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  • Michael Kerman

The Digital Transformation Blues

As a business executive and marketing professional, I know I'm supposed to embrace all that is good about the "digital transformation" wave. After all, it's a major inflection point and is creating a great deal of change (and opportunity) in clients big and small.

Unfortunately, there are things about digital transformation that concern me.

First, it isn't new. Many companies, especially best-in-class companies, have embraced using digital and automation technologies to transform core business processes such as order-to-cash, procure-to-pay and more. Yes, there are many new things, such as AI-based systems, Internet-of-Things (IoT) and more.  True, the pace of change, level of digital integration and use across a wider set of industries has all increased. Still, MIT Sloan Review wrote about the digital transformation 3 years ago... and it wasn't new then either! Marketers have been using digital technologies and approaches to reach their clients and supply chains have been doing so even longer.

Next, I worry that this focus on "Digital Transformation" will do for business what iPhones, email, texting, snapchat and other social media platforms have done for our teenagers.  

Ever ask a teen to call someone on their phone? or worse, on their home landline? Or even worse, speak to them face-to-face? Improperly used, digital technologies can distance ourselves from our customers and partners, not bring them closer like we envision. Digital transformations can do wonders for efficiency, automation and creating volumes of data... but will it create stronger, deeper relationships with our customers?

Finally, I also think about whether the new "wave" is focused on the right thing to grow the business. Digital transformations can do wonders for helping companies better identify and service their customers, drive greater efficiency in operations, extract greater insight from sales and customer data and create greater value for itself and its partners.  However, if your company lacks a compelling vision or has a fundamental business model issues, there are other things to focus on than digital transformation. Companies which jump on the digital transformation train even when their product lack differentiation, a clear message or a strong value proposition aren't going to realize the pot-of-gold they envision.

Look, I think the digital transformation movement (fueled by huge advances in mobile, AI, analytics and cloud technologies) is a wonderful direction and makes for a dynamic, exciting technology and business environment. I hope companies don't forget that:

Digital transformation itself is not the end-goal.  The ability to better acquire, delight and retain customers should be the main focus

Like any transformation, digital transformation depends on a bedrock of clear vision, quality offerings, executive commitment and aligned resources and investment.

No transformation, digital or not, should create a barrier or divide between a company and its customers.

Maybe we can just agree that we're in "Digital 2.0" and move on!

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