Gareth Baxendale of explains why digital transformation is much more about human emotion than you’d think.

Have you ever said a word so many times it begins to sound a bit weird? It’s known as, semantic satiation and happens when the person saying the word suddenly loses all sense of its meaning. It’s a peculiar phenomenon and one that happens, I believe, to the word digital in part due to its prolific use in modern IT and business strategies.

Your organisation will likely have a digital transformation strategy in place and backed up by a digital leadership team and even a digital programme to make it all happen. But, you may wonder, what really is this digital thing and why does it require transformation?

What does digital really mean anyway?

Ask anyone what digital means and you will get a variety of answers, a humble dictionary definition will tell you the somewhat bland explanation that: ‘it’s the way computers communicate using binary’. However, in the context of digital transformation, this definition could not be more diametrically opposed to the reality.

The way to understand digital is simply to change the word to something that actually has some tangible meaning:

  • Digital /ˈdɪdʒɪt(ə)l/ — Adjective Lit. [positive] Experience

By understanding that the purpose of digital transformation is to deliver a positive experience we now have a place to hang our digital hat and will mean you avoid the trap of semantic satiation.

So what is digital transformation?

The logical explanation of what digital transformation really means is best presented as a simple argument: we all prefer simple digital solutions that solve our traditional problems and provide us with a positive experience, examples include the adoption of Uber, Airbnb, Amazon, Netflix, order ahead Starbucks (my personal favourite).

Therefore, we now expect a similar positive digital experience no matter who we engage with. This leads us to an inevitable conclusion that, organisations must exploit digital technologies, to transform the traditional experience into a positive digital experience that meets these new expectations.

So now, let’s illustrate this argument with the traditional versus digital experience in the way we used to rent movies:

The experience went broadly as follows:

Diagram of the Blockbuster experience

This was the traditional way we rented movies and we accepted this reality. However, Netflix came along and used digital technology to essentially go from step one to step five:

Diagram of the Netflix approach

So, how does this translate into digital transformation, aside from the fact that Netflix used Internet-enabled technologies? Let’s introduce emotion into the equation.

The emotional transformation

Experience always involves emotion, both positive and negative. When you add emotion to the traditional steps it tells a very different story…

(1) I want to watch a movie so we (2) travelled to Blockbuster in the pouring rain, we arrived but there were no parking spaces so we walked some distance in the rain to the store then we (3) chose a movie, however the latest movie we wanted was all booked out so we had to spend 20 minutes choosing a mediocre movie we had never heard of. We then got back to our car and (4) travelled home and got stuck behind a slow-moving vehicle for some miles. After arriving home we then (5) watched the movie and thought it was okay and finally we (6) returned the movie by travelling back to the Blockbuster store. But then realised we were a day late and consequently fined for the privilege of renting a movie we didn’t actually want in the first place.

The timeline below visually describes the steps taken in both the digital and traditional route. The red line is our emotional state during these steps. When the line appears above the circle it means we are pretty happy, if it’s at the middle of the circle it means we’re fairly neutral and below the circle means we're a bit cheesed off:

Diagram of the emotional journey

As you will have surmised, by removing all the emotionally negative steps, Netflix created a positive digital experience which encourages us to keep going back for more. Even having to choose an alternative movie is no longer a challenge since Netflix will use machine learning to recommend the next best films for you based on your personal tastes and they’re never booked out!

You can apply this example to other areas of our digital lives such as the traditional way we ordered and collected our prescriptions compared with Pharmacy2u and Echo apps. Or the traditional way we would book an appointment to see a doctor which can all be done conveniently and without leaving your bed by Push Doctor or Babylon Health.

Digital leadership

There’s nothing worse than being a leader, looking behind you and seeing that no one is following you. In order for an organisation to deliver transformational change, digital or otherwise, requires good leadership.

‘Digital leadership requires us to convince everyone this is the new norm and they must be involved in building the experience for it to be a success.’  -  Gareth Baxendale FBCS CITP.

Digital transformation is organisation-wide and involves everyone, including your customers. For staff, it changes the way they think about how to deliver experiences. As such it is essential that the leadership team knows how to change the behaviour of staff and recognise those that make the change and step up to the challenge. Of course, to get people on board requires that they also understand what digital really is and why it is critical to their personal and team’s success.

To be successful in delivering digital transformation an organisation must be agile in the way it executes its strategies, being wedded to one outcome or even one technology will likely be doomed to failure and become the fabled bridge to nowhere. Having multiple options in play will allow your organisation to move quickly based on changing circumstances which will, in turn, give the greatest chances of success in a rapidly moving digital world.

The digital transformation

‘Digital transformation is not a project, it’s an enduring way of working, thinking and culture that looks to exploit digital technology to create the best experience.’  -  Gareth Baxendale FBCS CITP.

Digital transformation is fundamentally linked to the delivery of experience through digital (internet-enabled) technologies. Organisations must deliver a positive digital experience not just to meet these newly established expectations but also to retain their customers. Our expectations are set by the best digital experiences, so if that expectation is not met, we will simply look elsewhere.

The most successful organisations go beyond simply adopting a piece of technology, they deliver a true positive emotional experience by transforming the traditional ways of doing things into simple digital solutions that consistently provide positive outcomes for their customers.

It’s at this point that your digital transformation journey will truly start and will continue to endure.