Technology adoption kills your digital transformation

I could have titled this post “All this fuss for what ?”. Or “what’s bred in the bone will come out in the flesh”. Time has passed from the early days of entreprise 2.0 and the move to what we call digital transformation is a sign of higher maturity and awareness. Nobody thinks anymore that rolling out an enterprise social network alone will transform the way a business operates. No one dares to say that a Facebook page and a pretty good community manager are enough to change the way customers see a brand.

Yet if nobody believes such miracles can happen, everybody would like them to happen.

Today – and even if everyone has his own understanding of what it means – digital transformation is a major issue for the C-suite. Mostly from a customer relationship perspective, a little bit less from an internal transformation perspective, but the matter is present. And  businesses seems to have learned the lessons of yesterday’s initiatives.

“We have understood that technology is secondary”. “Yes, it’s a matter of culture, it will take time”. “We know that without reinventing our business model it will be difficult to make sense of the rest”. And, at this very moment when you’re feeling a huge relief….” so, what communities should we create and how ?”, “Let’s start and opportunity study for an internal social network”, “we’re going to disclose our new strategy in a couple of weeks so we need a vibrant enterprise social network before so we’ll look credible”. “The CEO ? Of course he says it’s important ! Will he get involved ? If the enterprise social network is a success we may try to have him onboard, if not he has more important things to care about”. And everything falls flat.

Transformation is mistaken for adoption

For too many businesses, digital or organisational transformation means technology adoption and that’s a big mistake. Adoption is a part of the transformation but is not the transformation. It can facilitate it but won’t help without clear goals and a vision of where to go. The transformation project helps to make sense of adoption, not the other way around. An adoption plan without a clear vision, without a precise transformation plan for what’s happening in the real world and not only in applications is nothing but a momentary window dressing that won’t survive to time and reality.

The problem is that everybody know that but old habits die hard. So we can see kinds of ghost social networks kept on artificial respiration (the only activity there comes from community managers) or, on the customer side, twitter accounts managed by unprepared interns or juniors and without having realigned the internal processes to support them.

So let’s try to understand how we got there to try to avoid these traps in the future.

1°) The dark side of technology solutionism

I’ll elaborate more in a future post but the belief that web and technology are the solution to anything and, therefore, that using something “webized” necessarily means doing better does a lot of harm.Technology has shifted from being a means to being a goal and, in the end, people forget the problem they wanted to solve and bend it to make it fit in the solution. Bottom line : the problem is forgotten, left unsolved and a new one is created.

Technology solutionnism creates new problem without solving old ones

2°) Vendors’ marketing

In line with solutionnism, it will underestimate the transformation needed caused by the technology, which is the same as if one tried to transform the organization without the use of technology, plus the issued caused by technology. Underestimate because no one dares anymore saying, like in 2005-2009 that since people use social technologies in their private life they’ll do the same at work without any effort. But the gap still exists.

However, just keep in mind that their job is to sell licences, not to transform your organization. But things are getting better and most of the leading players have “customer success managers”, since they’re aware that a technology sold and left unused or even undeployed can be worse that a missed deal. But that’s only half of a progress : their goals are tied to the use of the product (number of users, number of communities) what does not mean that the organization is transformed or that there’s a business impact.

3°) Cloud

Before, things were more simple. It used to take at least two years to deploy the technology and, in the meantime, businesses had time to think about their transformation, the human and organizational side of the project. Today, technology can be available in one clic, in a few seconds, or at least the say after the contract is signed. Who can accept to have a technology available and not use it for months, waiting the enterprise to make sense of it through new management and organization models ? Nobody. With the cloud (among others), technology is not anymoe the slow factor of change, it’s the people. So it forces businesses to quickly shift to the “action” step and overlook the “thinking” step and all the things that must be done before the technology is used.

The people are slower than technology

4°) Budgetary habits

We often ear that one dollar spent in licence means two or three euros in service. In fact we’re far from that. Technology takes 75% of the budget and there’s very little left to take care of the rest. So businesses resign themselves to doing window-dressing change management without dealing with profound organizational issues.

5°) A short-term culture

As we can see, the businesses that have actually adopted new models did spend a long time working on their transformation before thinking about technology. Technology matters in their success because it helps new model to work at scale but it matters because of the model, it does not create it ex nihilo. Too many leaders to have something to show too fast and this something is often…a screenshot. Technology is not the change but it makes it visible so the goal becomes to have screenshots to show, no matter it reflects reality or not.

6°) The immaturity of the C-Suite

Everybody’s talking about the digital transformation but only 24% of businesses have a clear idea of  what it means (Altimeter study). Besides that only 21% of french top executives and managers think that digital will have a positive impact on their business. (Cap Gemini Consulting Study).

When you don’t know where you’re going it’s easy to take the wrong direction.

Adoption diverts businesses from the actual stakes of the digital transformation

Anyway, your goal is not to use any kind of technology but to contribute to a profound and ambitious transformation of your business. If this ambition does not exist, no one will blame you for doing window-dressing (directly shift to adoption) because you have no other option. If, on the contrary, this ambition exists, the worse thing that can happen to you is to start with an adoption plan that will divert you from what matters and may eventually ruin your digital transformation.

Image Credit : Cool Technology via Shutterstock

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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