What Is Digital Transformation?

The Transformations All Around Us

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What is digital transformation (DT)? While it seems straightforward to most people in our industry, asking someone to actually define it becomes complicated, clumsy, and sometimes confusing. You’re likely to get a different answer from anyone you ask. The most likely answer would mimic Supreme Court Judge Potter Stewart famous statement, “I know it when I see it.”

Personally, I would most likely select Gartner’s definition for digital transformation as it is the most concise:

“Digital business transformation is the process of exploiting digital technologies and supporting capabilities to create a robust new digital business model.”

However, I would amend it with Salesforce’s definition, which focuses on the customer:

“Digital transformation is the process of using digital technologies to create new — or modify existing — business processes, culture, and customer experiences to meet changing business and market requirements.”

The Transformations All Around Us

We also tend to think digital transformation is enterprise driven, but have you stopped to think how it has personally transformed your everyday life, and how it continues to do so, even in ways you don’t even think about anymore?

For most of my childhood, I grew up without TV (not by choice, but by circumstance). This meant that my primary entertainment escape was music. To be clear, these were the days of LP’s, reel-to-reel tapes, and eventually cassette tapes (very un-digital). One day, while listening to some song I don’t recall, I noticed the backup singers repeating some phrase of the chorus over and over. I thought (because I knew just a little about how music was recorded), that the phrase was just sung once and then the tape was copied over and over again as needed.

When I asked my father about this, he chuckled and explained more about how individual music tracks (drums, vocals, guitar, etc..) were meticulously recorded and then all merged (called “Mastering”) into two main tracks, left and eight (a la “stereo”). Each track had to be as perfect as possible before it was considered completed and ready for the master. If it wasn’t, the artist would have to do it all over again (or at least a part of it). Well, I thought this was just a big waste of time and effort; why couldn’t they just grab the best parts, splice them all together, and voila….instant record!

Well, now you can with digital tools such as Pro Tools, and even such consumer apps like Apple’s Garageband. I can only imagine what I may have recorded if I had such tools at my disposal at that age.

The (very) small town I grew up in didn’t have any place to buy music. In fact, the nearest record store was 90 miles away in a town that we visited maybe four times a year. So, what’s a kid to do? Enter, the Columbia House Record Club. For those too young to recall, a catalog would arrive monthly, along with a selection for your “record of the month.” All you had to do was to return (via snail mail) a card with your order and voila — three weeks later a package arrived at your mailbox. This was how music was sold to the boonies.

Today, you can immediately download it or stream it from a number of digital services. Nowadays, we take for granted the immediacy of music. No more “crate diving” or borrowing a friend’s vinyl, cassette, or CD to hear (or copy) something new. Music is always here and in such volume it’s fragmented the entire industry. This is digital transformation.

Other examples of digital transformation we take for granted include word processing and mathematical calculations (Word and Excel, anyone?), communications (email, texting, instant messaging), human interaction (social media), scrapbooks (pictures and cloud storage), and shopping (Amazon).

The Future Of Digital Transformation

But what’s next? Where is DT headed? One of my favorite examples is the “Digital Twin.” This is a digital representation of a physical object or system. This digital representation provides both the elements and the dynamics of how an Internet of Things (IoT) device operates and lives throughout its life cycle.

While the current use case for a digital twin resides mostly with IoT, consider how such a concept will affect your everyday life and the physical world you interact with. Someday, your house will be manufactured as a “twin” prior to the physical construction, so to better understand how it will engage with the immediate environment and increase energy efficiencies. The car you drive will have automated features that were comprised and tested as a virtual twin. Consumer product safety will improve as physical items are prototyped in the virtual space before being manufactured to reduce defects and recalls. The possibilities are endless and the digital twin will allow us all to see the physical world in code, just like Neo from “The Matrix” does.

So, will it be the red pill or blue pill?