What’s Next After Digitization?

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As businesses continue on their digitization roadmap, many have entered the last stage. Benefits are already becoming measurable and driving enterprise transformation. Silicon UK asks what barriers have been encountered, and what does a business do next, when it has achieved its digitization goals?

For many enterprises, their digital transformation journey is approaching its conclusion. Two years’ ago, Gartner dubbed the long tail of digital transformation the ‘ContinuousNEXT’ to signify the on-going evolution of five core initiatives: Privacy, AR, culture, Product Management and Digital Twin.

The digital transformation roadmap for businesses has been long and, in some cases, highly disruptive. For these enterprises, the benefits are now becoming clear with measurable results.

Says Frederic Laluyaux, President and CEO, Aera “Firstly, transformation in some of the large complex organizations hasn’t yet fully realized it’s full value. For example, we now see fully digital manufacturing with IoT capabilities rolled out.

Frederic Laluyaux, President and CEO, Aera
Frederic Laluyaux, President and CEO, Aera.

“However, there is a big gap in contextualizing that into specific business processes (e.g., Quality, MRP, etc.) and leveraging that context for business improvement,” Laluyaux continued. “Also, we need to realize those big corporations have a legacy from the past that they have to optimize, and they are not as advantaged as “digital native” companies like Airbnb, etc. They have to deal with things from the past.”

Laluyaux concluded: “So, we would say that digital transformation has just begun. Secondly, once this transformation is earnestly underway and progressing, we anticipate seeing new opportunities getting unlocked – opportunities that were never available before. Imagine what the transcontinental railroad opened up for the US back in the days. Businesses will be able to reconfigure their digital supply networks in real-time to situations and operate at an unprecedented level of agility.”

The practical application of digital transformation for many businesses is opening new commercial opportunities. “Realistically, the world is not yet at the point of everything being instantaneous,” says Accenture. “But post-digital companies are already playing a different game. Companies still completing their digital transformations are looking for a specific edge, whether it’s innovative service, higher efficiency, or more personalization. Post-digital companies are looking for much more. They are out to bypass the competition by changing the way the market itself works. From one market to many custom markets— on-demand, in the moment.”

The ‘edge’ as Accenture calls it can be anything unique within a marketplace, sector or focused on customer segments. One of the significant advantages of digital transformation has been the ability to interrogate data and, create highly personalized communications channels with customers.

Continuous next

One of the major aspects of digital transformation has been how these changes have impacted on workforces. Says Fuze: “Tomorrow’s workforce will demand technologies that fit with the way they want to work, interact, and collaborate. At the heart of this trend is an expectation set by consumer devices, with many office workers seeking the same usability, accessibility, and seamless integration at work that they experience as consumers. Three-quarters of the app generation also want to be able to use the latest technology at work, increasing pressure on IT leaders to introduce and deploy technologies with consumer-like experiences.”

You have mastered SMAC (Social, mobile, analytics, and cloud). Next is DARQ (Distributed ledger technology, Artificial intelligence, extended Reality, and Quantum computing)

Accenture explains: “Even before DARQ technologies have reached full maturity, it’s clear that they are poised to become the foundation for next-generation products and services. Already AI and XR offer a major competitive advantage in multiple areas, and distributed ledgers and quantum computing are expected to drive new innovations in the coming year. When all four technologies are viable at scale, their impact will grow significantly—once again allowing companies to transform their business models and full industries from the ground up.”

Speaking to Silicon UK, Jocelyn Lomer, Chief Executive of nuVa Enterprises explains: “The impact of the ‘continuous next’ on global organizations is immense. We can now beam in knowledge from anywhere, using intuitive software to collaborate with team members or colleagues with a whole world of digital models. This creates an agile ‘brain’ type organization with knowledge centres as the neuron and virtual workspaces as the synapse, connecting in the richest possible way, to create an agile and intelligent organization. By definition, the continuous next will not end. Businesses are always searching for ways to remain competitive, and if they settle on digital development, they risk falling behind or even becoming obsolete.”

Is digital transformation something that a business can complete? The key is to understand the goals that should have been set at the outset and then measure these against current performance. There will always be more work to be done, but, enterprises can pause and see the tangible benefits digital transformation has bought to their businesses.

Making it personal

The science fiction author William Gibson said, “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.” When applied to digital transformation across a business landscape, the changes taking place are not even or universal.

Research from IDG shows the vast majority (56%) of respondents to their survey have either achieved their initial IT modernization or have made significant progress toward doing so. In comparison, 19% have made moderate progress, with 26% are in the early stages.

If IT leaders have recognized IT, modernization isn’t all about apps or platforms, what has been their focus? They have been considering platforms, governance and processes, application modernization, resources and skills, modern management models, and more. And, this means IT organizations must continue to act as effective, strategic enablers of business objectives by aligning IT services accordingly.

For many businesses, digital transformation has been – and continues to be – a bumpy road. Many enterprises, though, have taken major steps forward with their IT strategies. Now is the time to leverage those assets to deliver their full advantage.

Richard Farrell, Chief Innovation Officer at Netcall says: “Digital transformation is not just about implementing technology without a business reason or relevance. It’s the journeys that should be the primary focus, to help achieve appropriate outcomes for the company, its customers, partners and stakeholders. Instead of focusing on technology, businesses must first explore their processes to meet customer expectations. Then, they will be best placed to select the technologies that truly suit their needs and rapidly changing requirements.

History has shown that organizations that make the right technology investments in downturns outperform their peers when economies improve. We are about to undergo a period of rapid digital development in the business world that is spurred, rather than stifled, by the current situation. The difference will be in companies relying on existing in-house expertise or indeed developing new skills within their workforce, rather than reaching out to third parties.”

With nuVa Enterprises’ Jocelyn Lomer concluding: “As the digital playing field evens out, businesses will need to acknowledge a shift in the level of expectations that they face from digitally mature customers, employees, and business partners. To capitalize on this, they need to understand people at a holistic level and recognize that need for flexibility and collaboration. Overall, if businesses do not embrace digital transformation, they run the risk of becoming uncompetitive and in some cases, ceasing to exist.”

Digital transformation is, then, an on-going process. Businesses will be at various stages of their deployments. What comes next is to take the new systems and processes that are now in place, and use them to find new customers, commercial partners and, leverage the insights that the new digital systems have revealed. Digital transformation was never going to be a finite strategy, but one that is in constant motion.

Silicon in Focus

Matt Shearer, Director of Product Innovation, Data Langauge.

Matt Shearer, Director of Product Innovation, Data Langauge.
Matt Shearer, Director of Product Innovation, Data Langauge.

Matt Shearer is Director of Product Innovation at Data Language, a UK-based data science consultancy and solution provider that has worked with organizations including News UK, Jamie Oliver and Cochrane to deliver AI and knowledge graph-based digital transformation solutions.

What comes next after digital transformation?

After digitally transforming, organizations need to become digitally adaptable – i.e. ensure they are ‘ready to be ready.’ It’s impossible to know precisely how ecosystems will evolve, so businesses should build and maintain a wider company and technology culture that is ready for rapid and constant change. Rather than making sure a business can ‘cope’ with continuous flux, companies should become experts at it, and aim to embrace change as a weapon in their arsenal.

A focus on core competencies is also crucial. Businesses should identify their strengths and differentiators and where their expertise lies. Then they can zero in on how technology can support in delivering these, rather than getting caught up in technology hype and fads.

Gartner state that ‘ContinuousNEXT’ is now the default position regarding a business’s digital development. Therefore, does the process ever end?

In short, no, it doesn’t. ‘ContinuousNEXT’ is not a new concept either. At a strategic level, the digital transformation space has always been in a state of ‘ContinuousNEXT’ as new opportunities, and competitive disruption occurs. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought into sharp relief the need for focusing on adaptability and rapid value delivery.

For the last decade, many businesses have had the luxury of longer ‘transformation’ projects with larger budgets. While economies recover from the current crisis, purses will be tighter, so the emphasis will increasingly be on focused investment decisions and rapid value delivery. Projects will need to be leaner and ruthlessly focused on value realization; both of these priorities are at the heart of agile technology delivery practises.

Leaders who embrace this view of constant change, and favour early value delivery over large ‘big bang’ projects, will be able to move rapidly and with focus. As such, they will be at an advantage.

After a business ‘completes’ its digital transformation (if it ever can), is the next phase to master emerging technologies such as distributed ledger technology, artificial intelligence, extended reality and quantum computing?

To be blunt, that depends if you’re looking for funding or actually running a business. Only one of those buzzwords is having a material impact on digital transformation right now and will keep doing so for the foreseeable future: AI. The rest is good for VC pitch decks – but beware that focusing on “a sequence of technologies to use” is a strategic distraction and likely to be economically hazardous.

The next phase really depends on the business’s situation. In my experience, the choice of technology should not be the focus, as it’s only one part of executing your strategy. For some, this might be AI, but for many more, it should be ‘get your core business platform in order’!

Organizations should start by developing a strategy based on situational awareness, choosing the right tools to deliver it, and then realizing their first value change as quickly as possible. The single most important factor, which is also the greatest challenge, will be ensuring a cultural ability to adapt and deliver rapidly.

Are CIOs and CTOs now shifting their attention to understand the post-digital customer, employee, threat vector and markets?

Situational awareness is key, yes, but the ability to adapt and react to the data that this awareness brings will be what separates the winners from the losers. If understanding cannot be translated into action, then its value is limited.

To reach true digital adaptability, CIOs and CTOs will need to make sure both their culture and their technology platforms are ready to deliver quickly – and to rapidly support changes in direction.

How can businesses capitalize as they enter a post-digital era?

This comes back to a culture of digital adaptability and focus. Leaders should ask themselves: how can we be ready to try new formats and business paradigms without huge rebuilds or duplication of work? What is stopping us from launching our next idea rapidly?

When investing in new and emerging technologies, businesses should always ensure that it adds value to their core offerings and strengths. I recommend being wary of the over-hyping of various technologies, which always comes and goes, and avoiding investing in building what has already become commoditized or, is outside of your core competencies.

Ensure your technological decisions are aligned with your business strategy. Avoid fads and think instead about prioritizing investments by what gives you the flexibility to respond quickly and effectively to market changes.

Think carefully about the ‘buy, build or partner’ question when investing in digital technologies. If it isn’t product differentiating and is available off the shelf, organizations should avoid the temptation to invest internal resources into building it. Instead, they should invest their data scientists’ and engineer’s time into projects that will differentiate their company and products.

Check your culture. The real transformation is cultural: it’s about how businesses work differently (leaner, incrementally, simpler, more agile). If a company can do this, they will have a strong advantage over many competitors.

And check your data. Get your data and information in order, and crucially, understand the value it holds, so that you are ready to unlock its full potential, be agile, focus on your core expertise, and deliver regularly and rapidly.