A leader must distinguish between digitalization and digitization to accelerate change
There are, however, many myths about digital that come in the way of change
According to the World Economic Forum, the time taken by the average unicorn—a start-up that reaches a billion-dollar valuation—to reach that status is roughly 4.4 years. A typical Fortune 500 company took 20 years to achieve similar results. Uber and Airbnb, for instance, have profoundly transformed the transportation and hospitality industries in less than two years of their inception. There are also examples of large companies that have transformed industries in half a decade. It took less than five years for Apple to transform the music industry and a similar amount of time for Apple to displace Nokia from the smartphone industry.
Many successful organizations from the industrial age and early parts of the information age, such as Blockbuster, Research In Motion (BlackBerry) and Borders have failed to leverage the power of digital in their businesses and have fallen by the wayside. Many more companies are becoming increasingly irrelevant in the digital age.
These are the same companies that dominated their industries till just a few years or decades ago. It’s important to bear in mind that this is not the first time they are facing a transformational business situation. The same companies have transformed themselves over time by tackling challenges such as industrial automation, globalization, mergers and acquisitions. Furthermore, these companies have some of the best leaders in the corporate world; titans who have weathered many a daunting storm. So, what’s going wrong in the digital age?
Incumbents are simply unable to cope with the pace of change introduced by digital disruption. While disruption is measured in months, organizations take years to respond to changes in meaningful ways. While the first response of companies tends to be to upgrade their technologies, people and process transformation don’t get adequate attention. Companies fail to realize that fundamental changes in leadership mindsets, culture and processes are far more important to succeed in the digital journey.
Leaders have a big role to play in accelerating the response to digital change. There are, however, many myths about digital that come in the way of change. Leaders must bust these myths to turbocharge the change process.
Myth #1 Digitalization is the same as digitization
Digitization is the process of converting something that is physical and analogue into something that’s virtual and digital. Think about how, in the last decade, everything from movies, books and music to business processes and even money has been made available in the digital format. That’s digitization.
Digitalization, on the other hand, represents a perfect convergence of human values such as empathy, newer business models and unprecedented technology prowess. Many banks today are not just in the business of earning income through interest rates on loans. They are creating a thriving economy of apps that provide seamless lifestyle solutions to customers. Digitalization can therefore be defined as a new way of doing things by leveraging technology to create exceptional customer experience, become agile and unlock new value.
Myth #2 Digitalization is just another technology trend
Digital is one of the most tossed around words in the alleys of the corporate world today. Depending on whom you ask, digital will be defined very differently. Some define it as an automaton process, others associate it with a technology trend; some speak about on-demand availability of services, others speak about disruption and the opportunity to revisit the way they do business. The fact is, digital has become an all-encompassing phenomenon.
Digital has become so interwoven into our lives today that it has become a natural way of working and living. In the context of business, it is an overarching transformation in the way businesses create, deliver and capture value. Digital has a lot more to do with mindsets and the culture of the organization than fleeting technology trends.
Myth #3 Digital is only a worry for senior leadership or the IT department
Digital has become all-pervading and all-encompassing in an organization. Going beyond business and IT, everyone in the organization needs to know the rules of the new game. Digital brings a fundamental shift in the mindsets, skill sets and tool sets of all employees. Digital, in other words, must become part of the core processes and the very DNA of an organization. To that extent, the capabilities of people must be built, and, more importantly, a digital culture must be enabled across levels in an organization.
To sum up, digital transformation is a massive change management process where companies must not only think about a technology response but also put people and processes right in the centre. It is the leader’s responsibility to constantly challenge myths and mindset issues to accelerate digital change
This article is part of a series on leadership in the digital era. Rajiv Jayaraman is the founder and CEO of KNOLSKAPE, an end-to-end learning and assessments platform.
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