-in” marketing approach, where customer experience and expectation is the starting point and all else is subservient to that.

Going “digital” really means finally joining up the dots of how technology can be made to work for business and not against or as a separate part of it. This approach calls on various new or refreshed ideas. What is new is that this is driven totally by business expectations and not simply financial or technical constraints. The driver, more often than not, is now very much around collaboration and working to shared goals.

So digital transformation is not a single “thing”, but current times demand a “digital” approach – a consolidated and collaborative way of working that is focused on the customer and which uses leading-edge and contemporary technology.

Digital leadership is required to see the way through the maze of technologies and methodologies, to pick the best “bundle” for your organisation, and to lead the change and disruption that is required to achieve it. All of that requires excellent people skills, communications and change management skills – so please don’t call it “digital”.

Barclay Rae is CEO of ITSMF UK .......................................................................................................................................... .....................................................................................

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