Tuesday, August 5, 2014

What is Digital Transformation?

It sounds a bit misleading perhaps - maybe one gets the impression that this is something akin to rendering special effects for movies. In mainstream IT however, Digital Transformation has come to mean something quite different.

The shorthand definition for it is this; "the coordinated integration of all customer-facing digital capabilities." This includes mobile, web and social media. There is perhaps an implied level of underlying integration supporting of all it, but that isn't always required - at least not at first anyway.

We use the word "customer" here a bit loosely, as Customer can refer to any users or members of a certain organization. So, a government entity might consider citizens as customers and the military could consider its rank and file 'customers' in this sense also. Digital Transformation can occur in just about any type of organization specifically because the set of technologies involved is common across industries.

Ten years ago a 'Digital Transformation' would have likely been referred to as a "Portal Strategy." At the time, it was thought that the portal metaphor (and associated software products) would suffice to meet all customer-facing needs. A typical portal might include the following elements in 2005:

  • Extranet
  • Intranet
  • Collaboration tools
  • Content Management tools

What happened since then? Well, at least two and possibly three revolutions in technologies with more on the cusp; the key revolutions include:

  • Mobile - (not laptops of course, but the smartphone and mobile)
  • Social Media - some re-branding of collaborative capabilities merged onto smartphones as well
  • Cloud Computing - re-branding of visualization - and importantly opening that up to customer facing apps (web and mobile).
  • with Big Data coming on strong (although to be honest, most places still don't know how to use it so it's an outlyer with respect to customer facing technology).

On the backend of course are all the systems that actually make the organization go - but for the customer this is like the engine within the chassis. Most customers don't care what's under the hood until or unless it fails to perform.

Digital Transformation is a lot like enterprise integration but on the customer facing side of things. It is the alignment, coordination and update in tandem of the core mission apps and interfaces. And it can potentially include the Web of Things as well. So for example, if you have a grocery store then perhaps there are kiosks inside and gas pumps outside and nifty new cooler video displays etc. All of that technology is customer-facing so for a true transformation it all must be managed within a shared context.  The transformation has one goal - to go from a heterogeneous mix of random technologies to a holistic solution designed to facilitate strategic goals.

So, how does an organization undergo a Digital Transformation? We will look at this in more detail in one of our upcoming posts.

Some organizations (like larger retailers) face dual Digital Transformations; in so much as they must serve both traditional customers and the needs of many thousands of employees (with separate capabilities) such as in the example above targeted to employees...

Copyright 2014, Stephen Lahanas



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