JONATHAN Whiteside is the principal consultant of digital agency Building Blocks, which is based in Manchester and San Francisco.
The company creates digital platforms which sit at the heart of businesses.
Here, Whiteside gives his views on digital transformation and how businesses should approach it . . .
We regularly hear stories of failed IT transformation or modernisation projects wasting huge amounts of money and investment, usually because they are seen as IT-only initiatives with the end goal being a new system.
But transforming digitally is not itself the goal. The goal is to use digital technologies and techniques to solve a business problem or achieve a goal.
Because digital transformation is really about optimisation and the willingness to change.
It’s about re-thinking an organisation’s relationship with technology to support decision making and help implement change quickly. Digital isn’t just about technology and IT. It’s also about improving processes and thinking with a “silicon valley” mindset.
Agile, iterative, responsive – it all means the same thing. Trying something small, testing if it works and then optimising the next steps based on what we’ve learnt.
During a real digital transformation we start to monitor everything and use the proliferation of inexpensive “pay as you go” (labeled Software as a Service) tools. We collect data, analytics, and perform strategic measurement using the technology tools to give us near real-time insight into what works and what doesn’t. We then use other tools available to make changes to our original approach.
Without this change in mindset, we have to stick to a rigid course – with only our gut feeling to direct us when we set off.
The new mindset encourages us to test and “fail small”, figuring out if something will or won’t work so we don’t “fail big” when there is a lot more at stake.
Nowhere is this truer than in server infrastructure.
It was once the case that at the start of a new IT project or online campaign, a “sizing” process would take place where teams would try and figure out how much server capacity the end product is going to need.
Any infrastructure decisions would be an upfront purchase or a long term commitment, so it was a hard and stressful process which introduced fear that we would get it wrong and have to live with the consequences of our decisions for a long time. We feared:
1. That we over spec’ed – wasting valuable resources and investment and introducing inefficiency
2. That we under spec’ed – causing disruption to the customer accessing the product/service and potential lost revenue
Thinking with a new digital mindset removes that fear.
In the case of infrastructure the tool is cloud computing, where with no initial investment or commitment, we can quickly create the server infrastructure that we think is correct.
We then monitor what happens. If we were wrong, we can adapt the setup within a matter of minutes. And best of all, we only pay for what we use. It gives us total flexibility and control – and removes the fear of failure.
But we need to plan for change from the start, knowing that once the website or application goes live, we have to continually monitor the resource usage and adjust to get the optimal configuration.
And that’s what a successful digital transformation should be about – a willingness to be open and committed to continually adapt, using technology to support us.
It’s also the reason it is so hard. It takes real courage to want to improve, because it means we may have to admit we’re currently getting it wrong and not as in control as we thought we were.
So a successful digital transformation should never end – it should be a series of initiatives which allows an organisation to monitor, assess and adapt at every stage to either repeat success or optimise away from failure.
Technology just provides us with the tools, support and data so we can face reality and change.
That’s true transformation and it really is the difference between surviving and thriving in the digital age.