IT Transformation, Digital Transformation – Its all just transformation, right?

By Mark Benson

Everyone is talking about Digital Transformation; it has been a buzz word for a number of years now and a focal point for many organisations. IT Transformation on the other hand gets little limelight and is something that is often forgotten in business discussions, but it has a major role to play in the digital journey. So why is it so out of fashion?

Well let’s start with basics and look at the differences between the two transformation journeys. Starting with IT Transformation, the clue is in the name as the focus is on technology (one of those Ronseal moments - it does what it says on the tin). It is the assessment and modernisation of an organisation’s IT architecture to reduce risk, improve performance, improve security and provide business agility.

Digital Transformation on the other hand focusses generally on the business and the customer. It is the utilisation and integration of technology within an organisation to optimise the operations of a company and to deliver value to customers. Generally, this will include some form of cultural change within an organisation to adopt to the new business models and to evolve processes in line with business goals and the market conditions.

So, what are the major differences then?

  • IT Transformation focusses on the goals of IT, while Digital Transformation is aligned to business and customer objectives
  • Generally, it is only IT that is focused on IT Transformation (even though there should be others focused on it such as Finance, Operations etc.). When it comes to Digital however, everyone is involved in a business as well as the ecosystems around it (partners, distributors, vendors etc.)
  • Digital Transformation is a journey with no end goal, as you should be evolving all the time to meet your objectives. IT Transformation on the other hand is more project related, with a clear start and end point.

I am often asked by organisations that are looking to transform if you need to go through IT Transformation to achieve your Digital Transformation, and the answer is yes - but the level of change will vary from company to company. If you are a business that has a strong culture of IT modernisation and keeps its technology current, then the IT Transformation journey will be quite short. However, if you are a company that likes to sweat its assets and accept the mantra “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, then you will probably find that you cannot start your digital journey without some considerable modernisation. So, there is not one simple answer here, the truth is you need to look at what you’re starting with to really understand if you need to modernise.

Now a mistake some companies make at this point is to think that their IT Transformation journey is actually their Digital one as well. This is largely seen when IT are driving the change and not the business. In this instance, IT believes all of the technology features a new infrastructure brings (vendors don’t help here) and in turn promotes these to the business as Digital Transformation. In all my time in the industry I am yet to see a technology that will address all of your business needs and deliver every goal you have set out (by the way if there is a magical solution please let me know). The other problem with IT driving the decisions is that rarely are the technology decisions aligned to strategy. The purchases are purely tactical and will meet the needs of IT, but perhaps not the rest of the business. 

The Ying and Yang

The relationship between the two transformations is critical and I would argue one cannot live without the other (the ying and yang of IT) - but one must come first surely. In my opinion it has to be Digital.

When you lay out your business priorities, the customer’s journey and the cultural changes, then IT has a roadmap to follow. IT can then focus on technology that is customer centric, rather than project centric, aligning their priorities to that of the business.

This will see IT evolve with the business. No longer will there be siloed teams only focusing on their part of the world (Storage, Networks, Security etc). IT can adopt a holistic view of its architecture and leverage the right technology aligned to business goals regardless of teams. This is the same for the business, as they are going to go through a similar reorganisation, but the outcomes and structure are focused on the customer at heart. 

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So where do you start?

This is the simplest part for me. What do you want to achieve as a business? And what does good look like in the eyes of your customer? If you can answer these and have a plan of what you want to achieve, then you can start to review your IT infrastructure to see if it can support these goals. If you do need to modernise then that’s fine, but now align your technology choices to your future business goals and start to plan the journey. IT is not just a cost centre but an enabler to meet your business goals, so work together to make sure the right choices are made and then follow them through.

Oh, and by the way, don’t forget Workforce and Security Transformation - but that is for another day!