Too often, terms like “disruption,” “paradigm shift,” “pivot,” and “synergy” are used to dazzle and obscure, dressing up simple concepts in fancy verbiage to make a sales pitch sound more impressive.
While it’s easy to make fun of buzzwords—see Weird Al’s Mission Statement and Elmo’s thoughts on ideation—we’d like to dive into a pet term of ours that’s easily dismissed as jargon, but really just needs a bit more definition: digital transformation.
Defining Digital Transformation
What does “digital transformation” mean? It’s not a new phrase, but it’s never been more popular, with interest spiking over the last few years.
To oversimplify it, it’s just making your business better by integrating the latest and greatest technology into everything you do—getting smarter and more powerful websites, apps, and software solutions to change the way you do business.
But “digital transformation” means more than updating your technology.
It’s not your tech that’s transforming—it’s your business.
And it’s not about one big lurching leap forward—it’s getting your business to a place where it’s always changing and continually evolving for the better.
A State of Constant Transformation
Yes, updating your business model and workflows to match the modern environment is key. Cloud computing, collaboration tools, Big Data analytics, and mobile engagement are all critical advancements that can benefit almost every business.
That’s all fine and dandy—but it’s not digital transformation. As pointed out by Galen Grumen in InfoWorld, digital transformation really means making your business more adaptive, agile, and “fungible.”
Now, fungibility isn’t the prettiest or most precise word, but it does speak to a key concept: you’re not just changing some features of your business once, you’re changing the very nature of your business—empowering it to continually evolve. In Galen’s words, “fungibility is an intrinsic characteristic, not a force imposed by an external source. Transformation is the act of making substantive change; fungibility is the intrinsic ability to be substantively changed."
Two Analogies About Digital Transformation
Phew. That’s a fair bit of abstract nuance, and this is a blog, not Philosophy 201, so let’s bring things back to earth.
The distinction we’re trying to spotlight is the difference between an iPhone and a Google search.
Think about it: you get a new iPhone. It’s shiny, spotless, snaps to life, and speedily runs your favorite apps. Time goes by, apps get bigger, smartphones get better, and soon you’re stuck with a clunker that’s slow to respond and out of style. So, what do you do? You scrap it and pay a premium price for the latest iPhone—rinse and repeat.
Now think about Google.com. The search engine has come a long way since 1999—but it never got old, you never had to scrap it, and it never underwent a radical refresh one day (well, aside from its logo). Bit by bit, often behind the scenes, Google kept adding new features, offering fresh options, improving its algorithms, and enhancing its experience for users’ evolving needs—from mobile design, to voice search, to predictive answers.
That’s the way your business should change—not in fits and starts or through expensive, staggered updates, but as a smooth, unbroken ascent, always adapting to the world around it.
Why is this such an important distinction? Because: while the exact direction of innovation is unpredictable, the pace isn’t. Things move fast. Most tech solutions become static and calcify quickly while the world outruns them.
It’s like that old chestnut: give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and he’ll never go hungry again.
Update your business tech, and you’ll reap the rewards… for a time. You’ll ride the latest wave for a few years before it crashes over your head and rolls past.
Instead, empower your business to transform itself and you’ll always be riding the crest of the latest tech wave. That’s true digital transformation.
A Tale of Two Transformations
Unless you’re stuck in a Bill Murray movie or running your kid’s lemonade stand, your business is bound to transform. It’s inevitable. There are two ways to approach your business’s digital transformation.
First, you could do what most companies do: making periodic overhauls every half-dozen years. Change will be painful and probably require handholding from management. Your company’s capabilities will be largely static, punctuated by sharp spikes as you catch up, catch your breath for a few years, then break back into a sprint.
Like unboxing your new iPhone, you’ll be ahead of the competition for a brief shining moment. Then the world will creep up, you’ll lose your luster, and one day you’ll find yourself behind the pack again. If that sounds exhausting, it’s because it is.
You could also do things differently. Following Google’s path, you could equip your business for smaller, shorter, and smoother updates.
When the industry takes a turn, you’ll be there hugging the inside corner. When customers start behaving differently, you’ll be the first to meet their new needs. Changes will be easier, and your flexible, agile company will always be on the frontline of the cutting edge.
True Digital Transformation Comes at a (Short-Term) Cost
By now, the benefits of a “fungible,” transformative business should be obvious. What’s less clear is how you get there. That’s where agencies like DOOR3 come in, of course.
You don’t have to understand all of the back-end engineering to know that building adaptable, future-proof tech solutions isn’t easy. More to the point: it’s invariably more expensive, and might take longer to get off the ground. It’s the difference between doing something and doing something right.
In reality, though, you shouldn’t think of it as an expense at all—it’s an investment. Transforming your business so it can continue to evolve might cost more upfront, but it’s far more cost-effective over time.
Instead of making major, clunky updates and replacing entrenched legacy systems every few years, you’ll save time and money by making incremental, agile adjustments as you go.
It Takes Two to Tango
Of course, this can’t be a wholly one-sided affair: it’s not simply a matter of flexible technology. Your business can’t stand pat as your tech spins circles around it—your workflows and practices need to adjust, as well.
That’s why it’s so crucial to maintain a dialogue between your technology, users, and business goals. When all work in concert, your company will work like never before.
Digital transformation may not be obvious, easy, or cheap—but the payoff is well worth it.
Sure, the future is uncertain, but you can be certain of that uncertainty. So do your best to embrace it by making your business more adaptive and open to change.
You might miss the thrill of unboxing that shiny new object, but your agile tech will be there to capitalize on new opportunities as they emerge and evolve. True digital transformation is the key to a future-proof business.