Digital transformation, what does it really mean?

Last week I commented on a LinkedIn update. The poster had asked how people define digital transformation. My comment was:

“Making many things in life better, simpler and easier for as many people as possible by using new technology in a smarter way. #DigitalLeadership”

There were many suggestions about what digital transformation means, and I think it’s crucial that you allow discussion and ask questions about what something means to you, your organisation, your customers and the world before you define an expression. Terminology can easily become buzz words that mean nothing. When things mean nothing to us we don’t take action and it interrupts the decision-making process.

This week I had a new digital experience which involved transforming a service. I went to the doctor in Sweden using an app on my iPad. I felt a bit unwell last week, and then I got two big cold sores which were very painful. I desperately wanted anti-viral tablets to help me get better quicker. I called my local doctor, but had no luck. They suggested that I should try to get an emergency appointment, which can mean hours of waiting. Instead, I downloaded an app called Kry, and ten minutes later I had spoken to a medical doctor and they had prescribed me the medication I needed.

This made my life better and easier, saving me lots of time and energy, and is a great example of digital transformation.

I’ve learnt that there are similar health apps for people on ships out at sea and people living in rural areas. Now they’re available to everyone in Sweden as well.

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Digital transformation is nothing new. It started to explode when more and more people gained access to the web, which happened after 1995, and we got new services such as Amazon, Windows 95 and match.com.

We got better at using databases and storing information, and thanks to the World Wide Web we could hyperlink content.

New digital solutions have and will have a huge impact on people and our society. It is challenging our work structures, how we communicate, how we exchange knowledge, how we make our daily errands, it changes entertainment and transport. It affects everything.

In 2005 the web started to be social and it was during this time that the masses joined social media. Where I worked back then we went from information on printed paper to information presented on the web.

Now in 2016 we talk about digital transformation all the time, and what it means to you depends on the business you are in.

Though the new ways of providing a service has a lot in common, we now have high expectations of the time it take. Back in 2005 people may have been happy to wait for a week for a delivery; now that is too slow. When we are ordering a new product we want to be able to do that using the web or over the phone. To get on top of how you serve your customers you must offer them several ways to connect with you. In Western Europe for instance there are still many people who don’t have access to the internet, and you should include them as well.

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Another big topic in digital transformation is how we handle privacy and information. With new regulations coming into place in May 2018 that will help you protect your personal data, organisations need to take action and review how they handle data.

Digitalisation is in many ways a driving force of change and development. To drive any change we need good leadership, and organisations that are going through the turmoil of changing too much all at once may burn out their workforce.

I once worked with an organisation that always looked for new digital solutions, but they were ignoring all their leadership problems. Many of the people who worked there arrived full of enthusiasm and believing in the brand. When they had been there for a while they realised that the problems were building up and nobody was happy to get their hands dirty and solve the real problem. If you looked at the technology they used they were amazing, but the way they handled problems it seems they were following the route to disaster.

To be a sustainable leader today you need to embrace and learn to adopt new practices. This means that you need to review traditions and habits and repeatedly ask yourself why you do what you do.

Traditions are beliefs and habits that are passed on to us by the people who have been working in an organisation before us. Some of these people may not be there any longer, but the behaviour they encouraged may still be there.

How do you make sure that you review your work processes, learning activities, the way you run meetings and knowledge sharing and connect with customers? Are you following others, or do you dare to act first and just give it a try?

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How do you describe digital transformation? Have you had any transformational experiences? Tell me about them: send me an email hello@sofiesandell dot com or share a comment on my Facebook page Digital Leadership.

Thank you for reading, Sofie