Digital Acceleration, not Digital Transformation

Don't focus on what your organization can transform into, rather focus on your organization’s capacity for change.

Most large established organizations have been through some kind of transformation effort in the past decade, be it “Digital Transformation” or something else. This only accelerated through Covid.

And yet, most of them fail. Close to three quarters actually.

What’s happening?

From experience, there’s too much focus on the transformative results (e.g. adopting AI) and not enough on the cultural shift your organization needs to go through to be able to transform.

That’s why we focus on Digital Acceleration rather than Digital Transformation.

What’s wrong with Digital Transformation?

First, let’s define a few terms that are often used interchangeably:

  • Digitization applies to information, it refers to the process of taking information from an analog to a digital form.
  • Digitalization means using digital technologies and information to transform business operations.
  • Digital Transformation impacts the business as a whole and its strategy. Digitization and Digitalization are essentially about technology, but Digital Transformation is not. Digital transformation is about the customer.

Now, why are Digital Transformations failing at such a high rate? More than one thing go wrong:

  • Not enough commitment from the top: you need an internal champion with enough leverage to push change and create the space needed for that to happen. That person should be willing to get into a fair bit of trouble to make it happen.
  • Not making tough changes: transforming your organization will require you to rethink processes, tools and most importantly, people. You will probably need new talent and rethink roles and responsibilities. Some people won’t make the cut, some teams will lose control.
  • Not practical enough: making strategic plans at the top is fine. But you’ll need to also have practical, concrete and achievable initiatives that drive change from the bottom.
  • Not focusing on adoption: coming up with new processes, tools and teams is at most half the battle. Getting this change adopted across the organization will take at least as much effort and is the true measure of success.
  • Not focusing on the right things: people get very excited talking about cutting-edge technology (AI! Blockchain!), but real change will demand you to be disciplined enough to focus on what’s important. Writing playbooks, knowing when NOT to adopt new technology or working on people over tools is less appealing but way more impactful.

At the end of the day, digital transformation is more of a cultural challenge than a technological one. And culture is hard to change. Very hard.

Digital Transformation tends to focus a lot on what your organization can transform into. We prefer to focus on your organization’s capacity for change…

Embracing change with Digital Acceleration

The only constant in life is change.

Transformation, digital or otherwise, isn’t a one-off process. Successful organizations are capable of transforming themselves continuously.

This is an existential threat to a lot of large established players; Amazon is seemingly learning a lot faster about retail than Walmart is learning about digital. Amazon’s culture is change, Walmart is not (yet).

Digital Acceleration is the process that helps us grow that capacity for change. We work in iterative cycles:

  1. Understand: we immerse ourselves in the organization, audit where it’s at, interview key stakeholders, map out their teams and processes, benchmark it against competitors…
  2. Align: based on what we learned, we design a high-level vision of where we’re trying to go (using for example customer journey maps). We align this vision with key stakeholders and create a roadmap to get there.
  3. Change: we specifically do not work on the roadmap as a whole. We instead pick an achievable initiative that aligns with it: this means limited changes but greater chances of success. We also tend to focus on customer-facing touch points as it’s usually where the highest impact and best ROI are at.
  4. Repeat: once we’ve delivered on that initiative, we repeat the whole cycle again. Execution provides us with insights into how the organization actually works and helps us adjust our vision and roadmap before picking the next initiative we’ll lead.

We recommend to start with one small initiative and grow in scale and number over time.

After a few cycles, we notice improvements on 3 levels:

  • Better understanding: we get an increasingly more accurate and granular understanding of the organization (what works, what doesn’t, where bottlenecks and gaps are…). This means a better vision of where to go, and a better roadmap to get there.
  • Faster change: the first few initiatives should be quite painful, but the velocity of change will increase over time. Faster and lower friction for change means more change.
  • Team momentum: you’ll preferably initiate this process with a small, independent team. But as this team gets a few successes under its belt, the rest of the organization will take note and want to be part of it.

Ultimately, we improve the organization’s ability to transform itself.

Slow is Smooth, Smooth is Fast

There is nothing particularly novel about this approach: you could see it as Agile applied to the business as a whole. And as with Agile, it’s all about culture and speed, not processes and tools.

Trying to drive a company-wide traditional “Digital Transformation” sets you up for failure. A leaner, iterative approach, while slower at first, will accelerate your pace of change over time and help you succeed in the long term.

Now, one thing to keep in mind is that every organization starts at a different level of ”Digital Maturity”; depending on where they’re at, the way to kickstart their Digital Acceleration may be very different from one another. We’ll leave that topic for a future post.

This concept of Digital Acceleration is covered in our upcoming “Omnichannel Blueprint” ebook: (subscribe to our newsletter and we’ll let you know once it’s out).

Ronan Berder
Posted on January 12, 2023 in Strategy

Share this post

Scan to open in WeChat

Stay tuned

Follow our newsletter or our WeChat account; every other week you'll receive news about what we're up to, our events and our insights on digital products, omnichannel, cross-border ecommerce or whatever the team fancies.

  • Add us on WeChat

  • Subscribe to our newsletter