Although the 'experts' can't really agree on a more specific date, most go along with the notion that the period of technological change dubbed the digital revolution started anytime from the 1950s through to the 1970s. Given that I was born and received my primary and secondary education during that period it would be reasonable to assume I would have been aware that a revolution was taking place. Sadly, this was not the case - and it was into the 1990s before I was made aware of the revolution that I had lived my entire life through. Naturally, those better educated than me and those who worked on [in?] that revolution new that it was going on - but for us folk in street the introduction of technology into our daily life was, well ... life.
Then in 1996 I got involved it this Internet malarkey and suddenly I was being introduced to audiences as 'an expert in the Internet revolution' [in the land of the blind ... ] and I was part of the digital revolution. Of course, I didn't know it - back then we didn't even use the term 'digital' in the same context as we do now. In 1997-8 we still relied on books for information [Wikipedia didn't launch until 2001] ... and I didn't read books with that kind of information [in truth, I still don't read academic or any kind of hi-brow publications].
However, like much of the general population who had accepted the creeping introduction technology - video, microwave cookers and so on - as a technological evolution, it was the Internet that woke us up to the way that technology was changing our everyday social and working lives. This is not to detract from the introduction of technology into some industries, but for the general public it was the Internet that was technology - literally - at our fingertips.
The Internet also changed the way business operated more significantly and faster than any other technology before it. I will also put forward the notion that this was most obvious in the marketing aspects of business - and because I was involved in e-marketing [the prefix 'digital' didn't come to marketing until well into this century] I worked in an environment where I was able to appreciate not only the Internet's wider commercial application, but digital technology in general.
My somewhat flawed reputation of knowing a bit about the digital revolution led - in 2009 - to me being invited to write a book on the subject. In my defence to those who point to a lack of scientific qualifications in questioning my authority to write such a book, the publication was an 'airport' book designed to introduce the subject at a 'surface' level to those who next-to-nothing about it. Naturally, the content had a tendency to favour marketing issues.
That within a couple of years revolution had evolved to transformation is significant. Yes, those in the digital industry were already working on the technology that was to change our lives, but us folk in the street were way behind the curve. Indeed, my 'Digital Revolution' was targeted at business owners and managers in an attempt to make them aware of what was coming. In reality ... it was already here.
And so to the digital transformation.
A 2013 study* by MIT Sloan Management Review and Capgemini Consulting revealed that 78% of executives from around the world believed that achieving digital transformation would become critical to their organization within the next two years. And yet, three years after that deadline, just what the digital transformation entails is still a mystery to many business owners and managers.
* Fitzgerald, M., Kruschwitz, M., Bonnet, D. and Welch, M. (2013) Embracing Digital Technology. MIT Sloan Management Review.
Although the term digital transformation had been kicking around the digital science community since the birth of the commercial Internet, it had previously been used to describe how organizations, industries or markets adapted to the digital world. Obvious examples were e-commerce (the sale of goods online) and the impact of digital technologies on the printing and music industries.
More recently, however, digital transformation has become the term that indicates how the entire organization has adopted, adapted to - or ignored - the changes brought to society by the digital revolution.
The MIT Sloan Management Review definition of digital transformation suggests it encompasses the use of new digital technologies to enable major business improvements (such as enhancing customer experience, streamlining operations or creating new business models).
Customer service writer and practitioner, Gerry McGovern is more specific, saying that: 'Digital transformation is about organizing around the current customer. It is about putting the customer at the centre of the universe.'
In a warning to those organizations who 'follow a trend' rather than fully committing to digital transformation, McGovern has also said that 'Digital is the transformation agent, not the transformation.'
It is clear, however: for any organization to digitally transform, that transformation has to be:
- Organization wide
- Understood by everyone in the organization
- Involve everyone in the organization
- Be cultural and not forced
- Have no end-date
An effective digitally transformation cannot be undertaken by one area or department of the organization. Furthermore, digital transformation is not about technology, it is about the strategic use of technology.
Unfortunately, however, the IT department is probably the least digitally savvy department within most organizations because they are still obsessed with the technology. A great many organizations still seem to think that the answer to digital technology is in buying the right technology.
Key components of the digital transformation include:
- Big data
- Reverse marketing
- Mobile applications
- The Internet of things
- Automation of business processes
- Artificial intelligence
Note, however, that these are all inextricably linked and should not be considered in isolation.
These articles are worth a read:
Digital publishers fall back to earth
Four steps to successful digital transformation
Your Company Doesn't Need a Digital Strategy
Adapting Your Company to a Changing World
Are You Taking the Wrong Approach to Digital Transformation?
How Many Robots Does It Take to Fill a Grocery Order?
85% of UK businesses to invest in artificial intelligence by 2020
This page was first published in September 2017 ... but it may have been updated or amended since then.