Digital Transformation – learning to learn

The Digital Transformation… Many claim to know what it is, however when it comes to outcomes, it is not clear what the result of all the investments are. And this is not only my own feeling. See for example 5 reasons why digital transformation fails by Menno Lanting (his book is very interesting, let’s hope there will be an English version at some point in time).

It seems already to start with the term ‘digital transformation’. People focusing on ‘digital’ are forever looking to introduce new technology. And there are many others, who basically want to know when the transformation is done, with the implication that ‘we can then get back to ‘business as usual’.

Technology is a means, not an end

Let’s say a couple of things about technology first. Undoubtedly technology is already the primary enabler of any business. In our modern connected world, digitalization is the primary way to reach customers and to compete effectively. It has often been said that every company should regard itself as a technology company.

Improving technical maturity is very important. The ability to execute on delivery of digital services determines an important part of the ability to reach market quickly. However, this should not move the focus away from delivering value. Too often the reasoning seems to be that ‘when data is properly managed and AI algorithms are in production, then the value will follow automatically’.

But what would your answer be to the following questions?

  • “Is the value I deliver today still relevant for my customers?”
  • “What does a digital business model look like for my company?”
  • “What is my added value as a company in an increasingly connected digital world?”
  • “How can I know that my investments in technology are paying off?”

When is the transformation ‘done’?

How do we know when we are done? Well, on the one hand, we are ‘never done’. There are always changes all around us and we have to keep moving and learning. New business models to discover, new technology to assess. Also learning to better organize ourselves internally and with respect to our customers, partners and suppliers.

However, I would argue that there is something to say about being ‘done’ with the transformation. There is one common element to everything I mentioned, namely ‘learning’. When the organization has fully grasped the value of continuous learning, then I think we can speak of a properly transformed organization. Continuous learning has to happen on all aspects of the organizations operating model. On how to develop the right services and products, on how to best organize, on the partners that are needed, etc. But how do you learn? Essentially by designing the feedback loops you need. Which learning loops these are depends on your own unique context. But if you understand the concept of learning and are able to apply it to everything you do, then I think you are ‘finished transforming’.