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5 myths about digital transformation

Mary K. Pratt | June 1, 2017
You've heard what digital transformation is. How about what it isn't? Experts bust through myths about digitizing business operations and explain why IT can't do it alone.

Despite its heavy focus on delivering software, O.C. Tanner still delivers the employee-recognition services and products it built its reputation on, he says. Now, it leverages technology to better deliver on its niche offerings and develop new lines of revenue.

Wolff says true digital transformation isn't necessarily about becoming an entirely different company but rather using technology to improve and expand the company's core strengths. "It's an offensive play to create a competitive advantage and a defensive play that will keep you from becoming obsolete," he adds.

Myth 2: Digital transformation is a specific project or single initiative.

Most so-called "overnight sensations" spend years working toward their success. The same is true here, experts say. In fact, IT leaders say they don't define "transformation" by completing a particular technology implementation or hitting a strategic milestone; it's a continuum of having put in all the right pieces, continuing to remove legacy technologies, exploring what's new and investing in the right evolving technologies to stay competitive.

Take the banking industry, which has undergone a digital transformation by moving from a paper-based system of cash and checks to a nearly ubiquitous digital experience where people can move money via smartphones.

That journey might seem revolutionary, but Paul Willmott, the global co-leader of Digital McKinsey, points out that the transformation happened via multiple incremental steps over nearly two decades.

"These changes take time; none of this happens overnight," Willmott says.

Hitachi Data Systems CIO Renée McKaskle says her company's transformation from a computer hardware company to a broader IT solutions firm is ongoing. She says the change meant taking advantage of cloud computing, building out the company's internet of things capabilities and, now, layering on artificial intelligence and robotics. Those new technologies will help the various teams within the company access the data they need to drive smart decisions.

Given the rapid development of new technologies, McKaskle says the pace at which her team must move has picked up dramatically, and their work is never done.

"I've always said there's a plateau you might rest upon, but you never stop. And the time we rest on that plateau is much shorter," she says.


Myth 3: IT can do it alone.

That's a simple one: IT can't do it alone.

"Digital transformation is often driven by the IT organization. But there still must be a level of receptiveness in the business [leadership]. That's where IT has to build credibility and respect to get the business, and board and leadership level, to go along," Wolff says. "IT leaders need to educate and inform."

Ouellette & Associates, which developed the IT Maturity Curve based on a yearlong study with Babson College, lists four stages of maturity - from delivering basic services and reliable solutions as stages 1 and 2 through delivering business value as a strategic partner at Stage 3 to being an "innovative anticipator" at Stage 4.


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