Digital is Plural

By Aaron Kim

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As companies embark on their digital transformation journeys, some tend to pursue that continuously moving target of binary perfection with the traditional mega-program enterprise approach: setting up a working group of subject matter experts, developing a vision, a mission statement, a roadmap, and dividing the work up in a series of project work streams to deliver what was presented to their business sponsors. This all-hands-on-deck approach can be dubious even for conventional initiatives. Back in 2003, a now-classic Harvard Business Review article, “Why Good Projects Fail Anyway,” stated:

“Big projects fail at an astonishing rate. Whether major technology installations, postmerger integrations, or new growth strategies, these efforts consume tremendous resources over months or even years. Yet as study after study has shown, they frequently deliver disappointing returns—by some estimates, in fact, well over half the time.”

Things don’t seem to have improved much since then, as least according to this Forbes article from 2016:

“(…) 25 percent of technology projects fail outright; 20 to 25 percent don’t show any return on investment; and as much as 50 percent need massive reworking by the time they’re finished.”

When it comes to digital transformation projects, this traditional approach can prove to be extra challenging. To understand better why, ideally we should first define what “digital” actually means. Well, good luck with that. Just Googlewhat digital means,” and you will believe this is one of those awkward family conversations where everybody is circling around a difficult theme without anyone explicitly calling it by its name. Here’s a typical example of that:

“For some executives, it’s about technology. For others, digital is a new way of engaging with customers. And for others still, it represents an entirely new way of doing business. None of these definitions is necessarily incorrect. (…) It’s tempting to look for simple definitions, but to be meaningful and sustainable, we believe that digital should be seen less as a thing and more a way of doing things. (McKinsey, “What Digital Really Means”)”

Continuing with that tradition, I shall also avoid defining the term, but perhaps I can contribute to this dialogue by suggesting an alternate way to think about it. Instead of trying to define what digital is, it may be helpful to think about what digital is not.

The most common antonym we associate with digital is analog. And we know analog very well: it was the only way we knew the world before binary devices became ubiquitous. For centuries, our analog lives were bound to atoms, materialized into physical objects like food, clothes, tools, coins, and so on. Even as we entered the mass media age, we were still dependent on them, although with a level of abstraction in the form of paper, vinyl records, copper wires, tape, and film. We built thousands, millions of complex structures and processes around the limitations of the material world: roads, warehouses, power towers, shopping malls, you name it. Looking from that angle, it’s easy to understand why Go to the full article.

Source:: Business 2 Community

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