The truth about Digital Transformation

I’ve been neck deep in digital transformation projects for the last 9 months and I’ve learnt a hell of a lot, especially the difference between what it means in the private sector Vs. the pubic sector. There’s a big fact check that nobody is talking about so here it goes…

This is not a design job

I’ve written a few times on this blog about digital transformation in recent years. It’s rapidly become the buzzword for every consultant and agency the world over in an attempt to get them out the product design rut, and into a position of having a seat at the table and, to be honest, dictating design direction for other peoples businesses.

The truth is digital transformation is business consultancy.

I’ll just let that sit there for a while, let you mull it over with everything you know before we carry on.

Are you ready?
Realising where you are?
Feeling a bit uncomfortable?


The dictionary definition for transformation

A lot of the early pioneers in digital transformation were individuals and organisations who had delivered rapid success in the startup world whether for themselves or through programmes with entrepreneurs.

Of course this in itself is a problematic term (startup) because we associate startups with being digital product or service providers. We forget that the world isn’t just digital. Businesses are people. People are not 1s & 0s.

But I digress.

These talented folks were people who had been able to disrupt entire industries and change the way we think about how something can work by having this digital first approach to building businesses. Paypal, Facebook, Google, Uber, AirBnB, you’ve heard it all before – but what you don’t hear is the obvious – they are all people who had an idea on how to run a business.

What are digital transformation consultants?

You may see articles, case studies, conference panels where someone is talking about how we’re all helping to make customers lives better through improving their digital services and how we change the way organisations use technology, and don’t get me wrong, for the most part we absolutely are and I have worked on some heavy projects that really have started the turn on some huge sea-fairing oil tankers. But let’s be honest about what we’re doing.

We are working with business founders and the top-level management teams to iterate, adapt and update the organisation and that has absolutely nothing to do with digital design.

The whole point of digital transformation should be that like any good design it is invisible.

Don’t say it was all your doing

The principle is simple. Use technology to enable you to do great things. That means it shouldn’t be in your face, it shouldn’t be a pain in the ass and it shouldn’t have any friction to it when it arrives.

Anything that can cause those elements to occur most likely means the people in the organisation aren’t ready and there is more work to do with them before introducing other variables into the mix.

They’re different things with different needs

I massively enjoy my work. In the past year I’ve done things far more interesting than any pure web project I’ve ever done. Working with people to figure out where they need help, how it can be found and assisting them to get where they’re going is what has always got me excited, the design or construction of a site, an app, a dashboard was just an output for that effort.

I still love to explore problems, and I love designing solutions but where I draw the line right now is designing businesses because I, we, you, have no right to design another groups business.

We can give advice pooled from our own experiences, we can share techniques,  our way of looking at things and how we approach unpacking a problem but these are not our companies. We have no skin in the game and to say otherwise or to take the credit for what others have done before we rocked up is naive.