Have Just a Bit of Patience with 'Transformation'

Digital transformation, cloud adoption and AI seem to be taking longer than people expected. Why is that a surprise?

James M. Connolly, Contributing Editor and Writer

September 19, 2019

4 Min Read
Image: KC - stock.adobe.com

Digital transformation has reached a stage that really ought to be included in Gartner's Hype Cycle methodology. I'll call it the "Oops, we aren't ready" stage.

We see it with all types of technology concepts and product introductions, from the entrance of the PC into the enterprise to the adoption of Windows 10, and the interest in AI and machine learning. Even rolling out a new version of Windows was easily a four-year project, one year for testing and then replacing one third of a company's devices with "new-Windows" devices each year for three years. Yet, six months after the new OS release industry talking heads would moan about how few users it had. These things take time.

Over the past couple of months, I've seen consulting and research firms promoting reports that show how enterprise leaders are disappointed with the progress made with digital transformation initiatives. Blame falls on factors such as management indecision, infrastructure inadequacies, lack of team skills, budget, and whatever else.

For example, Accenture last week released a report called Network Readiness Survey, in which less than half of IT and business leaders "indicated their networks are completely ready to support cloud and digital." Other research shows that only a third of senior executives in big companies are confident that they can pull off digital transformation.

None of this should be surprising. It's true that our corporate networks, our companies' structures, and our IT teams aren't ready for a lot of the initiatives that we discuss on these pages, in other media, and at conferences.

In fact, they shouldn't be ready. These things take time if we are going to do them right. Do them wrong and your efforts will be remembered as what your successor had to fix.

Take the case of the cloud. We started talking seriously about it about eight years ago, with half of those years being occupied by the cloud providers themselves sort of in disarray and IT organizations trying figure out how cloud fit into their strategies. Blindly dumping massive numbers of applications into the cloud wasn't the way to go. Now consider artificial intelligence, which started to find a cozy home in the enterprise only three years ago. We're still on a learning curve with AI, working our way through data management issues, skillset challenges, and ethics concerns.

Roll out an algorithm infested with gender, ethnic or age bias and your company will be the poster child for corporate screw ups.

Both cloud and AI are core elements of a digital transformation strategy. AI needs the cloud as an extended infrastructure to hold and process massive amounts of data, and the enterprise needs the cloud to provide both flexibility and efficiency.

Don't forget that we really started discussing digital transformation about two years ago. How quickly should a company make that kind of shift not only to its infrastructure but also to its culture, it's product offerings, its supply chain, and its core business processes and workflow? It's not just a matter of installing technology. It's about people, too, people who are used to doing business a certain way. 

It's also about doing what is right for your business. Consider the guidelines set out this week by management consultancy McKinsey in Jessica Davis's article: Doing Digital Transformation Right.  Digital transformation isn't the same as hooking up a new server or even rolling out a new email system. It's about changing the way you do business.

Some companies can take the leap in 24 months, perhaps even a year for those with a less complicated structure. For most, it requires some significant planning, testing, training, and investment. Yet we get caught up in how quickly digital native companies get to market and start to disrupt industries. We forget how many of those digital natives, even those with a head start on competitors, simply fail. Those that do succeed typically start with a greenfield approach, not only no legacy systems but no legacy corporate culture, processes or customer expectations.

To be clear, today's enterprises do have to move quickly to implement new technologies and thus "transform" themselves. They probably could have started a few years earlier. What's more important is that they must establish a culture of being open to change and innovative in ways that provide real benefits. Only with that foundation will new technologies drive true transformation.

About the Author(s)

James M. Connolly

Contributing Editor and Writer

Jim Connolly is a versatile and experienced freelance technology journalist who has reported on IT trends for more than three decades. He was previously editorial director of InformationWeek and Network Computing, where he oversaw the day-to-day planning and editing on the sites. He has written about enterprise computing, data analytics, the PC revolution, the evolution of the Internet, networking, IT management, and the ongoing shift to cloud-based services and mobility. He has covered breaking industry news and has led teams focused on product reviews and technology trends. He has concentrated on serving the information needs of IT decision-makers in large organizations and has worked with those managers to help them learn from their peers and share their experiences in implementing leading-edge technologies through such publications as Computerworld. Jim also has helped to launch a technology-focused startup, as one of the founding editors at TechTarget, and has served as editor of an established news organization focused on technology startups at MassHighTech.

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