Digital Transformation Means Nothing and Everything All at Once

Randy Cross Senior Director, Program Management Published 26 Mar 2019

Digital Transformation is perhaps the hottest buzzword around.  It’s the theme of every tech presentation you hear…including mine.  Yet, what does it really mean?

Lately, I’ve been asking audiences, “who’s undergoing some type of Digital Transformation?”  The awkward silence that follows has ceased to surprise me.   You quickly figure out that the question must be followed up with examples of projects to which the audience can relate.

You see, the term “Digital Transformation” is absolutely meaningless.  It sounds cool and innovative.  The acronym, Dx, is even a little edgy.  However, the term is so broad that it could mean anything from replacing carbon imprints with card readers to installing robotic body parts in an attempt to become a cyborg.  Asking a room full of techies about Digital Transformation is like asking my family what they want for dinner.  They simply shrug and say, “I don’t know.”

Yet, when we discuss potential projects, heads begin to nod in agreement.  “Is anyone stretching their campus services to remote sites?”  “Who is working on dynamic network services triggered by user and device?”  “Are you deploying IoT for customer interaction?”  There are endless examples, concrete enough for people to wrap their heads around.  It’s as simple as, “do you want Tex-Mex or BBQ?”  Even if the answer is, “neither,” everyone is now thinking in specifics and offering suggestions.

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The reason we struggle with the initial question is that Digital Transformation is more than just a technology evolution.  It’s the convergence of people, processes, and technology to completely change the experience of doing business.  Healthcare institutions are looking at pop-up urgent care facilities that provide the same experience for doctors and patients as visiting the traditional clinic.  Hospitality companies are exploring ways to provide Personal Area Networks (PANs) that allow guests to bring along their home entertainment experiences with nothing more than a Wi-Fi sign-in.  Retailers are experimenting with smart mirrors, digital shelves, and augmented reality to personalize the customer experience in brick & mortar stores.  While technological innovations make these experiences possible, they require fundamental business changes to be successfully executed. 

In that sense, Digital Transformation encompasses everything.  Of course, everyone has initiatives that fall under its umbrella.  That’s as obvious as the fact that my family is hungry at dinner time.  So, the questions we ask must be more outcome-driven.  If the girls have a lot of homework, then we either have to cook or get something to go.  If we haven’t been to the grocery store, then cooking is off the table.  Since I’m home to have this discussion, there will be sweet tea involved.  With the desired experience defined, we’re back to specific options.  As networking professionals, we know exactly how to quickly turn up an urgent care facility using Cloud technologies that are integrated with our premise-based solutions at the local clinic.  We just don’t think of that as Digital Transformation.  It’s simply another project that we can do in our sleep.

Perhaps if the network augmented itself to match the outcomes we were creating, we’d consider it Digital Transformation.  Our experiences as administrators would be dramatically changed via more automatic processes and an elevated business focus.  To make that happen, though, the network would need to be autonomous.  While you contemplate the possibilities of that, I’m going to see what the family wants to eat.

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