The digital transformation is not the future of your business

When businesses talk about their digital transformation, it’s usually in this way : it’s unavoidable, it’s tomorrow, we must get ready. Good. But notice that we used to hear the same about enterprise 2.0 in 2007 and others things in the past and we all know where we’re standing today.

Nothing surprising. The more things change the more they stay the same and we all know the gap that exist between awareness and action, most of all when the gap is large. People from Gartner did an interesting work. They randomly picked 25 2013 annual reports from the 500 largest companies and had a look at their digital orientation. The conclusion is just terrible.

Of course it’s not that bad everywhere and we can see lots of large businesses starting ambitious initiatives and, sometimes, very relevantly. But if we consider the large majority of those that don’t move, move with a wrong or IT-focused vision, there are reasons to be scared. On this point I find Gartner’s post relevant : mots businesses only pay lip service to digital transformation and leaders are over-optimistic toward the ability of their organization to drive the needed change within an acceptable time limit.

Then we could deduce than digital transformation is far to happen and that present is here to stay. But there’s another way to see things : digital transformation is not the future because it’s already there. We’re already tomorrow.

The same reasoning can often be found : it’s the  future, let’s figure how we could build a coherent model, adapt, in order the be ready the right day, when the world will have turned digital. A transformation program that will take at least 5 years….knowing how much the change capability is overestimated.

The C-suite have no digital strategy

The problem is that the day when they’ll have to be ready is yesterday. No one decides that the digital world is scheduled for a given day and that the organization should be ok this precise day. The world, the society did chose the date and the revolution has already happened. The tipping point has been reached.

Customers have stepped in the middle of the company, of the open space and even in the CEO office for a long time. On this point, the wording used by IBM in their latest C-Suite Study is eloquent : the “customer activated enterprise“.

In this video you’ll learn that 2/3 of businesses don’t have any digital strategy.

Employees ? They’ve been bringing social and collaborative technologies in the workplace, most of times under the radar, for a decade. And it used to work until businesses decided to take the lead and drive change and adoption by themselves. They’ve been used to manage, network and find solutions together for a long time but had not the technology to do it at scale. The only point is that emergent practices only work if employees set the rules themselves : from the very moment when businesses tried not normalize what used to work informally and without technology, everything stopped.

Businesses think their employees are ignorant about digital and they’re wrong. On average they know as much about digital that the rest of the society and, as they leave the office, are those who become the internauts and customers that are driving the changes that impact organization. They know even more about digital than the C-Suite and – sometimes – the member of the team supposed to lead the transformation. If they’re not as digital at work it’s not because of lack of awareness but because they’re stuck in the middle of the system that refrains them. A system where any progress on the path to digital is counterbalanced by a procedure protecting the status-quo.

Linkedin knows more about your employees than you HR systems. Maybe you’re not paying attention to that but your employees already know how to use these tools to manage their career, decide whether to join or quit.

The digital revolution is everywhere. Only businesses are missing the wave.

Mobile ? It’s so the future that it’s almost the past. The question is not “mobile or not”, “what to offer on mobiles” but “what does being mobile first means”. Think mobile from the start and not as a version as what has been designed for laptops.

E-commerce ? It’s already omnichannel. Web-to-store and sometimes store-to-web-to-home.

Cars has become the device one plugs in his tablet or laptop. And not the inverse.

The internet of data ?Big data and analytics are already at work to support new services and business models. Watson already helps oncologists to treat people having a cancer and cognitive computing is what will matter tomorrow.

Big Data et Analytics sont déjà  à  l’Å“uvre et supportent des services et des business models nouveaux. Watson aide déjà  des oncologues à  traiter des personnes malades du cancer et l’informatique cognitive est l’enjeu de demain.

New business models ? Talk about it with the press industry, taxis, airlines, banks and that’s not all ! Your competitors or, more often, digital pure players have already hacked your business model or are about to do it. If you’re not already feeling the the consequences, it’s going to happen tomorrow.

The digital revolution is already there. Of course it’s only the beginning, it’s going to accelerate. But considering it as a future event while being actually late is very serious.

Why does it look so complicated for most of busiensses while everything is moving around them ? Because they’ve been designed to resist to external change, for an industrial world where predictability and invariability were the norm while, today, refusing external change is impossible to sustain. But to surf on a wave it’s better not to get oneself a millstone around one’s neck.

Stop counterbalancing digital progress by rules protecting the status quo

The point is the millstone is comfortable and reassuring. It gives the illusion of control. The truth is that at the same time they’re trying to figure “how to change”, businesses keep on developing and strengthen systems that protect them from change. It’s not a technological revolution but a systemic one. Digital won’t happen in a system where HR, processes, finance, politics, culture are not compatible with the future that awaits us.

On this point I totally agree with what Alexis Mons wrote earlier this year[FR but worth trying with Google Translate]. It’s not a lack of intelligence, smartness, skills, talent. Businesses have lots of that. It’s problem of mindset, of “wiring”.  Businesses love to play with fire with digital but don’t get it. They undo with one hand what they did with the other and in then end no one moves on. At this stage those who get it are acting. For the others, conferences are organized, evangelists talk and write but the cause is already lost. 10 more days of talks, reading, evangelization won’t change a thing. Those who think we’re going round in circles and are endlessly repeating the same things and only change the names are right : inventing x concepts to say the same thing is useless because it’s not a a problem of teaching skills but a problem of understanding, of willpower. Thos who got it got it, others didn’t want to or were not able to.

Digital transformation comes with a price not everyone is ready to pay !

Digital Transformation comes with a price and not everyone is ready to pay it. So they try to find means to reach the Graal at a lower cost. And, with no surprise, they don’t find anything.

Too bad. It’s time to move on.

Before wondering how to make digital transformation happen it would be good to stop prevent it and many would be surprised by what would happen without too much effort. It would be good to stop counterbalancing any action aiming at making progress by another aiming at keeping the status quo. Many digital transformation projects work this way : first comes a digital initiative the, right after, a procedures comes to protect the existing and alter the project. It’s called risk mitigation. Just to mention collaboration as en example, we often end with powerful technology, sometimes restrained and organizational constraints that makes nonsense of it. We end in empty spaces, with no people, no activity because they have no meaning. It’s a zero-sum game that makes nonsense of digital and leads to failure because no one can at the same time move in a direction and stay in the reassuring same old place.


The digital revolution already happened. The future is still to be invented.

The digital revolution is not to be done anymore. It actually happened. It does not need today’s leaders because it has it own for are looking the future right in the face. The question is to know what to do tomorrow. It’s already the day after while businesses don’t want to understand what’s at stake. Many won’t get over.

The digital revolution is not the future. It’s the present and even the pas. The future is to be invented by those who get it.

Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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