Challenging the Overuse and Misuse of ‘Digital Transformation’

Lately, digital transformation has picked up a lot of momentum, but not without some kickback from technology leaders.
Emily Koelsch
Contributing Writer
digital transformation for leadership

No industry loves to create and use buzzwords more than the tech industry. Part of the current culture in the sector involves coining and throwing around new and edgy buzzwords. While many of these are helpful and catchy, they can also be painfully overused.

Besides being tiresome to hear, buzzwords that are overused often become misused, misunderstood, and poorly defined. The result is the terms can become at best meaningless and at worst a source of confusion and miscommunication. 

Digital transformation is a buzzword that increasingly falls in the category of being painfully overused and which some CIOs even refer to as “cringeworthy”. Yet, like the term or not, digital transformations are an essential part of the current environment and a key component of most businesses’ future plans and development. 

With that in mind and to avoid making this just another meaningless buzzword, it’s important for leaders to understand what a digital transformation actually means for their business and to clearly define it for their team.  

What Do You Mean by Digital Transformation? 

Put simply and broadly, a digital transformation means the integration of digital technology into all aspects of a business, changing the way the company operates and meets customers’ needs. A digital transformation requires a clear plan and map for how the business will shift from physical systems and processes to digital ones. 

When making this shift, businesses need to start with a clear objective for what the transformation will do. This can stem from a problem statement, a customer need, or a business goal. From this initial objective, there should be specific steps for how to meet this objective. 

This means that rather than using digital transformation in a vague or abstract way, you use it to refer to a clear strategy for making major shifts in how your business operates. 

To make this type of change, it’s obviously important to have all of the necessary technology and tools in place, including network performance, the right software, and data analytics. However, it’s also essential to have the right cultural mindset and leadership. 

In order to make progress towards a digital transformation, you need a team that is committed to the challenges, failures, creativity, and discomfort that come with it. Plus, you need leaders that are ready for the challenges and setbacks that are inevitably part of the transformation.  

How to Make Sure Digital Transformation Doesn’t Become a Useless Buzzword for Your Team 

As important as the concept of digital transformations is for businesses, the truth is that the phrase has made it to the top of the list of buzzwords that most leaders have come to ignore, hate, or misunderstand. RackSpace’s CTO, Lee James, explains the problem well – “Digital Transformation has undoubtedly reached buzzword status, to the point where it has lost its true meaning and become surrounded by misconceptions. This, in effect, means many are left in the dark on how to actually do digital transformation.” 

Jonquil Hackenburg of Infosys Consulting similarly has frustrations with the phrase – “I am allergic to the term ‘digital transformation,’” he says. “It’s beyond a buzzword. What does it even mean beyond the walls of consultations and boardrooms?” 

Part of the reason it’s become such a misused buzzword is that the term is intentionally broad because it means different things for different companies. What it means to integrate digital technology throughout a business can look very different from one team to the next. 

In fact, the term “digital,” in and of itself, can be a word that leads to miscommunication. Jim Swanson, CIO of Johnson & Johnson, warns that “Digital is a loaded word that means many things to many people.” The best way to unload what this means is to clearly define exactly what the process entails for your team. Swanson advises, “when you discuss digital transformation, unpack what it means.” 

The key to making sure the term doesn’t lose its value is defining exactly what digital transformation means for your business.

Buzzword or Not, Digital Transformations Are Happening Across All Industries 

Regardless of how you feel about the term, the reality is that businesses are being forced to make shifts towards digital technology in order to survive. Changing customer expectations increased market demands, and supply chain issues have been just a few factors in the last year that have put pressure on companies to be more agile and responsive. 

In the current market, making the shift towards digital processes and systems is necessary not just for businesses to thrive but also to enable them to survive. So, rather than banning the use of the word digital transformation in your workplace, take some time to define it. This will involve explaining exactly what a digital transformation will look like for your business, why it’s necessary, and the role that your team members will have in the process.

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