Interactive Advertising Bureau
30 September 2018

Digital Transformation: a journey rather than a destination

I will preface this by confessing that I am no expert on digital transformation. For the sake of the argument, think of me, if you will, as you would one of those organisations of a few years past; organisations which suddenly look up from their indexed notes and reports, their customer ledgers and accounting books, their Sunday paper print ads and radio spots, and suddenly realise that a new age has dawned (quite a bit of time ago), one that is fundamentally digital. Experts we have. In fact, some of them will be speaking in an upcoming webinar hosted by IAB Europe on this very topic. Digital giants and professionals whose remits span from Northern Europe to its central and southern regions will launch into a foray on digital transformation and its vital aspects. Until then, however, I will assume the role of one of the organisations of old (and new) which first come to grips with this brave new world of digital transformation.

Let’s start with the obvious: what is digital transformation? Simple enough task, seemingly; I mean the definition is right there in the two words, right? While digital transformation does indeed mean the fundamental shift of business operations to a digital environment, the process itself is so far-reaching, so complex, and so inclusive of all departments and management levels in an organisation, that it entails practices and approaches extending far beyond the limited scope of just a technological company-wide update. What was once a focus on solely digitalisation, in today’s world the striving for “achieving” digital transformation encapsulates the need for a radical change of attitude and of the way we do business. We are noticing a transition from the material - the software, equipment and technologies equated to digitalisation - towards a metamorphosis of the business mind. In fact, digital transformation is no longer a technological issue; it is a cultural shift. So let’s agree that digital transformation is the sum of all practices that an organisation implements on an ongoing basis, at all levels, to maximise efficiency and improve the bottom line in an-ever evolving digital environment. 

Ah, the bottom line! In a 2017 study by Constellation Research, 64% of organisations identified digital transformation as “essential to driving profits”. The same report had nearly 70% of respondents answer in the affirmative to the question whether they have a digital transformation strategy in place. A 2018 report by Capgemini’s Digital Transformation Institute, however, showed that only 39% of businesses feel they have the digital capabilities, and only 35% the leadership capabilities needed to make their digital transformation journey a success. It seems, therefore, that while organisations understand the importance digital transformation can have on their bottom line and are willing to spend a pretty buck to achieve it (to the tune of GBP 1.2 trillion - with a “T(r)” - worldwide by 2019), the journey itself is fraught with hardships.

While we’re on the topic of difficulty, let’s take a moment to discuss what lies at the end of the rainbow, and whether digital transformation can ever be fully achieved. You invest all these trillions - with a “T” - you hire the right CEOs and CMOs and all the other C-suite execs to drive your digital transformation, but do you ever come to a point where you go “That’s it, I am digitally transformed!”? Experts tend to agree on “not really.” That is simply because the digital environment expands, innovates and transforms at such breakneck speed that is nearly impossible to keep abreast and implement all of the technologies that could have a beneficial impact on your business. Yesterday it was VR, AR, today it’s blockchain, ML, AI, IoT, and a host of other acronyms that are probably on the verge of becoming the new digital buzzword. What is clear, however, is that digital transformation is not an end-game as much as it is continuous evolution. Quoted by WARC, Rahmyn Kress, chief digital officer at Henkel stated at dmexco that “no one is doing digital transformation particularly well”. On a scale of 1 to 5, he rated Henkel at 2 and claimed that “five does not exist,” while even four is “incredibly ambitious.” Is it difficult? Yes. Is it worth it? The experts certainly think so.    

Digital transformation is also as unique as the company implementing it, and while I will not delve into specifics that will be covered in our webinar, there are a series of common areas that are generally seen as pivotal in ensuring a company is well on its way on the digital transformation journey:

  1. Customers - a customer-centric approach is one of the main steps to be taken on the road of digital transformation. In the words of Phil Walsh for marketMogul, “the customer is always waiting to be wowed by a flawless experience. This is true whether the focus is B2B or B2C; this distinction, frankly, does not really matter when it comes to digital transformation”
  2. Culture - intrinsic to any digital transformation process is a profound cultural transformation at company level. Starting with the C-level management and down to the juniors, a culture of innovation must become ingrained. Digital literacy and a tech-first approach to business are certainly vital, but to truly embrace digital transformation business models and practices need to be (re)shaped to the core. Education and continuous training at company level will, therefore, play an integral part in any digital transformation success story.
  3. Understanding that it is a journey, not a destination - we touched upon this earlier, but it is worth noting again: digital transformation is an ongoing process, something that needs to constantly be carried out at all levels of the organisation. This entails understanding, adopting, and becoming proficient at technologies and practices which constantly evolve, which constantly transform. In the words of Richard Dunmall, MiQ, speaking on training and education at one of IAB Europe’s panels at Interact, but words which I feel are very suitable here as well, “We need to become comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

In conclusion, join us for our upcoming webinar on Digital Transformation, where leading professionals from digital, i.e. people who actually know what they’re talking about, will discuss digital transformation, with insight based on vast experience, and present concrete case studies of success stories.

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