Why is digital transformation so hard?

For those of us that work in established organisations, the digital revolution that everyone speaks about so fondly can feel like a never-ending threat that’s looking to destabalise our market, our business and our job.

Driven by a sea of blog articles, conferences and webinars we know that we are working in a completely different world, but we don’t know how to succeed in it.

Here’s the secret — it’s not really that different.

It is the latest in a long line of revolutions that have driven one thing — our ability to communicate with one another. From the invention of language to the written word, to telegrams to TV, to faxes and now to the Internet in all its forms — these advances have all allowed us to send messages of increasing complexity at higher speeds.

The Digital revolution is just the same.

As such, the needs that businesses have to meet in order to remain successful haven’t really changed. What has changed is the way that people expect these needs to be met.

The Dabbawala of Mumbai

For example, the core needs that are being met with a service like Deliveroo are the same as those being met by the Dabbawala of Mumbai. When they’re not busy competing in races with Jeremy Clarkson and the Top Gear gang, this network of bike drivers and train riders deliver home made lunches to office workers in India.

They’re both bringing cheap, tasty food to people who don’t have the time or inclination to get it for themselevs. They are great examples of successful services that work in the context in which their customers operate. Deliveroo is offered via an app, the Dabbawala by speaking to your local neighbourhood rep.

Craigslist is the same need to inform people of things to buy as the classifieds in newspapers. Tinder meets the same desire as lonely-hearts pages ever did. Uber of course follows a world of taxis, mini cabs and chauffeurs and Pinterest is literally a digital pin board. They all meet customers’ needs in a way that is relevant to them.

Each of the revolutions that people speak of has taken place quicker than the one before it. This is hardly surprising. That’s because it makes use of the existing tools to spread itself even more efficiently and more effectively. And that’s where the opportunities for organisations lies — you’ve now got a myriad of tactics that can help you be more effective and efficient, meeting the same needs that you have done before.

When it comes to existing organisations — all of this can feel very difficult, because so much of our people, processes and tools are built up around “the way we do things here”. The bigger we get, the more set we become in our ways, as that’s often the way to establish efficiencies.

However, in our experience, people aren’t actually as afraid of change as history may have us believe. What they tend to be scared of is not knowing where they are going. If organisations can show that the needs that they are meeting are the same as they always have been, but using different tools and tactics then the fear begins to subside. The direction of travel is ultimately the same. That’s the point at which you can get your work force to unleash that creativity and just think what these new tools could mean for you and your customers.

This is the kind of thing that’s very easy to say, but often very difficult to put into practice. For some people it might mean retraining, for others it might mean entirely new careers. But the one thing that isn’t going to happen is that the world isn’t going to stop moving forward.

Those businesses, organisations and people who see this — and the opportunity it presents — are going to be the ones that see the next revolution.