Digital Transformation – A CIO’s Perspective

Does digital transformation mean the same thing to all of us?
Harsha Bellur
Contributing CIO

The Oxford dictionary defines language as “A system of communication used by a particular country or community

Anyone who has spent time in the technology community can attest to the fact that we have our own language. In fact, it’s a common phrase we have heard from our business partners “we don’t understand IT speak”, or some flavor of it. Our vocabulary has such words as Cloud, IoT, Big Data, AI, Digital Transformation to name a few.

Do we have a common understanding of our own “language”?

In this article, I want to explore the idea of Digital Transformation. What does it really mean? Is it “Technology in Business” or “Business with Technology”?

As IT leaders, we have spent our careers implementing technologies to increase productivity and efficiency while reducing costs. These are enabled through improvements in existing business processes and sometimes the transformation of business processes.

So, what is new about digital transformation?

Let’s examine a few known changes we all have experienced. Which of the following represents a “Digital Transformation”?

  1. Move from mail-in DVD’s to streaming services
  2. Reducing cost per seat to fly an astronaut from $390M(Apollo) to $55M (SpaceX Dragon)
  3. Telemedicine
  4. Ordering groceries on your phone

I’d submit all the above. The commonality here is the change in the way the product or service is consumed. In other words, the intent and impact of the digital transformation are not to internal stakeholders, but to the organization’s customer. Of course, there are many internal aspects such as Culture, Talent, Technologies, and Platforms that may need to change to drive this transformation.  

Does it mean you are losing ground or that your business is at risk if you are not actively pursuing digital transformation?  

The answer is…it depends. Every business is different and, as such, has a different level of digital needs. Gartner refers to this as Techquilibrium, a balancing point where the enterprise has the right mix of traditional and digital capabilities and assets to power the business model needed to compete most effectively in an industry that is being digitally revolutionized.

Digital Transformation is ultimately about delivering customer experiences and value with products and services in a unique way. This can manifest as a breakthrough change that creates a product or service of higher quality at a lower cost, or as a big change where the product or service is delivered in a totally new way.

The language of Digital Transformation is something we all speak, no doubt. However, successful organizations will require this language be spoken beyond our (IT) community. The real opportunity for IT leaders is to champion this change by educating and informing the rest of the organization.

Can we get our business peers to understand (and speak) the language?

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