Digital transformation is all around us. Even if you are living under a rock, I am sure you have great Wi-Fi reception and are still able to do your shopping, pay your bills, access entertainment (which is especially important because life under the rock can be boring), and pretty much do everything else you can think of, with just a computer or a smart device with internet access.
Things get even more interesting if you are professional of any sort because enterprises of every size, shape and industry are getting into the business of digital transformation, with nine in 10 respondents to ISACA’s 2018 Digital Transformation Barometer research indicating that they are involved in some form of digital transformation, often through the lens of discovering opportunities for efficiency (cost savings), growth (new revenue streams and increased agility) and effective customer engagement. The same survey indicates that 36 percent of enterprises are looking to deploy big data within the next year, 33 percent are looking to deploy the public cloud and 27 percent are forging into artificial intelligence (AI).
Anecdotally, it might seem that technology adoption is nothing new and could be triggered by something as simple as the CEO hearing about a new technology in some industry forum and deciding that her organization must also adopt it, or competition adopting such technologies and forcing enterprises to also adopt technologies or perish, and even, interestingly, sometimes by customers who may clamor for it, a classic example being social media banking. ISACA’s 2018 Digital Transformation Barometer indicates that, in reality, digital transformation is driven by brave industry leaders intending to make the necessary changes, alter organizational culture and make the requisite investment to ensure that their organization survives in the digital future.
As someone who has been fortunate enough to sit ringside as enterprises transform digitally, it is interesting to note that clarity on several fronts is often missing, making digital transformation fraught with perils and increasing the probability of failure. The ISACA research reinforces that organizations that are ahead of the digital transformation curve tend to be those that are less risk-averse when it comes to considering, testing and adopting emerging, transformative technologies.
A key aspect that can decide the success or failure of digital transformation efforts is clarity from the board and senior management of the whys and whats of the transformation effort. For digital transformation to be successful, alignment of the transformation, with a clear understanding of the value that will be delivered to all stakeholders, especially the customer, is required. This may seem intuitive, but this alignment is often not discussed in detail, and poor articulation of what this alignment means in practice leads to failure. Clearly articulating what this alignment means at various levels of the organization goes a long way to ensuring success.
Another aspect, which is often overlooked, is that digital transformation must be accompanied by transformation in business processes, meaning that simply applying technology to an existing business process will only lead to automation. For the envisaged digital transformation to be successful, radical rethinking of underlying business processes may be required so that, combined with the right technology, the results will be transformative.
Often when industry and technology intersect without an understanding of the realities of that intersection, the results are not pretty. Robust testing and the thorough understanding of technology such testing enables goes a long way toward technology adoption delivering transformative results. The aforementioned culture change that forward-thinking leaders try to engineer can also help in overcoming organizational resistance to change – especially the kind of change the digital transformation may bring in its wake.
Organizations with high levels of digital literacy, meaning organizations where leadership is perceived as having a solid understanding of the technologies, the benefits of the technology, and the associated risks, are shown by the research to have a higher propensity to succeed in their pursuit of digital transformation. A related aspect is that of being able to look at the risks associated with the digital transformation, both in terms of the inherent risks of such initiatives and the risks from the technologies themselves. Here again, digital literacy seems to go a long way in smoothing the road, with the perceptions of a particular technology being risky dropping substantially in organizations with digitally literate leaders.
Last but not least, for digital transformation to be successful, security must be given its due, especially in the context of adopting technologies such as AI, public cloud and IoT. Organizations must ensure that security is prioritized with the appropriate mix of security policies, practices and technologies adopted throughout the digital transformation efforts to mitigate risks as they arise.