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Digital transformation: time for a new definition?

We look at why smart companies are adopting perpetual transformation as a blueprint for the future.

It’s fair to say that in recent years, digital transformation has become a catch all term for all things, well, digital. While some enterprises recognise digital transformation simply as the adoption of technology by a company, true transformation denotes a rethinking of how an organisation leverages technology; people; and processes in the pursuit of new business models.

Any digital project which drives value for stakeholders is typically recognised on some level as transformational. The issue is that transformation is defined as “a marked change in form, nature, or appearance”, and therefore describes something which is tied to a single event or outcome. It has connotations of giving a one-off makeover to a traditional business, after which it is modernised and equipped with shiny new tools.

Blazing a trail with perpetual transformation

In fact, a one-off project alone simply isn’t sufficient in delivering the kind of change required to become digitally relevant enough to thrive in modern markets, particularly as they are constant changing. What’s needed to truly adapt and blaze a trail in this new world is the infrastructure, skills, investment and most importantly, vision, to be able to continually transform through an ongoing series of projects. This discipline can be better described as perpetual transformation.

Perpetual transformation is a methodology that recognises the limitations of one-off change management, instead focusing on the ongoing review and refinement of digital capabilities, in the quest for continual performance improvement. Of course, for most companies, this journey will start with a significant project, but the key to success is viewing this as a foundation from which to build, extend and re-shape capabilities.

Inevitably this requires a major culture shift and an adjustment in the way organisations view technology. Contrary to traditional business cases, which typically pointed to automation and efficiency as the primary benefits of new systems, digitalisation has become a facilitator of change, underpinning all important agility to address market volatility, and support new initiatives and business models as demand evolves.

While the likes of Apple and Amazon might be front of mind when considering the best examples of perpetual transformation, more relatable case studies are all around us. Take UPS, which leveraged analytics to bridge a customer service gap to deliver live tracking; Dominos’ pizza tracker, which it launched as a means to get closer to customers; or Spotify, which scaled its platform through fostering a culture which encourages experimentation, efficiency and accountability.

Having implemented major transformation, all of these brands continually evaluate and invest in perpetual transformation to uphold the very principles on which their respective businesses thrive on.

Dialling down the risk

Perpetual transformation also brings with it a lesser risk profile. While large change management projects inevitably come with a certain amount of risk, a more linear, incremental model dials this down considerably. Moving on from this more radical “all or nothing” mentality, particularly in collaboration with an experienced partner, can drive substantial efficiencies when it comes to business case development alone, notwithstanding the bigger business benefits of this highly agile methodology.

Driving cultural change with the right partner

Working with a dedicated partner which has expertise and experience in your industry can go a long way in supporting the kind of culture change necessary for this model. As well as bringing knowledge, expertise and experience of the wider market, the best consulting teams can continually question, test, and provide an objective perspective. A specialist partner will proactively bring creativity and ideas, suggesting solutions and driving new thinking and innovation forward. And unlike a large in-house team, which can command massive overheads, the right partner can provide the necessary flexibility to deliver consultancy when required, projects as set out, and support and maintenance in the interim. Such a flexible approach not only keeps costs down, but it also delivers expertise on tap as it is needed and can scale to support a true perpetual transformation model.

Implementing a transform-evaluate-transform business model

Viewing a single digital transformation project as a catalyst for change, without further provision made for future investment, is bold to say the least. As the pace of industry change accelerates, at worst, companies may well find that they’ve invested heavily in ad hoc technology projects only to find they’re several steps behind the market leader.

Uncertainty, particularly that which comes from external factors, really is the only real constant on the horizon. As such, those who invest in a continuous transform-evaluate-transform lifecycle, will inevitably establish the resilience and foresight to win market share over competitors. Perpetual transformation is the model that smart companies are adopting to secure and support their future.