Whenever somebody talks about the need to ‘digitalize’ products or processes in an old industry company, you as a digital expert should be quite alert. Perhaps even worried.
Because what does the phrase really mean?
I will tell you what it seldom means;
It seldom means that the company in question is looking to question every single process and product it has in order to ask itself questions like “Is this still relevant?”, “Does the product serve a clear need in the market?” and “Have we REALLY understood what it means to make this a success in the current and future market?”. And make the necessary brutal decisions the answers demand.
It seldom means that the company is looking to change it’s entire operating model to embrace the uncertainty of a fast moving market and favor smaller, nimbler experiments as a way of understanding the need in the market before pushing for the big product delivery. And it never means a higher tolerance – embrace even – of risk. Or even a longer time horizon to get things right.
And it seldom means being really ambitious about the people you get on board and – crucially – the mandate you give them to actually make the needed changes happen and – hopefully – put the company on a better trajectory.
All of the above are in my humble opinion key elements for actually making the necessary things happen that will change the trajectory of the company into something better aligned with the needs of the current and future market and customers.
Of course you could be in luck. But alas, you will seldom see these things. What you will see when companies look to ‘digitalize’, though, is;
Doing more of the same but in a slightly different way. Typically by investing in expensive systems from convincing vendors and trying to operate them even though they are often overblown compared to the value they end up delivering to your company.
More of the ‘big bang’ releases that are being touted – using various fancy words – as ‘transformative’ or even downright ‘disruptive’ (which they never are, ed.) that end up failing in spectacular and (sometimes) even depressing ways.
The same old guard of people sitting there making all the decisions lacking the necessary insight into the depths of the matter and what needs to be done while confirming to each other that they have long ago figured this out. And the ruthless of identifying the scapegoat for failure and weeding out of everybody else, who think and try to act in a different way.
The end result?
More blindfolded investment. More wasted investment. More convenient scapegoats when things again don’t go according to the grand ol’ plan.
And very little real change.
So beware. And demand all the right answers to the proper questions, before you get involved.