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Digital Transformation Explained: The Human Factor

By Jodie Korber on 4/04/16 10:57 AM

You don’t have to do a great deal of reading in the IT press these days to come across the topics of digital disruption and digital transformation. In a nutshell, the argument goes that digital technologies — specifically social networking, mobile, cloud computing and ‘big data’ — are disrupting every kind of business in every industry, spawning new startups and forcing incumbents to embrace these technologies (ie undergo digital transformation) or perish.


Much of the focus is on the digital technologies:

What it can do, how it is being used, by incumbents and newcomers alike. However, businesses are not digital, they are not run by robots (yet). They are run by humans who make and implement decisions.

So guess what?

It’s not just about the technology. “The ability to digitally re-imagine the business is determined in large part by a clear digital strategy supported by leaders who foster a culture able to change and invent the new.”

That conclusion comes from a study Strategy, not Technology, Drives Digital Transformation, produced jointly by Deloitte and MIT Sloan Management Review. Its conclusions are based on a survey of more than 4,800 business executives, managers and analysts from organisations of all sizes in 129 countries and 27 industries.

However, contrary to what that conclusion might suggest, it’s not totally clear which is the chicken and which is the egg.  The study also says: “Whether culture drives technology adoption or whether technology changes the culture is still an open question.”

Your strategy matters to the digital transformation!

In other words, non-strategic adoption of digital technologies could, if a company is receptive, precipitate a ‘digital culture’ that accelerates the adoption of digital technology and that reshapes company strategy around it.

The report quotes senior executives espousing both views. Says one: “I have never seen a technology drive change on its own. Culture leads the adoption of technology. Our ability to innovate depends on the impatience of our culture.”

Another says: “Social helped get the momentum going. As more people jumped on board, social played a major part in changing the culture. I’d like to say it was thought through in advance and part of a formal culture change program. But it wasn’t. The change started with a technology experiment.”

What is common to both those stories is that the culture, whether created reactively or pro-actively, ultimately drives the digital transformation. So culture is all important, and therefore leadership is all important.

As Lanrex managing director Jodie Korber says:

“Strong leadership is important to strong strategy and a successful technology implementation.” But she makes the additional point; that no business needs to make the digital journey unsupported. “Sometimes it can help to strategise with outsourced companies.”

This aspect was only touched on in the report. It quoted Sree Sreenivasan, chief digital officer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, saying that the chief digital officer must also be the chief listening officer with “the responsibility “to listen for new ideas, listen for talent and listen for people who can help us and work in partnership with other organisations.”

Once again, it shows that the human factor is always important!

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