The term ‘digital transformation’ has been bandied around a lot over the past few years, but what does it actually involve and, what does it mean for businesses in 2018?

If you look to the internet for answers, it’ll tell you that digital transformation is “the change associated with the application of digital technology in all aspects of human society”. In business terms though, digital transformation could describe anything from installing new hardware to an organisational restructure.

In any case, digital transformation is more than just a final outcome, it’s a process. It about getting your current business ready for the future. It’s about helping staff understand what their role might look like 10 to 20 years down the line. It’s about identifying how your business could be disrupted by start-ups and changes in consumer behaviour. It’s about innovating to stay ahead of the competition.

To put it simply, digital transformation in 2018 really means organisational transformation.

Putting digital at the heart of the business

Perhaps an easier way to explain digital transformation is to describe what it isn’t. It’s not a one-off digital project you can just throw money at, so you can tick a box. And you also can’t separate it from the core business by outsourcing it and making it someone else’s problem.

You might have seen the news recently that Marks & Spencer has outsourced its digital transformation; agreements like these are often attempts to outsource the problem rather than build real capability that’s fit for the future.

As having a digitally native organisation increasingly becomes the norm, the need to retain ownership of digital transformation in-house will become a necessity. As we all know, technology is constantly changing, and an organisation’s technical staff can be the agents of that change. To make a success of digital transformation, digital experts will need to work closely alongside brand experts to address the needs of the business. Of course, partners will help with that journey – but you can’t outsource the ownership and expect the outcome that’s right for your business.

The road to success starts at the top

When we talk about ‘digital’ in a business, it’s no longer good enough to see it as a separate entity. Digital touches almost every aspect of a business, which means that for digital transformation to really work, the whole business needs to buy into the process. And the best way to generate this buy-in is at all levels throughout an organisation. Getting the senior leadership on board is a big part of this – which might be relatively straightforward, but for others, this could be a trickier situation to manage.

That’s why brands need to identify how changes in technology and consumer behaviour might affect them as an organisation and how they should respond.

You can iterate towards success, by setting clear objectives at the start, you can create measurable results, and stand a far better chance of converting the doubters. Using tools and techniques like a digital maturity model can help you work out where you are and where you need to me. Using market analysis to explore how your industry might change or be disrupted can also help you identify your current strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

Although a 100% digital maturity score will never be achievable, organisations can still aim to create long term sustainable change. That’s the ultimate goal in digital transformation. It comes from communicating that change from the senior staff members down through the company. The purest possible version of digital transformation is one which devolves digital skill in to every person and process in an organisation and helps you keep your organisation relevant and successful in a changing world.

The opportunity

Let’s be honest, lots of people are getting tired of hearing about ‘digital transformation’, but it’s not about to go away any time soon. After all, technology isn’t finite, so why should digital transformation be? Those who are starting their journey now have a fantastic opportunity to take in the learnings from those who have already paved the way, which will help improve the efficiency of the creation of revenue streams and business models of tomorrow.

Of course, there’s no quick fix and there will be obstacles along the way. But by keeping digital at the heart of your business, you stand a far better chance of making your digital transformation a success, not just for the organisation, but for its employees too.

Jim Bowes

Jim Bowes


Jim Bowes, CEO and Founder of Manifesto