Beware of bolt-on digital transformations – the short-term thinking trap

Beware of bolt-on digital transformations – the short-term thinking trap

Beware of bolt-on digital transformations - the short-term thinking trap.

Digital transformation (DX) is the initiative every corporate talks about and spends vast resources on, it hardly needs to be mentioned at this point. With this level of investment, all these organisations should be well down the path of becoming digital right? A 2017 study done by Forrester Consulting for Microsoft has explored this topic in some depth and highlights that only the minority of enterprises have actually embraced digital transformation as it is envisioned; effectively stating that although there was a strategy (and it got priority), it’s made little to no difference.

To begin, let’s attempt to define what digital transformation is. The fundamental principle behind DX is the integration of digital technology into all areas of a business. This alone is incomplete without the culture shift this change implies. A business needs to be agile in its approach to evolving, the bloat and inflexibility associated with corporates are widely considered one of the primary reasons DX is not implemented correctly.

Forrester Consulting coined the term “Bolt-On” digital transformation, which refers to enterprises that attempt to run digital initiatives as projects without actually realising the need to change the core organisational culture along with the integration of digital technology right across their businesses.

In South Africa there is no difference, this is an unfortunate reality across the majority of large organisations. It’s not uncommon at all to see a fully thought out straight-through-process beautifully described, only to find an extremely labour intensive process propping the automated process up behind the scenes. This is a strong indication that digital initiatives are bolted-on as opposed to thinking about DX more strategically and looking for true transformation.

Two major culprits behind these bolt-on “transformation” strategies are cost-saving measures and an analogue culture. Leadership in enterprises is well aware of the benefits of digital transformation but have often proceeded without consideration for culture and the drivers mentioned. This results in them consistently battling to keep up with the smaller companies who are taking their market share.

Given the focus and investment in digital transformation across South African businesses, one can be optimistic that we’re at least going in the right direction as a collective; we’re tending towards a truly transformed industry. Our large companies are inherently slow to change due to the size, and that’s before taking compliance into account.

Still, we must persevere or inevitably fail. So, while bolting-on some digital services, processes or products could offer short-term relief, statistics show clearly that it will stunt future potential. Instead, take the hard road to create and install digital culture in the minds and hearts right across the business. Create a supportive environment where it becomes natural to think this way repeatedly and continuously.

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