I have found Forbes to be a pretty reliable barometer of change in the digital world over the last few years. My interest was truly piqued when I read through their ‘Top ten trends in digital transformation for 2018’ article.
I agree with all of them. In particular, though, there are three that stand out to me as the real barriers to success when it comes to any organisation truly delivering effective digital transformation (or digital evolution, as we prefer to describe it).
“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”
- Chinese Proverb
1. Failure as a Service
A vast amount of large, public sector organisations shy away from failure. It’s not in their DNA to accept it, which of course, is their first barrier to real digital evolution.
Agile, fail fast thinking is deeply ingrained in most digitally-centric young companies. They know, that in this day and age of rapid change you need to try and fail, test and iterate, in order to succeed. To many long-standing organisations and businesses, this is simply an anathema to their board, the senior team and their long-serving staff. The notion of failure is simply not conscionable. They, therefore, stagnate, standing still whilst the young guns fail and iterate, then get it right and thrive.
This is a deeply embedded cultural issue that must be met head-on and dealt with quickly and decisively. If any organisation wants to survive in this digital era, they have to embrace change, thrive in adaptation, relish the challenge and commit to never standing still.
The “we’ve always done it this way” mantra is no longer valid. Yet it still prevails in many older companies and organisations. Anyone that feels uncomfortable with change, with new ways of doing old things; trying, failing and then iterating to try again, is unlikely to fit into a digitally centric business. The next generation that is entering the workplace are actively seeking a change centred environment; because it’s all they know. The latest tech, the latest communications channel, the latest trend in social media, the always-on, the always-connected Internet of Things (IoT); this is what excites them, it gets them out of bed in the morning and motivates them to be part of something dynamic and challenging.
The long-term members of staff - those that remember the good old days of letter writing, phone calls and three days to respond (guilty as charged) - need to spin up and embrace this brave new world of connected tech, wearables and data. The alternative is to be left behind by the young upstarts, the new entrants, the businesses and organisations that do.
The danger though, is that in embracing all the new shiny tech and digital everything, of failing fast, of being agile, is that the experience, expertise and plain knowledge of an organisation, business et al is lost. The key then for success, is actually bringing that experience and enthusiasm for change together into a meaningful whole. That’s a cultural challenge that needs everyone on board.
3. Who leads this?
The third real barrier is everyone waiting for someone else to lead on all this. It’s going to be messy, it’s going to require leadership, resilience, persistence, humility and an acceptance that changing the business is likely to change you just as much. This is why there is rarely a stampede of volunteers.
Boards, senior teams, even middle managers or indeed staff doing the do, need to stop waiting for that one person. Indeed, from our experience, there needs to be a coalition of the willing, a coordinated approach that marries the technical with the cultural, with the collaborative. Someone, somewhere, needs to start pulling that coalition together, being the agent of change, starting that disruption. Find them and help them. Only then can a larger organisation truly have a successful run at digital transformation.
It is everyone's, and not one person's, responsibility. By working as a team, by leaning on each other, by learning from each other and by hiring in those skills that your team doesn't have, teams and organisations can deliver the success that digital evolution can bring.
So, yes, AI, AR, Edge computing, Data, 5G and analytics are all massively important trends for next year. But the fundamentals remain the same - learn to enjoy failing. If, as the saying goes, you can’t change the people then change the people and accept joint responsibility, don't wait for someone else to do it. Don’t hang around though; “digital transformation is a must in 2018” according to Forbes, so get planting that tree.
After Digital has multiple digital evolution roadmaps and supporting business cases for Plc’s, arts, utilities and global organisations.