A brief history of digital transformation

The world is changing faster than ever before and nowhere is this more prevalent than in marketing. This article presents a brief history of digital transformation; past, present and future.

Over the past 5 years, nothing has been discussed more in marketing circles than the topic of digital transformation. So much so that Google worldwide searches for “digital transformation training” are up +3700% and “digital transformation courses” are up +5000%. It’s clear that marketing executives are trying to up-skill and train their expansive teams to meet tough business objectives.

But how did we get to this point? Let’s take a walk down memory lane…

What is digital transformation

In 2013, we were becoming aware of digital transformation, it was during this year that we, as a marketing industry, began defining it. Articles, at the time, dictated that it was a ‘passing trend’ but that it would affect both business operating models and infrastructures. It was seen as a reaction to changing circumstances – nothing else.

For example, Tate announced that they were about to embark on their own 2-year digital transformation project. They structured their programmes on digital strategies that endorsed ‘quick dos’ – you make smaller, actionable steps to create a larger change.

The state of digital transformation

One year later and we’re beginning to see initial results from a number of pioneering digital transformation projects, including that of GOV.UK. The results of these projects led us to look for successes amongst the actions that had been carried out. Because of these results, we begin to see a shift in the definition of digital transformation, from models and infrastructures to a technology-first approach e.g. social, mobile, clouds to enable strategies.

Guidance and knowledge sharing becomes more of a focus with a noticeable increase in blog articles and e-books written on the topic.

Strategy, not technology, drives digital transformation

Fast forward to 2015, MIT and Deloitte publish papers on digital transformation – their main message being that strategy drives it, not technology. Key drivers for this approach endorse less risk-taking and ensuring that employees remain happy whilst the transformation takes place. Culture becomes key.

There becomes a clear emphasis on learning from the past and not making the same mistakes that failed digital transformations have taken. A successful digital transformation becomes about working together within a supportive infrastructure, rather than an individual leading with supporting technology.

This is the year of the digital transformation

Not only is 2016 the year of the digital transformation, it’s also the year of implementing multi-skilled change teams. The suggestion that a team of sales, marketing, service, product development, production and technology specialists focus on customer experience as a means of pushing forward the digital transformation agenda becomes a reality.

Various events, including Forrester’s Digital Transformation Forum, takes place suggesting that there is a future of digital transformation; that is is a never-ending path of improvement rather than a one-time project. That marketing executives will need to focus on agility, innovation and how they scale them both to stay ahead.

Digital transformation and beyond: a major wake-up call

As well as on-going trend-led webinars and articles, 2017 enforces the urgency behind digital transformation. Before now, there’s been little advice to CEOs and CIOs that reads “if you don’t do this, then you’ll be left behind” – now there is. With this urgency, there comes a search for how to be successful and a realisation that past tactics may prove inefficient.

The responsibility is firmly placed at the doors of senior leadership, with the internet of things, blockchain and artificial intelligence taking centre stage in discussions relevant to digital transformation – albeit these are not the core problems. Organisations, like Microsoft and Dell, suggest there needs to be a general up-skilling; what does digital transformation mean for their business specifically? and are executives taking their organisation on the same journey and creating a transformative culture?

Convergence: Digital transformation trends for 2018

This year, to date, has been led by influencers in the digital transformation field e.g. Brian Solis from Altimeter and Satya Nadella from Microsoft. Their suggestion being, that not only do leadership, people and cultural processes create a successful digital transformation, disruptive technologies, digital skills mastery and a decent grasp of data also play a part. Match this with agile, strategic behaviours and your organisation has the perfect set-up for a successful digital transformation.

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