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Digital business transformation

Digital business transformation is a silly term. It’s a catch phrase we use to market our organisations in a vain attempt to show how contemporary we are and how able we are to help with current changes in organisations but really all we are doing is riding on the bandwagon of an outdated mindset. Digital media, Digital Marketing, everything has to have digital in the name as if that makes what we do current. It’s our industries “i” as in iPhone and iPod but unlike the “i” label it is actually starting to harm us. 20 years after the first commercial banner appeared on the scene, digital is not just a part of business, it underlies everything. But it is not everything. Therefore, I argue that using the label “digital” is superfluous and misleading. It’s like when someone asks you what you do for a living and you reply: “oh, I work in work”. You’re not really narrowing it down anymore. While at the same time claiming a too narrow specialism to solve transformative challenges. A paradox that can be solved.

We complain that we find it hard to get to the right stakeholders, the c suit, the real decision makers, yet we fail to realise that this is the result of our own shortsightedness. The heads of organisations do not need a “digital” business transformation what they need is more holistic. Sure, the current shifts are driven by digital but that does not make the solution a digital one. The reality is more complex and needs something that encompasses a whole array of connected areas. We have spent 2 decades convincing everyone of how specialised and focused the field of digital is that using the same specialised label to solve current broad business challenges is a nonsense. We hope that by using this rather narrow terminology we can convince our clients that digital can address the broad challenges that their organisations face but it can’t. We all know that the required evolution of today’s organisations goes beyond digital, the necessary solutions need to tackles not just the technology side of things they also need to address processes, organisational culture, leadership and employee mindsets to name a few. We can argue that all of these are part of digital transformation but isn’t that more like shoehorning established management consultancy disciplines into our digital sphere. Would it not be better to acknowledge that the breadth required to solve current organisational challenges lie in large part outside of the digital realm and that digital has instead become a necessary part of the whole. A small but important mindset shift.

Don’t lead with digital, lead with business. Breaking down established silos, for example, seem to me much bigger challenge in current organisational evolution then implementing new technology. Yes, digital is an important element but only one element. So, instead of riding in on our high horses and proclaiming to be the masters of digital business transformation we should focus on the more important and holistic transformation of business, acknowledging its many different facets. Thereby negating the current pushed out of the grand hall, down the corridor and into the corner room where the digital folk live. Being advised that these are the right people for us to talk too. And all because we had to have digital in the name. Of course, I jest in regard to the location of the digital folk, many now live on the same floors as the rest of the departments but the point remains the same. If we are looking for a seat at the big boys table and we want to help organisations work “on” the business and not somewhere “in” the business then we need to stop labeling everything with digital and change our approach to be a more inclusive and strategic one. We need to start talking about the challenges business leaders actually face and stop talking about the small elements and buzzwords that we think sound special. Unless of course you want to stay where we are then carry on but then we need to stop complaining that we are not talking to the right level within the organisation.

Of course you can argue that it is called „Digital Business Transformation“ because it acknowledges that the current shifts are driven by digital but is that how it is perceived when you hand over your business card? Is it not „Business Transformation“ that we are looking to offer? I for one believe that I am helping transform business in a digital world and not digital in a business world.