There are many fascinating and beguiling themes about digital transformation (this is why we read and debate it so much). One characteristic that can make it hard to grasp is that it offers both damnation and salvation. Every category of activity is being upended by digital forces. Equally, all organisations across these categories need to survive (and seek to thrive) by applying the methods and approaches of digital transformation. Digital represents an opportunity as much as threat. For incumbent organisations, the threat rises as time passes and rises more rapidly. Doing nothing is a pretty certain route to irrelevance.
For many leaders, the most frightening feature of digital change is the seemingly relentless rise in expectations of customers and consumers. As our digital experience grows, we demand ever more speed, relevance, access, control and connection. Resting on laurels is historically foolish, of course, but it seems now that even the briefest pause can undermine our positions. Embracing a digital mindset needs the embrace of a constant focus on heightened user expectations. This is not a change programme with an end point it is an ongoing and ‘always on’ response to a changing landscape.
Digital technology is clearly the great enabler in this revolution. It has allowed an ease of connection to people, content and services at an unprecedented scale. It has also provided an unparalleled opportunity in the application of data to decision making. Every click, swipe and scroll can indicate potential value. This coupling of connection and data are fundamentals of the digital revolution and what makes it different from other upheavals.
Increasingly, and rightly, organisations are starting to consider responses to digital change as mindset and cultural factors more than technological, or as requiring cultural change with the technology developments. To be sure, technology is a necessary condition of a digital transformation but implementation of technology is not sufficient alone. The keys to unlocking the value of digital are in the combination of leadership, organisation and behaviours to solve the problems of customers and users. Digital ways of working rely on the mindset of the teams and their leaders to develop and apply technology.
Similarly, the introduction of technology skills alone will not make the most of the opportunities of the digital revolution. Software engineering and the related disciplines of the web era continually demonstrate why they are so valued in employment markets. Successful digital businesses harness these skills and their owners through a clear sense of purpose, principles by which products are created and a clear focus on user needs. These product management fundamentals are crucial to unlocking the value of those engineers. Recent developments in silicon valley might indicate that engineering culture also poses risks in understanding the consequences of development choices. Solving an engineering problem can create unforeseen social problems. The right mindset is vital.
So, what does a digital mindset look like? In no ranked order, a digital team will exhibit these features:
Technology it’s adoption and development threads through all of these elements. It is the application of technology with a digital mindset that creates the value. This is as much about the culture, behaviour, organisation and leadership of teams as it is about the code they write.