From digital to continuous transformation

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Phil Lewis, Infor’s VP of Solution Consulting EMEA, looks at why digital transformation is no longer fit for purpose as a concept, and highlights the importance of fostering a culture of continuous transformation in order to drive future performance and prosperity.

Digital transformation has dominated boardroom agendas in recent years, driving modern ways of working, new business models and enhanced customer value. The pandemic in particular has accelerated many digitalisation initiatives as organisations have faced an urgent need to embrace remote working models and accommodate extreme shifts in demand.

The value of technology has been played out in full, making investment more justifiable, and boards much more bought in to the need for change. In parallel, cloud as a deployment model, along with modern API-led integration capabilities, have driven a step change in what is possible. Not only does the cloud facilitate greater scalability, security and the ability for CIOs to invest in new technologies, but it allows data from across the entire organisation, including entities, to be consolidated to create in-depth, dynamic insights. In turn this allows the art and science approaches to running a business to converge and deliver enhanced value in the process. But while change in this vein is of course hugely positive, there is a flaw.

A flawed definition?

This is because in most cases at least, transformation typically denotes a one-off event. “A complete change in someone or something” according to the Oxford dictionary, transformation is typically tied to a single event, or series of events which are linked to the same goal. 

In digital terms, this often takes the form of a one-off project, such as new ERP, or series of projects forming a wider programme focused on overhauling the customer experience, which takes an organisation from one place to another.

While digital transformation is undoubtedly a crucial means of modernising, expediting decision-making, and using innovation and creativity to enhance both experiences and financial performance, if the transformation simply ends following go live of the underpinning technology, the benefits will inevitably diminish over time.  

A truly digital environment

Winston Churchill once said that “to improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often”. While perfection might be a tall order in today’s economy, this sentiment has never been truer than for companies in 2022.

To maintain a true digital environment which has the resilience, scale and flexibility to adapt to change, mitigate risk, and navigate market uncertainty, a one-off transformation is simply not going to cut it. We are operating in an economy which is evolving at a pace never experienced before, and new industries and job roles are emerging all of the time in line with this. Against this backdrop, companies need to continuously explore new business models and channels to accommodate changes in demand, build innovation into the DNA of the business, and be ready to divert resources into new areas or challenges at the click of a button.  

Many businesses would be candid enough to admit that this represents a huge step change in the way planning is undertaken. But to create the kind of digital culture necessary to thrive in the modern economy, transformation must be perpetual. While this might seem like an oxymoron, it is an approach grounded in fostering the right environment, rather than a focus on selecting the right technology. This shift from digitalisation to perpetual transformation requires the right talent management approach, skills, dedicated investment and vision, not just for the short, but the long term.

There is a good reason Amazon is frequently cited as a good example of a company which embodies this precise approach. In the company’s words, at Amazon, innovation doesn’t take place during a moment in time, like a hackathon or an incubator, it takes place as part of every day work. In practice, every meeting and decision made, ensures the customer is vigorously advocated for to earn trust and underpin the company’s ambition to constantly improve the customer experience. Part of this ambition means constantly inventing for customers, being externally aware, and looking for new ideas outside of the company, not being limited by “not invented here” caveats. Framed within the core value of long term thinking, something which has been cemented within Amazon since its inception, the innovator continually refines, and improves its offerings based on customer feedback.

Continuous transformation 

For the majority of enterprises continuous transformation has to start somewhere, and typically, this will be the kind of business transformation project we’ve witnessed in recent years. But savvy, forward-looking companies are building in a means of developing, reviewing, and investing in processes, practices and systems which ensure capabilities are continually updated to reflect the changing demands and nuances of that particular business as it grows, and in line with the fast-paced nature of markets today, can change direction as needed.

The pandemic has had long term effects on businesses, testament to which is a recent survey of manufacturers which pointed to an acknowledgement that the manufacturing industry will never go back to the way it was pre-pandemic. While the report highlights that 95% of those surveyed have concerns about their current supply chains, a further 91% having increased their investment in digital transformation by way of response, and as a result are hoping for a faster, greener, more resilient future.

Staying ahead

Continuous transformation is, without a shadow of a doubt, the future, and in order to stay one step ahead, creating a transformational culture must be a priority. Through challenging the status quo to review and refine the customer experience, and evaluate both the operating model and information available to facilitate it, organisations will build models centred around agility, speed, scale and resilience.     

In years to come, digital transformation might be the buzzword we associate with the digital revolution that we’re all living through currently. However, the real digital winners will be those who embrace continuous transformation as an ethos to maintain market relevance, adapt to change and build competitive advantage faster and more tangibly than their competitors.