Leading Digital : how to digitize a non digital born business ?

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When people talk about digital businesses, they often mention  pure players like Google, Uber etc. what leads logical reactions from traditional businesses. They say “that’s not me”, “that’s not for us”, “we’re different”, “we won’t be able to make it”. A well known syndroma that does not help to move forward.

What.

Leading Digital: Turning Technology into Business Transformation

Who.

Didier Bonnet (Cap Gemini), Andrew McAfee (MIT), George Westerman (MIT)

The main idea.

Besides digital born businesses which approaches are often shown as examples but in which no one recognizes, many pre-digital businesses have successfully transformed. To achieve their transformation they developed a digital mastery based on two building blocks : digital capabilities and digital leadership.

So the book is logically organized based on these three topics, complemented by a part dedicated to change and transformation strategies.

Going Deeper.

Without any surprise, the part about  digital capabilities relies on customer experience, employee experience and business models.

I won’t elaborate on customer experience since it’s the key issue everyone mentions when it comes to digital transformation. But the chosen examples, From Burberry’s to Starbucks, including Caesar’s and Capital One cover enough cases and industries that anyone could find the case that matches his own situation. Yes, a business can have a past, an history, a lot of retail stores, be in the service or retail business and be able to compete with pure players on experience. As for business models we can find a clear description of all the types of transformation without falling into clichés like uberization that perfectly name the pain but do not help to cure the disease.

I’m glad that the book pays as much attention to internal operations as to customer experience. That’s rare enough to be mentioned. By the may the book mentions one of my favorite cases : Coldeco, a leading copper mining company that shows to what extent digital can transform operations and is not a white-collar-only matter. Same for UPS. Moreover, the book goes deep into details regarding to the business and management assumptions many consider as unquestionable and that need to be rebalanced to digitize any business.

The part about digital leadership should be read by any C-Level person since the C-Suite is often content with acknowledging the need for change and articulating an ambition strongly tied with digital and technology but that means nothing to people on the field. The chapter on how to build on ambition is exemplary. Claiming what one wants to become is useless without understanding what one is and could become…and without being able to state it clearly for others. The chapters on governance will also help to understand that the chief digital officer is not a one-size-fits-all solution.

As for change strategy, for once, it does not overlook two essential points that are employee engagement and the need for sustainable change dynamics. While some base their approaches on incantations and good will, the approach detailed here will help to go much deeper into into the transformation process. It looks very similar to the Kotter’s 8 steps change model, what proves, once more, that if digital has specificities, change and transformation obey to rules that have not changed that much over time. Topics change fast, people slowly.

My opinion.

A book worth reading because its  analytic and structured approach to digital transformation. Very few in common with all the inspirational story-telling-based readings that make readers feel like “it looks appealing but I still have no clue about how to start”. The book comes with a structured approach, things to do and don’t do, and a framework to assess one’s own situation.

Talking about storytelling, the book comes a lot of very detailed case and it makes a real difference. Storytelling too often aims at make people dream, here it’s about understanding.

To end, what makes this book worth a reading is that it’s about “old” businesses that have fully or partly achieved their digital transformation.

The change approach is much more classical but it shows that, even in digital, no one can get rid of the rules of “human gravity”.

Nothing revolutionary but something solid and well-written. For business minded people, not digital dreamers.