Is your business pursuing digital transformation—whatever that means? It conjures images of adopting the latest gadget and keeping up with the neighbours on the other side of that digital fence—or maybe your company’s truly allowing technology to inspire new ways of doing business.
Honestly, the hype surrounding digital transformation may be getting in the way of progress. The concept of digital maturity is a better way to think about how businesses can adapt to today’s digitally enhanced landscape—once it gets demystified.
Digital transformation vs. digital maturity
Let’s be honest: “Digital transformation” is a loaded term. Although it’s meant to describe a company that successfully adjusts to the changing business environment and makes the most of the golden opportunities within it, the word “transformation” implies that cutting-edge technology is a magic wand IT leaders can instantly wave to make everything work perfectly. Then, everyone can smile in satisfaction and get back to business as usual (or cringe and struggle in the wake of failed technology innovation—a major liability when a business has this mindset about technology).
Tech pros know that getting the business to embrace a strategic digital approach can’t be accomplished in such a transactional way. It’s complicated—and often requires far more cultural change than most people assume. That’s why it’s useful to think of this endeavor in terms of digital maturity, which is more expansive in scope than implementing a single piece of technology. According to MIT Sloan Management Review, “Digital maturity is the process of your company learning how to respond appropriately to the emerging digital competitive environment.” This viewpoint assumes the business will undergo continual evolution similar to the way humans do over the different stages of their lives.
Understand the digital maturity life cycle
Of course, there are other technology maturity frameworks out there already, all with easy-to-follow indicators for how to get from point A to point B. By contrast, the digital maturity life cycle takes a far more gradual and holistic approach. Just as a child slowly grows into an adolescent long before reaching adulthood, so too, does a business. You can’t leapfrog across any stage of maturity when it comes to evolution. You may not necessarily even know what maturity looks like for your organisation early in the process, but that’s fine.
Your business will learn (as it adjusts to the changing environment around it) how to respond—and, in doing so, it will start maturing. This will require organisational leaders, as well as managers, to keep a close eye on digital trends, so the business can decide how to adapt to them. It will also demand that your business considers how its customers, partners, employees, and competitors use digital technologies so that you can adapt to those changes. You may need to brace yourself for gritting your teeth in frustration, because these may be changes your business neither wanted nor asked for, but evolution insists on a response nonetheless.
Evolve toward maturity
What are the hallmarks of an organisation on its way to becoming digitally mature? First of all, it has a digital strategy that includes business processes, talent engagement, and business models. It should be broad and ambitious in scope, aimed at transforming the business as a whole rather than narrowly focusing on one particular element of technology. This digital strategy must also be championed by top leadership, ideally not just by a technology professional or a single leader but multiple high-level staff who are digitally fluent and can articulate how technology is of value to the company.
All this requires an institutional readiness to change, which requires a willingness to take risks—and that’s easier said than done. As the old saying goes, “culture eats strategy for breakfast,” and businesses seeking transformation can find themselves stalled if they refuse to change their legacy culture in favour of a more innovative, risk-tolerant one. To surpass this common barrier, leaders will need to embrace failure as something that’s normal and healthy in the pursuit of future success. What’s more, they’ll need to consistently support their employees in trying and failing as they engage in greater risk-taking. This is a crucial part of organisation-wide learning and adaptation at all levels.
Create the momentum for transformation
Motivation and encouragement can create the momentum needed to continually evolve. Businesses should create organisational approval around the idea of digital transformation by telling compelling stories about ways in which they have successfully demonstrated it. For example, a company that leveraged managed print services to transform its business workflows and enhance its security could circulate a story of how it achieved this success and helped the business adapt to a changing environment. Or, a business that used data insights to better understand how its customers used the company’s mobile app could identify new business opportunities—or even new business models to pursue. Both stories could build employees’ confidence and inspire them to innovate further.
Managers must actively foster digital innovation among their staff and invest in the skills training necessary to make this possible. Here, too, the process must be thought of as holistic and evolutionary rather than transactional and limited to a specific area of either the organisation or a one-off initiative. Consistency is key: It requires serious commitment from leadership, as well as staff, throughout the business. The good news is that employees absolutely want to be a part of this kind of digital transformation. They just need the right support and development to make it happen.
Businesses have an exciting opportunity to transform their businesses, truly innovate how they deliver products and services to their customers, and adapt to the continually changing digital economy. By evolving to become digitally mature, they can adapt to the current changes and disruptions in the market, as well as future developments we haven’t even dreamed up yet.