Going Digital is One Thing, Transformation is Quite Another I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve sat in a meeting and heard about big plans to “transform” an organisation. “We’re thinking out of the box…. this is going to revolutionise our business… this time next year, we’ll be millionaires.”
Ok, so I made up that last one but you get my drift.
To “transform” means to replace old with new, to swap the tried and tested for something uncharted. It’s inherently risky and difficult – especially when public services have to be maintained. But it’s incredible how often these bold plans morph into something far less impressive.
From the sunlit uplands of an organisation transformed anew to a few processes being digitised is hardly the kind of thing likely to inspire employees or shareholders – yet this is often the reality of attempted transformations across the public and private sectors alike. So why does this happen, and what can be done about it?

Digital by default?

On the face of it, it’s not surprising that digital is so often seen as the be all and end all. From robotics to artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles to quantum computing, technology’s rapid advance shows no sign of abating.
But there needs to be far more questioning of what organisations are trying to achieve. Rather than thinking of it as something they just have to do, they should be more philosophical and ask “why?” When I’ve raised this, however, I’ve more than once been told “it’s obvious”. Actually, it isn’t.
Powerful though the digital allure may be, if the process itself is poorly designed and executed, adding on some technological nuts and bolts won’t change the fundamentals – the process will still be poorly designed and executed. And that’s not all.
Another issue is that digital change programmes can often end up getting buffeted off course. Perhaps the process has dragged on and new technologies have come on stream, or new stakeholders have come in and demanded a fresh direction. Or maybe the transformation means something different to different teams – those delivering it can have an alternative opinion to those back at head office. I’m speaking from experience.
I remember all too well the experience of putting huge effort into architecturally “good” designs only to discover they weren’t what the business needed or had costed for because the original business driver hadn’t been well communicated – extremely disheartening for a team that had worked hard on something for months.
This is one of the reasons why I moved into enterprise architecture from being a technical architect. And it’s why the concept of user-centric and consultative design is so essential in giving the programme strong foundations and helping it remain true to its aims.
Alignment – from the leadership teams to the frontline – is also absolutely critical. This is particularly so when it comes to designing complex digital processes in what is often a fast-changing and unpredictable environment – fully trained and certified engineers are a pre requisite.

Eyes on the prize

All of this feels like deja-vu to me. I’m pretty sure I said the same things when companies desperately wanted to get online – further proof that digital change is a continuous evolution. So while it is certainly part of a transformation programme, leaders need to think bigger if they are truly to turn their reforming zeal into bold reality.

Mivy James

Digital Transformation Director, BAE Systems Applied Intelligence