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Scaremongering will only get you so far when it comes to digital transformation, says Billy MacInnes

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5 July 2019 | 0

Redmond, we could have a problem. That’s what I thought when I read the comments by Ger Perdisatt, director, enterprise commercial group, Microsoft Ireland, concerning Irish enterprises and their feelings about digital transformation

In an interview with TechPro, Perdisatt revealed that many Irish enterprises felt under pressure to embark on digital transformation but were unsure how to go about it and, more significantly, why they had to do it. To me, it looks as if many of them feel they’re being pushed into something which, for all they seem to understand, looks very like change for change’s sake.

This surely accounts for why, to adapt Perdisatt’s words, organisations feel that they need to change but don’t know what it means for them and whether they can actually adopt it.

Perdisatt made an intriguing point when he said that while many customers were expecting Microsoft to talk to them about technology, the conversation actually had to start at “how to change their culture and operating processes because, ultimately, we know the technology works but, actually, it is the organisation’s ability to assimilate that change that is a bigger determinant of whether any of these digital transformations work”.

While this may well be a fair point to make, it perhaps points to why customers are confused over how they should go about digital transformation and why they should do it. Until now, as Perdisatt acknowledges, the customer engagement with IT companies has been at the technology level. The conversation has been around what the technology can do, how it can improve what it already does, enhance what is already in the company and add something new to the business.

But with digital transformation, the conversation is becoming far more invasive and pervasive for the customer. Instead of the usual comfortable conversation with the supplier on familiar terms, digital transformation places far more demands on the customer. No surprises that should be an issue.

It would be made easier if the change in dynamic was shown to result in an easily measurable successful outcome. In other words, there was a very clear quid pro quo. But whatever cultural change the IT companies might expect from their customers, it appears that they don’t necessarily expect the same from themselves. While some of the momentum for digital transformation may well be tied up with the incredible success of digital enterprises or born-in-the-cloud market disrupters, the cold reality is that a large part of the message is still the old ‘don’t get left behind, if you want to survive you need to adopt this technology’.

If anything, the message is amplified precisely because of the IT industry’s framing of digital transformation as a much wider and deeper exercise for the customer than a traditional IT project.  When you use a word like ‘transformation’, you’re not talking about tinkering around the edges. And let’s not forget, many customers already have experience, good and bad, of implementing IT within their organisations. They know how well it has done, how problematic the change can be and how the difficulties can be glibly undersold by IT companies eager to sell their wares.

Now, imagine what customers must feel when the IT industry tells them that all their implementations so far are as nothing compared to what is to come. That technology is no longer confined to parts of their business, but instead will become the platform that transforms and sustains their business. If you’ve known what can go right and wrong in a minor IT implementation, how are you going to feel about embarking upon something which you are told will affect your entire business? Worse still, what will your reaction be when you hear that the biggest factor in ensuring that ‘these digital transformations work’ is how your organisation ‘assimilates’ changes in its culture and operating processes and that no blame can be attached to the technology because it works? 

What kind of message is the IT industry sending to customers if digital transformation isn’t a success for them? Can it really be: ‘The technology works, you don’t?

TechPro in association with Expleo is looking for the thought of IT professionals on digital change. To participate and be in with a chance of winning a weekend away for two at Kelly’s Resort Hotel, Rosslare fill out our short survey here.

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