Is 2016 the year of ‘Digital Transformation’?



If you take blogospher headlines as any kind of indicator, then 2015 was absolutely the year of ‘Big Data’.  Big data hasn’t gone anywhere, and it certainly isn’t any less valuable for marketing insights, but all of a sudden the digital community is abuzz with the sound of digital transformation. But that’s not without good reason.

What is ‘digital transformation’?

In the broadest sense, digital transformation refers to the application of digital technologies in all aspects of human society, that is to say we’re integrating technology into almost every dimension of our lives. On that basis, our existence is being transformed every day, without really trying.

[tweetable alt=””]In today’s mobile-first, cloud-first world, technology is interwoven into every aspect of our daily lives.[/tweetable]
Corporate VP, Business Ops, Strategy & Marketing, Microsoft

In terms of businesses and organisations, digital transformation can be a little bit more complex.  When you’re a big company, particularly an enterprise institution such as a blue chip brand or a government organisation, processes don’t just happen.  Determining correct operational procedure is a long and drawn-out (often painful) process, as these procedures are engrained in almost every facet of the organisation.

Because of this, as anyone who has studied or worked with operational or cultural transformation will tell you, shaking things up can be incredibly difficult.

In terms of digital transformation, this scenario becomes even more arduous as you’re inserting new technologies and brand new concepts into an already complex business ecosystem and expecting people to adapt or die (not literally).  I’ve worked with companies in which the Director is happy with using his mail client, and he’s happy with visiting a website, but the concept of web-mail is absolutely baffling.

Now try convincing men and women of this ilk that they need to implement a programmatic search campaign to compliment their print media advertising, and you may have some hurdles to leap. Digital transformation is the process of overcoming these challenges; aligning processes, technologies, human capital and over-arching strategies to meet business challenges through digital channels.

Why now?

Digital is certainly nothing new. So why the sudden explosion in businesses looking to embrace digital?

It could be that we’ve reached the proverbial tipping point in terms of the adoption of digital… it’s time to embrace digital or accept the fact that you may fall behind.

I recently attended a conference up in Edinburgh on Digital Transformation, and one of the speakers made an interesting point based on the 3rd Law of Thermodynamics.  Loosely speaking, the law states that everything in the universe wants to exist in the lowest state of energy… taking the path of least resistance.  Esther Stringer of Border Crossing Media argued that allowing oneself (or indeed ones business) to stagnate rather than consistently evolve is akin to extinction.

Kodak & Blockbuster might be inclined to agree.


So it really is time for those businesses which are failing to embrace digital to make some step-changes.  These changes don’t necessarily have to take the form of dramatic, company-wide restructuring; digital transformation is a spectrum and the changes required are relative to ones current position.  Another point made by a speaker at the DigiFutures conference (I’m pretty sure it was Cally Russell, Founder of Malzee) was that digital transformation looks different for every business.

For a long-established firm of solicitors, digital transformation could simply mean moving their documents to the cloud for collaborative editing. A relatively small change, but one which could improve efficiency / security etcetera.  At the other end of the spectrum, the Adam & Eve/DBB agency were one of the first drop the word ‘digital’ from their job titles.

‘Digital’ isn’t a subset of what we do here, just as it isn’t for consumers. It’s a part of every aspect of day-to-day life for us, just as it is for them.
Alex Hesz, Executive Interactive Director, Adam & Eve

It’s a matter of opinion whether this was simply a PR stunt or a genuine shift in culture, but regardless of their motivation the reasoning is sound; in the digital age why must the work they’re doing be pre-fixed by the term ‘digital’?  Most web developers I speak to no longer use the term responsive web design. It should be assumed that a website performs perfectly across all browsers and devices, so included the word ‘responsive’ is essentially redundant.

A further example may be the recent rise of long-established business consultancies making the foray into the digital space. Over the past few years consultancies such as Accenture have been undertaking strategic acquisitions to enhance their capability across analytics, cloud, mobility and the wider spectrum of digital.  Deloitte Digital are becoming one of the fastest growing management consulting firms specialising in digital, with a new branch set to launch in Edinburgh.

As demonstrated by the examples above, digital transformation can appear in various guises offering differing levels of impact. The point is that digital represents both threats and opportunities, which businesses can no longer afford to ignore. So don’t ignore it. 2016 is the year for Digital Transformation.

Esther’s slidedeck has been included below for reference, enjoy!