Digital transformation to the point of indigestion

When I look at the marketing emails that invade my mailbox or read the website of almost all the companies that provide in one way or another services to businesses, service companies, consultants or software vendors, there is a word that I see everywhere: “digital transformation”.

I thought that with time it would pass, that some people would realize the emptiness of their speech, but no. It goes on and on.

The buzzword drug

I’m not going to blame them: rushing into any buzzword that’s in vogue, especially when there are multi-billion euro markets behind it, is legitimate. Moreover, as the client is requesting it, not talking about it can be disqualifying.

But there is the substance and the form and this one is in my opinion insufficient and even misleading. And in the end by dint of disappointing the market (because that’s what happens) we end up killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.

So today every software helps you in your digital transformation, all services that touch closely or remotely to technology accompany you in your digital transformation.

This way, an office automation suite, a document management tool, a social network management tool or whatever allows you to accomplish your digital transformation. I’ve seen antivirus software to help digital transformation, remote employee monitoring tools, mass emailing tools, audience tracking tools… in short, anything and everything.

Sometimes it’s so big and far away from the subject that it loses all credibility. It’s like the vegetable and fruit store around the corner saying “we’re going to make you lose weight”.

Well no it doesn’t work. It depends on how much I eat, what I eat on the side and my level of physical activity. If I didn’t eat them before and I replace certain foods with vegetables, I will balance my diet but that doesn’t mean I will lose weight. To lose weight you have to change your habits, eating vegetables will be a consequence of this change and will contribute to the final result but will not change anything by itself.

As Evgeny Morozov used to say: “to solve anything click here“.

Digitizing is not transforming

You can tell me that for a company that has only “paper” processes, the use of any digital tool is a digital transformation process.

In this case, going from typewriter to Office at the end of the 80’s was already a digital transformation, wasn’t it? Well, it wasn’t. Switching to Office is digitalization. The digital transformation is to change the way we work, the way we use it. For example, it’s making collective editing of documents in Microsoft 365.

Going from “paper” HR or excel sheets to a HRIS is digitalization. Transformation means, for example, changing the way you set and follow up on objectives.

Digitizing is using a digital tool to replace another one or an analog device to do as before, maybe better, but not in a different way.

Comme son nom l’indique la transformation digitale est une transformation. A la limite utiliser les mêmes outils qu’avant mais pour opérer différemment c’est se transformer. En utiliser de nouveaux pour faire comme avant non.

As its name suggests, digital transformation is a transformation. Even if you use the same tools as before, to operate differently is to transform. To use new ones to do as before is not.

No tools are transformative

Even if I have to break a myth, I will tell you that no tool is transformative by itself. Give your employees a tool that allows them to do things differently and they will use it to do things the way they used to do them. And since it’s not designed for it will even be disappointing. In short, deploying a tool that allows a transformation of operating procedures without transforming the operating procedures is a waste.

Remember the companies that have deployed enterprise social networks and wanted to use them with the same governance as their intranet. This is a very basic example but at least it will talk to everyone.

Yes the tool has a merit: it makes things visible, it underlines an intention. But the intention without transformative action remains only a budget spent uselessly.

The tool is the ball that makes it possible to play. But at what game? According to what rules? This is the subject of transformation. Once this subject is settled it can become digital or rather made possible or facilitated by digital thanks to a new technology or a different use of existing technologies.

The mistake is to believe that the tool leads to a transformation of usages, of practices. At an individual level, yes, it can be, at home, with one’s personal tools. Not in the company, where the tool is only the visible part of an iceberg, where rules and processes materialize. Moreover, even if some employees have an epiphany and start to change their way of doing things in areas where this does not imply a change of rules, they should not be alone. Being a few to function in a way in the middle of tens or hundreds of people who don’t change helps to convert 2 or 3, but in the end the effort is such to fight group inertia that everyone goes back to the old habits.

Your transformation tool: your head!

To make one’s digital transformation is to transform oneself digitally. And “transforming” comes first. No tool will make the one who doesn’t know where he wants to go move forward.

The first question for which no technology helps is “how do we want to operate”. Not asking it is already choosing the easy solution for a half transformation, the one that amounts to operating differently to achieve the same result.

But changing can also and sometimes above all mean changing the result that’s pursued Changing or transforming one’s profession, business model, distribution model, changing sector or tackling another. These are things that can be made possible or even necessary by the evolution of markets, which can be accomplished through technology.

But acquiring an e-commerce solution won’t make you an e-merchant unless you’ve rethought a lot of things upstream. This is the phase that will concretize your approach but it is not the whole approach, it is only a means.

So one can understand that starting with technology helps to make things visible, to show that you are making progress, but it always has a perverse effect: you suddenly focus on how to implement it instead of how to use it and, even worse, on why you want to use it and all the consequences that this entails.

When everything is transformation, nothing is transformation anymore

For all the reasons explained above, starting its transformation with technology does not work. Everyone has come to understand this by now, except the marketing departments of vendors. And customers have also come to understand that just because a solution is digital doesn’t mean that it is a tool for digital transformation, regardless of the approach adopted.

By making people believe that any digital tool is a digital transformation tool or even that it is their digital transformation, you lose all credibility, you kill a market (if it is not already dead) and you only get back the most gullible and less mature customers, those who will be the most disappointed when they see that the magic potion doesn’t work.

For the moment being, as soon as I see such oversimplifying speeches, I skip them. And I advise you to do the same.

Image : indigestion by 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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