Digital transformation is about making things simpler. Period.

By the way, what is digital transformation ? Search the web, there are as many definitions as there experts and practitioners. Some have technology oriented approach, others an organizational one, others focus on business models. Some focus on the customer, other about the employee. And ask enterprises : there are as many entry points and ways to do things than there are enterprises, cultures, industries and specific situations.

It encompasses so many things than an exhaustive definition would be too wide and conceptual. And even in the case of an acceptable definition, it won’t help to answer the question that comes immediately after  : “where do we start ?”. “How do we do ?”.

There are as many visions of digital transformation as businesses

Let’s take two essential parts : customer experience, foundation of new business models and that many experts consider as the only purpose of digital transformation and employee experience without which I don’t think customer experience will exist.

No matter your own definition of customer experience, there are things that are unquestionable.

A good customer experience makes the customer journey simpler, use/consumption of the product/service included.

A good customer experience engages the customer. First because it makes him loyal, then because it helps to turn him into a brand ambassador.

A good customer experience is enjoyable. That’s obvious.

A good customer experience is efficient since it addresses an actual need and solves a problem (it’s hard to value something enjoyable but useless).

The purpose of a company : create and retain customers

A long time ago, Drucker said that the purpose of a company was to create and retain customers. That’s exactly the point. Customers are the revenue of the company and, knowing that, they have two missions implicitly assigned by the business. Two things they are expected to : buy and, ideally, share the message.

So it’s easy to understand why things should be simple, enjoyable, efficient and engaging for the customer.

So let’s focus on the employee.

The external environment has permanently changed over the last century. Society evolves. Consumers evolve. Their expectation evolve. Technological progress creates new opportunities in terms of product and customer relationship. And, of course, as we’ve seen over the last years, these evolutions happen faster and faster.

How did businesses respond ?

To each evolution they responded by :

– adding resources, which implied new management layers and managers to manage the new managers. It’s mechanical.

– adding new rules and processes. New constraints for employees, new “process owners”, new people to monitor how processes are run.

– new departments, divisions, business units.

Businesses responded to complexity with complication

Then businesses needed to stay agile while they were gaining weight and silos were multiplying. So they added matrix management, making employees report to 2, 3, 4 managers giving contradictory orders since they have contradictory stakes.

More people, more layers, more silos, more processes, more reporting, more control. Businesses slowly become pachyderms burdened by their own weights, incapable of keeping up with a pace of a fast changing environment.

As Jack Welch, former GE CEO said : “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.”

It’s finally Drucker that explains the best the point we’ve reached :



Most of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people get their work done. Work being to create and retain customers. Businesses responded to a more complex environment by more internal complication while we know that the only response to complexity is simplification.

They did so because adding is always easier than removing or changing. They did so because they were living in the illusion of a predictable world where they own operations should stay predictable and mechanical.

Digital always goes back to lean

Happily, not everything s that black. Some businesses turned simplification into an organization art. There is no surprise if matters like enterprise 2.0 or social business often got very close to lean management and the gap between Toyotism and these new models is not that wide. Look at the similarities between management 2.0 and quality management, you’ll be surprised.

This is not a surprise if the lean startup model inspires lots of large businesses in their innovation and digital transformation programs.

Ok. I can already hear the “lean-haters”. I’m not going to elaborate mor on a field where some others like Cecil Dijoux are excelling but a good idea should not be mistaken for it’s poor implementation mainly cause by businesses not understanding the core philosophy of lean.

In simple words, we need to simplify organization and work and the potential of digital technologies is very promising provided businesses don’t expect technology to change everything by itself without having to deal with change. Technology is a catalyst, they make change possible provided one dares to trigger change and do what’s needed.

The digital work environment and employee experience are obviously a part of this simplification process.

As for the customer, a good employee experience aims at making work

– simple and easy, in the form (technology) and content (management, organization)

– enjoyable (what includes recognition programs, user experience, the physical workplace, interpersonal relationships…)

– engaging (because productivity is a matter of engagement)

– efficient, because the final purpose is to be more efficient at work, individually and collectively.

A definition of digital transformation : make things simple, enjoyable, engaging and efficient for employees and customers at each touch point.

When we put the customer and employee side together, we come to a definition of digital transformation that works in any case and has a clearly operational dimension. As a matter of fact, it may be very useful for those looking for a methodology and do not know where to start.

– either for the customer or the employee

– consider each touchpoint between the enterprise and the customer/employee

– identify what is expected from who at this touchpoint

– make things simpler, more engaging, efficient, enjoyable at this touchpoint. On the customer side it will even be possible to distinguish between the purpose of the touchpoint (acquisition, transaction, retention…) to establish the business case and the ROI (monetary, not monetary, soft/hard,, about sales, engagement…)

– imagine new touchpoints that will allow business model and management innovation.

Photo credit : Simplify by Gustavo Frazao  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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