Definition Digital Transformation Is it time to drop the ‘D’ Word?

Digital Transformation: Is it time to drop the ‘D’ Word?

I’ve noticed for some time, but certainly more recently ‘dissent in the ranks’ when it comes to use of the term digital transformation and (would you believe) simply ‘digital’.

Persons outside of the digital delivery bubble (that’s people who don’t sell and support digital stuff) would likely wonder why this even matters, but for those many thousands of us with the words “Digital [Something or other]” in our job title, you can kinda imagine why it does.

First off, it can be frustrating when people try to describe digital transformation and either fail miserably with their definition or just confuse people even more. That’s not helpful, but I’ve learnt to let it go (hell – there’s more work in it for me) plus I rather enjoy watching digital specialists fidget uncomfortably when they are asked by clients what digital transformation is, to give an example or “what’s the difference between IT and digital?” – a personal fav.

From what I can tell, frustrations around the word ‘digital’ are not being projected predominantly by clients. Often I hear first generation technologists claiming “it’s nothing new” and “we were doing this 20 years ago!” with veins popping out of their eye sockets. Then there’s the digital pros themselves. Perhaps frustrated that digital and digital transformation are too large a subject for their clients to understand and some calling to drop the D word altogether…D

So, in response to these (shall we say – somewhat legitimate?) rumblings, I have the following thoughts:

  • My definition of digital transformation: A process that closes the gap between modern customer expectations, and what an organisation can actually deliver.
  • This definition insinuates a plethora of activities that could happen across all aspects of business modernisation; people, process and technology (which I appreciate can be complicated; but that’s the gig).
  • I confess – digital transformation is probably too big a topic to tackle in one consulting assignment, event, article or conversation – so I agree, it’s kinda pointless to keep on trying to describe something that’s just so big, pervasive and complex.
  • Another reason the phrase is confusing is because 1) it describes the process an organisation should go through; to transform and 2) the results of the transformation; having been transformed. That’s a smaller point, but not often mentioned.

In all honesty I wish the word digital didn’t describe so many aspects of the work we do – as technologists, designers, developers, engineers, recruiters, change agents, strategists etc. etc. but hey – is it something we need to discuss right now?

Put another way, if our world is going to modernise so much that most things become digital by default, then perhaps the word will start to disappear from existence, naturally over time? Personally, that will be a happy day but for now; when so many organisations still push paper, pick up phones or ask you to ‘pop in to branch for that kind of request’ then I’m obliged to continue using a word that describes a better alternative.

And that’s what ‘digital’ means to me. It’s what the word represents that matters so much. In many cases the people I deal with believe digital represents some hope of doing things a better way, faster – more economically or efficiently. So, if we want to kill that word from our vocabulary then let’s have a damn good reason for it.


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