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Time to clarify your digital business ambition: Transform or optimise?

Graham Waller | Aug. 18, 2017
An optimisation strategy can work for a long time, but even the most stable industry is liable to transform at some point, writes Graham Waller of Gartner.

Credit: Dreamstime 

Optimisation works only for so long; then it becomes a liability.

What do the terms digital transformation and digital business optimisation mean to your business? Many CIOs and digital business leaders are at a stage where they need to get more specific about how far their enterprise will pursue digital business.

To what extent should your digital business journey aim to optimise the existing business model or introduce new business models and revenue sources? In other words, what is the digital ambition of your enterprise? The answer to this question fundamentally changes the scope of work and roadmap in becoming a digital business.

The transformational aspects of digital business receive the most attention. Everyone has heard about the phenomenal growth of Uber and Amazon, as well as the potential of the Internet of Things. However, most companies don’t aim at digital transformation, at least for now.

Gartner’s 2017 CEO survey indicates that 42 per cent of enterprises plan to use digital technology to optimise the current business, not for transformation. Seventeen per cent have no ambition for digital business at all.

Both paths carry risks. If the enterprise goes for transformation, but the market or organisation isn’t ready, the results are below expectations. Money is made, but just not enough to satisfy the growth expectations of the investment. If the enterprise focuses on optimisation while the market and competitors are transforming, it will lose relevance and may never be able to catch up.

Many times we see enterprises claim that they are pursuing transformation, but then rely on a small innovation team and budget to pursue these ends.


Weigh up your options

CEOs and boards will often consult CIOs and digital business leaders about which direction their digital business strategy should take. You can formulate a recommendation by taking three steps:


1. Consider the options for digital ambition

Start by considering whether your enterprise should optimise its existing business model or introduce new business models and revenue sources.

Digital business transformation has the ambition of pursuing net-new revenue streams, product/services and business models. It is favoured by enterprises that must adapt to an industry in disruption, or pioneers that want to disrupt their industries.

In contrast, digital business optimisation has the ambition of significantly improving existing business models through improved productivity, greater revenue generation of existing streams and improved customer experience. It is favoured by enterprises whose industries are not going through disruption in the near term.


2. Look at the timing of transformation in your industry

Even if you recommend an optimisation approach, you should pay attention to digital transformation in your industry. Digital transformation creates a new paradigm that makes the old business model obsolete. Consequently, an optimisation strategy leaves the enterprise in a weaker competitive position. In other words, optimisation works only for so long; then it becomes a liability.


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