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This is the first of a three part series of guest blog posts on digital transformation  from Neil Ward-Dutton, co-founder and Research Director at MWD Advisors. Neil recently talked to us about the power of ‘digital threads’, that utilise modern, open technologies to weave together organizational silos, in a recent webinar. You can watch ‘Connecting the Digital Threads: What’s Powering Digital Transformation in forward-thinking organizations?’ on-demand now. Now, over to Neil…

Digital transformation is a subject on every executive’s lips – no matter what industry they’re in. Organisations from sectors as diverse as financial services, retail, utilities and logistics see the threats posed by new digital natives entering their marketplaces. They want to find ways to protect against those threats – while at the same time improving the experiences they deliver to customers, improving their operational efficiency and agility, and driving more innovation into their products and services.

However, even though a great many executives consider digital transformation as a top priority, in our research work we’ve found very little real agreement between executives – even between executives in the same organisation – about what ‘Digital transformation’ actually means.

Digital transformation: the what and the how

There are two ways to read the phrase ‘digital transformation’, and they’re both crucially important to understand:

  • Digital transformation is about the transformation of an organisation’s technology estate so that it takes maximum advantage of relevant digital technologies – to enable it to co-ordinate business resources as economically efficiently as possible. You can think of this as ‘transformation to digital’.
  • Digital transformation is about the transformation of an organisation’s end-to-end approach to using and gaining benefit from technology – using tools and techniques that have been proven to be effective in digital-native organisations. You can think of this as ‘transforming digitally’.

Very often, we see that organisations focus exclusively on the first bullet point above. They explore how they can adopt new technology platforms: looking at how to use cloud, mobile, social, big data and analytics technologies (with more new technologies seemly arriving every week).

This – the ‘what’ of digital transformation – is only one side of the story though. What’s more, it tends to lead organisations to the conclusion that digital transformation involves a ‘one and done’ program of work. The more fundamental side of the story is actually the ‘how’ of digital transformation; the second bullet above. Really grasping this makes organisations realise that digital transformation requires a much deeper systemic change.

The nature of change is changing

When we look at the change playbooks of digital natives, we see that they use strategies like these:

  • No more big bangs. Start small, and deliver demonstrable results quickly.
  • No more silos. Work collaboratively across team and department boundaries with common goals.
  • No more ‘we know what we want’. Experiment with new developments, using real data to understand the results of those experiments, and only further develop those options that are shown to be valuable by the data.
  • No more ‘build vs run’. Think like a product business when making technology-enabled business changes; don’t think about delivering projects, then hand the results over to completely separate support teams – but instead think about everyone working together to deliver product-like capabilities to the business with planned future release and feature roadmaps.

Digital natives use these strategies because they’re born from the perspective that change is constant, change must be embraced, and change must be fast and confident. We should all know why that perspective is valuable.

What digital natives are showing us is that in the era of digital resource abundance, the nature of business and technology change is itself changing. Organisations that are aggressively embracing digital technologies and platforms see change as needing to be continuous; part of ‘business as usual’. They see that change needs to be incremental and driven by experimentation, rather than being periodic and planned in isolation from operational reality.

Platforms for digital-era change

Digital natives operate their businesses on platforms that enable a virtuous cycle of instrumentation and optimisation. Digital-enabled products and services are instrumented and measured, revealing patterns of use and opportunities for improvement; customer interactions and operations are integrated, enabling seamless customer experiences; and the whole environment is managed so that changes can be made at scale, and quickly.

In other words: ‘digital native’ organisations build their business capabilities on digital platforms that enable them to do three core things in parallel, in an integrated way:

  • Build and deploy new capabilities quickly.
  • Measure what works and doesn’t work.
  • Make changes quickly, based on measurement and feedback.

The power of model-driven tools

Good ‘model-driven’, low-code application development platforms fulfil all these requirements, and also enable organisations to work collaboratively to achieve their goals.

Because they work from logical, usually visual, models of application behaviour – rather than requiring developers to write thousands of lines of code – the applications they deliver can be developed in the open, and collaboratively.

What’s more, making changes to the behaviour of applications – whether at the user experience, workflow, business rules or data management level – is easier to do with confidence, at scale and speed than it is if you rely on extensive custom coding.

If you’re seriously exploring how to enable real digital transformation in your organisation, a model-driven, low-code application development platform like this is a major asset. Many technology specialists may prefer to go their own way, using their own favourite collections of personal tools – but in situations like this, the results of their efforts will be difficult to sustain over time.

Model-driven, low-code tools make it easier to sustain productivity over time in the face of change; and what’s more, they enable broader sections of your organisation’s workforce to participate in design and development work intimately, because they don’t require anything like the same level of technical knowledge to understand and use.

In the second part of this series, we’ll look at how the common entry point for digital transformation – customer experience improvement – drives the need to create ‘digital threads’. In the last part, we’ll look at the technology requirements for digital business platforms that help to pull all this together.

About Neil Ward-Dutton

Neil is MWD Advisors‘ co-founder and Research Director, and is one of Europe’s most experienced and high-profile IT industry analysts. His areas of expertise include business process management (BPM), enterprise architecture (EA), Cloud computing and digital strategy. Neil acts as an advisor to large organisations across a range of sectors and industries as diverse as FSI, retail, utilities and government, as well as to leading technology vendors. Neil was this year’s keynote speaker for the BPMNext Conference in Santa Barbara, CA.

You can watch Neil’s recent webinar for Alfresco ‘Connecting the Digital Threads: What’s Powering Digital Transformation in forward-thinking organizations?’ on-demand now.

 

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