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So, what is digital transformation?
What do you think of when you hear the term “DT”? Design technology? Or more often than not nowadays: Digital transformation.
But what does this actually mean? I am sure we all understand the word “digital”, and I’m sure we’ve all come across “transformation” at some time in projects or programmes, so putting the two together should make complete sense, shouldn’t it?
Well, an article in CIO magazine stated that “lack of consensus on what digital transformation means… was cited by 35% of executives as a key barrier to achieving its full digital potential.” To be honest, this doesn’t surprise me – as in my experience, organisations undertaking transformational change often don’t fully understand what it means, what is involved or what the benefits will be as a result from doing it.
Which is why when I ask people if they have heard of “transformation” I often get wry smiles, shudders and heavy sighs. I often joke at this point that I consider the word “transformation” as the project management equivalent of “Macbeth” or “Voldemort” (depending on your literary standpoint) – just uttering the word seems to bring bad luck!
Charles Darwin in his book “The Origin of Species” is (wrongly, depending on what you read) attributed to the phrase: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change”. Often known more commonly as “survival of the fittest”.
In today’s digital disruption and digital transformation, this phrase has never seemed more appropriate.
The Kodak story
I often ask people, “What’s the only constant in life?” and, depending on the time of day, I get varied answers: if it's late afternoon when people are tired, I get “death” (at which point I either think about starting a philosophical discussion on death, or ending the session – I usually plump for the latter). And if early morning, I usually get a reply of “change”, which is the response I was looking for. Change is omnipresent and we either embrace it or deny it - and we deny it at our peril (both individually and organisationally).
Take Kodak as a classic example. According to Forbes: “There are few corporate blunders as staggering as Kodak’s missed opportunities in digital photography, a technology that it invented,” and “Kodak management’s inability to see digital photography as a disruptive technology… would continue for decades.” Once a household name in photography, it filed for bankruptcy in 2012.
So, Kodak didn’t adapt to digital disruption and didn’t transform themselves to be ready for changing market demands and consumer habits - and it didn’t survive. Fast forward to today, and we see more digital disruption than ever before: Cloud, artificial intelligence, Big Data, automation, and who knows what the future will bring.
And there are some success stories also: Amazon, for example, is probably the best example of how an organisation has used digital technology to disrupt the market.
Organisations have to be able to see the need to adapt, and want to adapt, yet change is hard – primarily as it involves people, and people will feel differently about change.
The carrot or the stick?
Kotter, in his famous 8-step model, has step 1 as “create a sense of urgency”. Certainly “survive or corporately die” would generate a sense of urgency (for me, anyhow), and this is more the “stick” than the “carrot” when it comes to change.
How many organisations change because they see it as the best thing to do, or to exploit a competitive position – the “carrot”? I don’t know (being honest), yet I would say from experience this is a harder catalyst for change than the “stick”.
Either way, organisations can’t get away from ensuring their workforce is equipped to meet the changing digital landscape – it will be your people that navigate you through the digital “choppy waters”.
Innovators or laggards?
Throw in Rogers’s “Diffusion of Innovations” theory, which is a model that classifies adopters of innovations into various categories, based on the idea that certain individuals are inevitably more open to adaption than others, and digital change is especially difficult!
Rogers’ theory says that:
Innovators are those people who explore new ideas and technologies and constitute 2.5% of the population. Early Adopters make up another 13.5% of the population and are, as the name suggests, people who will be receptive to change and embrace new ideas and technologies readily.
Moving through the Early Majority (34%, the followers who will be swayed by the Early Adopters), and the Late Majority (34% - the sceptics, who are not keen on change and will typically do things through FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out), Rogers finally describes the Laggards – the 16% who will typically only take on new ideas and technologies when there are no other alternatives.
Or as I understand it, the Innovators and Early Adopters are those people queuing from midnight to be the first in line to get the new gadget, whereas Laggards only moved to digital phones when analogue phones were no longer an option. We can see how undertaking digital transformation will be strongly influenced by Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovations.
How would you classify yourself and your organisation according to Rogers? An Innovator? Early Adopter? Early Majority? Late Majority? Laggard?
How does an organisation build its workforce for the digital future?
What I find is very common with organisations when considering this question, is they jump straight into: “What courses can you offer in Cloud, Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, Automation…?” This, to me, is suggesting a solution when they haven’t figured out the problem.
Let’s reverse engineer this for a moment: To know you need a course in x, you must know you have a skills gap in x, and to know you have a skills gap in x, you must have done a gap analysis, and to have done a gap analysis, you must first have known what skills and roles your organisation needs (now and for the future), and this will be based in part or full on some form of industry insight or capability framework to help identify the skills (ideally).
Make sense? Yet, how to start when you don’t know what skills or roles you need? The good news is that help is at hand. At QA we have a whole team of experts – Organisational Consultancy, a well-defined engagement approach and industry-leading tools to help organisations build their human capital and sustainable workforce of the future.
At the end of the day, "the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step” (Lao Tzu), and if you need help taking your first step, get in contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
About QA Group
QA helps individuals and organisations achieve their potential through world-class Learning Strategy and Solutions. This includes: training and certification, innovative Talent Solutions that solve both business critical skills and capability gaps, Business Transformation solutions, enabling change and transformation through engagement and education of workforces, and Managed Learning Services. In addition, QA provides consultancy, apprenticeships and post graduate degrees on a range of technical, business and leadership subjects. With over 22 UK training centres – including Apprenticeships, Consulting and Cyber Academies – and a range of online learning options, QA offers an unparalleled set of learning solutions to both private and public sector organisations.
Dr Ian Clarkson
Ian has worked with some of the world's largest organisations in all sectors and has been with QA for 16 years.
He was an author of the APM BoK 6 and a referenced reviewer to the most recent update to the PRINCE2 and MSP publications. Ian was on the technical advisory board for the development of the APM Higher Apprenticeship in Project Management, and also for the update to the APM suite of certifications for BoK 6. Ian is a regular blogger, podcaster, and contributor to the APM as well as the Project Manager Today magazine.
When he’s not helping organisations transform, Ian reads the latest articles and research on the topic. Maybe he should just get out more instead!
More articles by Dr Ian
It's project managers' time to shine
Does your technology adoption game plan include project managers? It should
Artificial intelligence, project management and the skills we'll need in 2030
Digital Transformation: Rise of the Machines
The project manager and small business owner: we need more entrepreneurial thinking
PRINCE2 versus APM Certifications: Don't be a silly billy... The Billy Bookcase analogy
Is project management in your DNA?
I'm OK – You're OK: How to have adult-adult conversations in the workplace
Gains and losses: What are your prospects for a successful project?
Project leadership advice from George Michael