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  • Ryan Halloran

Stop Saying ‘Digital Transformation’

TL;DR

Nothing about the recent corporate catchphrase ‘Digital Transformation’ is new or groundbreaking. The idea of ‘Digital Transformation’ has been around since the proliferation of personal computers into the corporate environment in the mid-to-late 1980s. Organizations of all scales have been working to shift from manual procedures to computer-based automated processes for decades and doing so with great success. Please – stop talking about ‘Digital Transformation’ like it’s some groundbreaking concept – it isn’t.


REVISITING THE PAST

Over the last eighteen months, if I had a nickel for every time I heard the catchphrase ‘Digital Transformation’, there is a significant likelihood Warren Buffett and I would now be extremely close friends. Don’t get me wrong – there have been plenty of technological breakthroughs over the better part of the last thirty years and there is no point in my taking space to list them. However, this idea of a “transformative period where companies are hyper-focused on shifting antiquated processes to fully digital, automated technologies” is, frankly, a misnomer. Further, if we truly evaluate where we have been, the idea of “Digital Transformation” is actually, in and of itself, laughable.

On a macro level, consider the progression of technology from the mid-1980s to today.

The year is 1985. The first PC war has begin – IBM PC, Apple Macintosh, Commodore 64, and several other prominent companies are jockeying for dominance with their version of the personal computer. Software is being written for every element of business. Organizations of every size within nearly every vertical are making significant investment in both hardware and software under the guise these new tools will increase productivity, reduce operating costs and error, and streamline processes across their organization.

Sound familiar? Sound similar to what this new catchphrase of the 2010s is promising? It should.


DISPENSING WITH A SUPPOSED REVOLUTIONARY IDEA

Every decade has shown technological progress coupled with its application to both Corporate and Consumer verticals. The growth is well-documented as exponential, and will continue according to the principles set forth in Moore’s Law. With these developments in technology, the ability to digitize more and more complex processes has been completed in a direct, similarly exponential, relationship. Yes – I’m stating the obvious. Most everyone with even a basic understanding of computing is well-aware of these concepts, even if they don’t know the specifics to support the concepts.

Whether hardware, software, or any other kind of technology, companies have been working for decades to simplify and automate processes. You can list them off the top of your head – IBM, Microsoft, SAP, Apple, Oracle, ADP, Salesforce, Citrix, and a laundry list of others – have made millions upon billions of dollars developing the means and vehicles for simplifying the work done by public and private sector workers. Word Processing, Spreadsheets, Presentations, CRM, VMS, and this list goes on and on and on and on – literally. These are all solutions created explicitly to digitize and simplify previously manual or time consuming processes.

So if this has been going on since the mid-to-late 1980s, what’s the fuss about? Why has this idea of ‘Digital Transformation’ caught fire throughout Corporate America?


ACKNOWLEDGING THE TRUTH & MOVING FORWARD

‘Digital Transformation’ is nothing more than a cute catchphrase created by CIOs, CTOs, supposed ‘Digital Innovators’, and large-scale consulting firms (read: Accenture, Deloitte, et al) to justify capital expenditure within an organization. It’s a sexy way to internally (or externally) market investing dollars into work that has been going on for decades already. Are those dollars justified? Certainly. Should organizations be leveraging technology to identify ways to improve and streamline their operations? Absolutely.

Does this work which has already been going on for decades really need a separate umbrella title under which the work should live? No – not even remotely.

Look, by no means am I denigrating this kind of work. Rather, it’s the foundation of what Red Star Consulting does for our clients! The point of this post is to ask people to see this idea of ‘Digital Transformation’ for what it really is – a cute corporate catchphrase which genuinely has no meaning other than putting a new name on the same old face.

If you really want to discuss ‘revolutionary ideas’ for how to make a technologically positive impact on the organizations of today, how’s about we start to look into how C-Level Executives become better versed in technology.

Hmmm… sounds like a good idea for my next blog post.

But for now, enough with the ‘Digital Transformation’ stuff. When working with partners, vendors, and/or consultants, be careful if you hear this term. Let this blog post ring in your ears!

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