TL;DR - the word "digital" became a real catch-all in 2016 - everyone wants to digitalize their business, w/o understanding what it truly means: no wonder that it attracts all kinds of impostors, slyboots & other types of consultants ;P - all eager to sell you a "digital" pig in a poke ...
Good wording is priceless. Well chosen brand tagline or catchy mission statement can prime, resonate & catch a lot of positive attention. If hooked well, it can help with brand marketing (& its connotations). Hence companies want their names associated with terms close to success, innovation, disruption. Their effort outcomes sometimes are hilarious:
- banks "enrolling" to FinTech category (because it sounds better)
- companies/services dropping vowels from their name (because it looks more "appy")
- everyone boasting around about "embracing social media" (in 99.99% primitive integration, useless and not used by anyone).
That's strongly related to the genesis of our today's bullshit buzzword ... Large corps can't really be "start-ups", they don't correspond well with "lean" and if they try to put themselves in the same row with "unicorns" they end up lookin' more like rhinos ... So there just had to be a new, catchy buzzword for the ones who'd like to appear as a forefront of the race of handicapped turtles. That's how "digital" was born ... "Digital" ruled the enterprise world in 2016 & its reign seems to extend for 2017 as well.
The sensible intent
Why don't we start with the definition then? The one from the most respected source:
"Digital business is the creation of new business designs by blurring the digital and physical worlds. ... Digital business promises to usher in an unprecedented convergence of people, business, and things that disrupts existing business models."
LOL. Yeah, OK. Let's try to make any sense of it.
Modern technology has enabled some interesting behavioral models & interactions. Content is king, sharing economy was born, people are on-line practically 100% of time, information can be pushed as well as pulled. Time-to-market is crucial (1st one takes the full prize), data is the new currency, ranges & markets are global. Some activities that involved physical presence (in a given place & time) & interaction can now be done anywhere & whenever we want.
That's not all - all such interactions are inter-linked with humongous amount of data from multiple sources - finally we have all the means (tools & techniques) to extract some meaningful knowledge out of it. These insights can be used to tune the interactions & so the cycle closes.
Utilizing all these emerging possibilities in services offered to the clients/consumers/users makes a so-called "digital business". Obviously, vast majority of companies is far away from employing even a fraction of what was mentioned above. Even more obviously, they are more & more aware of the fact & willing to change it. Easier said than done.
OK, we're finally getting there - to the actual bullshit ;)
There's an awesome potential in what was described above, but we're talking about very fresh paradigms & tools that require not only technical expertise, but also a radical change in thinking. That's why so very few have any idea how to actually "become digital". It shouldn't really be that surprising - many companies are still struggling with non-decommissionable legacy, sluggish physical document flow, even basic integration of systems which functionality still isn't exposed as services.
Sounds like a goldmine for all sorts of consultants and / or other "digital charlatans", isn't it? ;>
They shamelessly exploit few basic facts:
- their feeble clients have a very vague concept of what "digital" means (or may mean) in their particular context - what can be done & how it has to be done
- in each industry there are leaders & slackers - why not to address the latter ones, lure them with what their competition already has ("low hanging fruit") & nametag it as "digital"?
- many of the digital concepts & solutions have one thing in common - they bring visible changes in front-end systems, aimed to elevate the UI/UX to levels unbeknowst (until now) to users
Sum up these points & here's what you get - it's quite easy to derail the idea of digitalization towards pure visual appeal refurbishment (despite the fact that the idea of "digital" is truly about specific cross-functional business capabilities):
- Old stuff (Oracle Forms, MFC, server-side web apps with full page reloads) gets re-written into new, shiny stuff (SPA, RWD, Angular, etc.) ... with the same, unchanged business logic underneath.
- New, "digital" user interactions are usually reduced to campaign-based, spam-alike notifications & advertisements built with very unsophisticated models that rely on campaign scale instead of proper behaviour analysis.
- In some cases digitalization forces "architecture modernization" - e.g. old-fashioned SOAP WebServices / RPC get replaced with more trendy RESTful Web API ("microservices"). Sadly, it usually appears to be just a dumb wrapper - business logic remains untouched where it was, hidden one layer deeper in the eternally twisted pits of despair.
Wait, there's more
If bullshit sells that well, why not take it one step further? That's why avalanche of crap followed - "digital architectures" (can't really imagine an "analog architecture", can you?), "digital platforms", "digital technologies", "digital strategies", "digital transformations" ...
Ready to deploy, already packaged in-the-box, "easy-to-use" prescriptions to skyrocket your stinky garbage dump into pantheon of digital deities.
But ... When it's done & all the toys are already in place doing their stuff ... You'll realise that not much has changed in practical terms (except of your wallet getting lighter ...). New looks wear thin faster than you think, so the only consolation is that you're not the only sucker who got fooled by "digitalization visionaries". Obviously no-one ever admits publicly to the failure of "digital programmes" & (un)fortunately there's no tangible metric of "digitalization saturation", so the best option is to ignore the objective facts & boast with "the grand success" ...
Resist the herd instinct
Don't let bullshit marketing weasels think for you. Here's what you probably should consider to do, to avoid "digitalization" traps:
Never-ever treat "digital" or "digitalization" as a goal / target. Actually, ban these two words completely out of your dictionary, they are just too imprecise & ephemeral to depict anything tangible.
Make the modernization gradual, fine-grained and continuous effort, set precisely in your organization's particular context:
- learn your weak & strong spots (what works fine, what doesn't, what do you miss, etc.) & decide on what is important to you (& your clients/users) - to fix the former & push further the latter
- no big programmes / projects! iterate in small, but measurable steps & adjusting on the basis of your tangible learnings
- establish ways to gather continuous (& trustworthy) feedback - e.g. crowdsource testing of new features, co-operate with influential clients who got some stakes in what you provide, offer bounty programs (bug bounty style) to encourage users to raise ideas
- make a shift towards service-based thinking: you'll never be able to implement all your ideas, but you can co-operate with other entities to enable truly synergized, integrated solutions (for everyone's benefit, including end-users)
- don't let "digitalization" consultants ensnare you in the web of buzzwords - if they unwrap their tale of blockchains, Internet of Things or AI bots, it's high time to descend back to earth level
- give up on thinking in terms of your existing services & products - one thing we can say for sure about "digital business" is that it enables completely new (& sometimes very surprising) monetization mechanisms; focus on user stories / customer journeys, what end-users really could benefit from & how to make them feel awesome
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