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Digital Transformation: 2017 vs. 2007

In the growing hype that surrounds all things digital, the idea of a “digital transformation” has taken on a life of its own. This leads to many (good) discussions around “what is digital transformation anyway?” and “how does this impact our business?”

To place the use of the word into its evolutionary context, just think back a decade. In 2007, the iPhone was being introduced. The USA was on the verge of electing an inexperienced senator named Obama who ran on the slogan of “Hope”. The world didn’t yet rely on the platform economy for our taxi rides or vacation rentals.

In terms of tech development, a decade ago seems like ancient history. Back then, companies had yet to harness to power of mobile or social to achieve business results. The business and consumer worlds were still very much separate.

In this context – the ancient world of 2007 – digital was just another adjective that meant part of or belonging to IT. To sketch the stark parallel, in 2017 most companies have a digital strategy that not only drive the IT-adjacent business units like marketing but also for customer facing units like sales.

What is more, digital is taking an increasingly important seat at the table. According to the Harvard Business Review, only 40% of CIOs were involved in strategic planning in 2007. Today, the CIO’s office houses many of the most business critical initiatives as company’s struggle to compete in a rapidly shifting customer-centric market place. What is more, only 33% of executives said their CEO was a champion for digital in 2007; today that number is at 68%. What a difference a decade makes!

In the hype around digital, it is easy to get bogged down in details. As companies struggle to compete, it is tempting to focus on transforming every small detail to “fit” the new-fangled digital world. However, in HBR’s Digital IQ test, an ironic truth was revealed – high performing companies (5% year over year profit margin increases) were those who were able to focus on the customer’s experience and cut through the noise by delivering the rapid service users have come to expect with a personal, distinguishing touch. Top organizations leverage “digital” to move from the old IT focus of operational efficiency and transition towards a more customer-centric focus that combines standardization & automation when possible with customization at the human touch point.

In spite of the decade long connotations that “digital” means “IT” perhaps we should re-wire ourselves to consider “digital” as the growing movement to provide an even more intimate customer experience.

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