Digital Transformation? Now? No Way

It may be a phenomenon local to my neck of the woods, but I don’t think so. I’m seeing ads and announcements for ‘digital transformation conferences’ all over the place. And I don’t get it. This is 2022, not 2015. If someone haven’t taken the transformation plunge yet, it’s too late. Sorry.

Seriously – the ball started well before 2010 – with Google, Amazon, Spotify, Uber, AirBnB, PayPal, eBay and many more. Pure digital companies transforming data and dataflow into real business, upending industries and business models, creating new ones, introducing new services that no one knew they needed. They transformed the world. Not part of it, all of it. There are distinct ‘before’ and ‘after’ scenarios. There is no going back. And there is no avoidance. It’s like – after the automobile became widespread, horse and carriage were no longer competitive. 

Before the digital transformation,  ‘digital’ meant using computers to make old processes more efficient. After, ‘digital’ meant replacing the old processes entirely. New metrics, new expectations, fast paced changes and very different ways of thinking. Not digitization (which means ‘converting analog data to digital’), not really digitalization either because so many people get confused by the terms. Digital transformation. By 2015 the world was in the midst of it, realizing that ‘wait and see’ meant ‘wait and die’. We had conferences, workshops, focus groups, task forces and much more, the world was on a roll.

By the time the pandemic served an entirely new set of challenges, important parts of the world were ready for the challenge. Without this readiness, there would be no vaccines yet, there would be millions more fatalities and the health system would be, well, decimated to a degree no one really wants to think about. 

Not that health care was ready, it most definitely wasn’t. But it was in a different place than 7 years earlier, and more importantly: The industry supplying services to (among others) the heath sector, was ready.

So why are we seeing ‘Digital Transformation’ conferences in 2022? Did we miss something? Honestly, no – we did not, but someone did. Those flocking to these events missed the train. And they’re not going to catch up, it’s a lost race. Even parts of the public sector are going to die in their own sense because they missed it. Backed by unions with no clue about how to protect the future of their members, millions are naively resisting all kinds of change for no good reason other than a big misunderstanding – and organized collective apathy. 

Of course it hurts to discover that 2 competent people can replace 500 or more and deliver services that are an order of magnitude better – per todays metric. Or that an app can replace an entire line of business. But that’s the picture I hope is being conveyed at these events. Not recipes explaining marginal business improvements using digital tools. That was last century.

The winning recipe? Accept reality, understand digital, read Marshall Goldsmith’s venerable What Got You Here Won’t Get You There and move on. You don’t even have to read the book, just understand the title. And accept that in 2022, 1 year is a long time, 3 years is eternity. A new mindset.

This is evolution – actually very simple, well known and natural. Survival of the fittest means non-survival of the unfit. We need to get rid of all those businesses, organizations and institutions that failed to keep up with time. Add countless organizations and unions to that. They had their day, now is an entirely different ballgame. There’s a reason we don’t have record shops and news outlets on every corner anymore.

It’s actually inspiring because building, evolving, creating is exactly that. Inspiring, creates energy. Compare that to spending time and energy keeping failing business and organizations on artificial life support. The choice is obvious – and don’t let it get emotional.

See also: Invisible Disruptions are Changing Your Life

If you want more inspiration, Kevin Kelly’s The Inevitable (2017) is still a great read. And if you read Norwegian, check out this one (from Kan ledelsen digital-transformeres? (‘How to Digital-Transform Management’).

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