How transformative is digital transformation supposed to be?

how transformative is human centric digital transformation supposed to be

The headlines these days have been even more challenging than usual.*

Or perhaps — hear me out — you could make that statement at almost moment ever, and people would agree: the headlines right now are more challenging than usual.

Humans have a very complicated relationship with change, and that’s partly because we have a very complicated relationship with time. We also tend to think of moments other than now as exceptional: that there was something extra-special about historical events that nothing happening now could possibly compare to. We miss the significance of what happens sometimes when we don’t see it through the lens of history. Yet on the other hand, we overlook the extraordinary ordinariness of this moment: this moment right here could be the one when we decide to commit to fully-engaged climate action that won’t settle for less than true resilience for the planet and all its people. Or it could just as easily have been a moment 10 or 20 or 40 years ago. All we need is to make the moment happen.

Transformation, digital and otherwise

I’m saying all of this partly because if your organization is anything like most of those I’ve spoken and consulted with, you’re still trying to figure out exactly what digital transformation is supposed to mean for you and your customers. (It’s ok: I’m not naming names. Your secret is safe with me.)

So it’s totally fair if you’re wondering just how transformative this whole process is actually supposed to be. “How deeply should we be thinking about transformation beyond digital? I mean, transformation means change, and that might mean all kinds of change, and we’re already up to our ears in change. Just how much change are we talking about, Kate, and how deep can we expect it to go?”

Those questions are good. After all, questions lead to insights, and insights steer you to the answers and solutions that serve the moment and the context.

So yes, I hear you. Let’s unpack.

Transformation of business models, value chains, and the whole ecosystem

The questions we’re asking may be prompting some deeper insights — and they might get uncomfortable. The questions about just how far transformational strategy is supposed to go reach deep into our relationship with change and time, and the insights that emerge might sound a bit like ‘everything is connected.’ And the more we consider that, the more it paints a picture of a need for holistic change.

We can’t solve for the future of work without considering what work means to us. We can’t make sense of the weird future of money and solve for the future of the economy without understanding what the economy is, fundamentally.

We can’t solve the climate with technology, but once we have deeply considered what we’re trying to solve for, we can absolutely harness the power and capacity of technology to solve human problems at scale.

You may be asking different questions and coming up with different answers. That’s perfectly understandable. After all, digital transformation is bound to look different in different industries, in different organizations, given different externalities (like, say, oh I don’t know, how a global pandemic affected your region and your business). And depending on your role, the way you experience the questions and insights about transformational strategy might even be slightly different than other types of employees in your organization.

The digital transformation of experiences… and not

But our questions began with digital transformation, so let’s go ahead and give the topic its due. By the time we arrive at this part of our journey, after considering the broader context of transformation, we can see that the digitalization of experiences has the potential to transform not only the way we do business but also the way we live.

For inspiration on how data-supported and connected innovations are reshaping industries, look no further than the banking sector: As we’ve seen over the past few years, digital innovation is disrupting traditional models, redefining our understanding of value and asset classes, and pushing established brands to rethink how they engage with their customers.

This disruption is by no means limited to financial services. We can see it in other sectors such as hotels, airlines, and hospitality businesses. And yet, for all that disruption, the experience architecture of interacting with a hotel or airline has not fundamentally changed. You still check in and check out, for example — but now, rather than a human at a desk or counter, it’s more common to do these activities through an app. (Or in some settings, perhaps with a robot stationed behind the counter.)

It means personal transformation too

The Great Resignation, if you look at it with enough empathy, has been about personal transformation. Between the covid pandemic and the accelerating climate crisis, plenty of people are feeling like the core of their humanity and their employment is out of sync. We need a new approach to work that allows us to feel in touch with our humanity.

Transformational strategy needs insights

When I describe what I do, I sometimes say I offer “insights for transformational strategy.” (I might sometimes add “that leads to better business and better human experiences,” but it depends how concise I’m trying to be.) Transformational strategy is needed anytime we’re facing outside pressures, changing market demands, evolving technological landscape, or, y’know, random externalities that alter the entire landscape (ahem, covid).

The rapid responses to COVID-19 in healthcare, education, retail, and food service have given us a glimpse at an accelerated world of digital-ready experiences. Through the power of connected video calls and a little imagination, you can visit a dentist virtually, attend a wedding on the other side of the world, conduct a socially-distanced photo shoot, and, as we all learned ad nauseum during the lockdown days, so very much more.

Questions to get you started

You need good questions to get those insights going, right? Here are some starters to get you talking with your team:

  • No matter what transformation you are considering, what is the purpose you are trying to achieve at scale?
  • What is an emotional state that people are often in when they find your brand, and how can you, with respect and empathy, plan your digital systems to meet that state of mind?
  • How can you emphasize alignment?
  • If covid or the climate crisis meant a complete end to all in-person interactions that happen for your brand, how would you make sure to add human touches and a sense of human connection to the digital versions?
  • What is significant about the passage of time in the experience people have with your brand or product?

These questions might not (and shouldn’t) have easy answers, but they should begin the process of searching for insights. Once you have an a-ha moment, your next steps should be clearer.

And Finally: How to Offer Meaningful, Transformational Help

* This post begins with an oblique reference to the war in Ukraine, and we can’t leave without suggesting some ways to offer meaningful help.

Global Citizen has a robust list of resources for anyone looking to offer help in Ukraine or stay informed about the situation.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is raising emergency funds to help displaced families.

CNN has partnered with Public Good to raise funds to be distributed among 15 organizations, or if you see a particular organization doing work that means something special to you, you can also donate directly at the same link.