5 Key Insights the Past Two Years Have Taught Us About Digital Transformation for the Mid-Market

By Mathias Tölken | Digital Transformation

Mar 07

Last week it was 2 years since Mark Geschke and I did officially lay down the reigns at Space Age Technologies to fully focus on Relevant IT and what was to become Xuviate.

In the 3 months that followed, we upgraded the Relevant IT Framework  to version 3 and it has served us well, but recently we realised that it is time again for a revision.

We are busy with that process and will report on it in due course, but in the mean time I would like to reflect a bit on what the past two years have taught us about Digital Transformation and also how the marketplace has changed.

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A few months after founding Xuviate, Mark summarised our reasons for leaving the security of a mid-market company behind in a blog titled “Why Xuviate?”.

In it he also alluded to the need of companies to start seeing the exponential world we are living in as well as the possibility of “Abundance” that can be unlocked if we embrace the possibilities (see also the book of the same name by tech entrepreneur turned philanthropist, Peter H. Diamandis and award-winning science writer Steven Kotler.)

If anything, the urgency and speed of digital transformation has increased in the past two years and slowly, but surely we are seeing ever more traditional small and medium businesses starting to at least ask questions about the coming digital tsunami.

Two years ago we already saw that enterprises and startups alike were starting to encroach on the traditional turf of the mid-market – Mark did allude to it in the "Why Xuviate?" article and we have seen this become all the more pertinent.

One thing we did not anticipate when leaving a technologically very progressive mid-sized organisation, however, was to learn how even such a company could have significant blindspots.

By freeing ourselves to fully focus and to immerse ourselves in the global start-up scene, we realised just how staid our previous position had been.

This insight and the rapid change in the business ecosystem have then also led to the topic of this article and the five insights I want to briefly share with you.

1. It’s Not an Evolution, It’s a Revolution

As I mentioned above, the rate of change is increasing, but the human brain is not wired for it and most, if not all of us need a major re-think to grasp this idea and be able to embrace the possibilities this unlocks.

Perhaps the best graphical representation I have seen of this conundrum is the following series of graphs by TEF.

Have a look, it is truly amazing to consider what technological progress really means!

Why should we bother?

A study by MIT and Capgemini clearly shows How Digital Leaders Outperform their Peers in Every Industry

2. Digital Transformation Is a Journey and Not a Goal

This point directly leads from the first insight, but it warrants another look.

Businesses are known to set BHAGs – Big Hairy Audacious Goals – that should last for 5, 10 or even more years.

This is no longer good enough.

The rate of change necessitates a rethink in the way strategy at boardroom level is handled.

The entire organisation needs to become more agile.

The Wall Street Journal already in a 2010 article stated that “strategy, as we know it, is dead” and this is ever more pertinent today

3. Standard Terminology Is Starting to Emerge

In the past few years every big consulting firm and lots of independent consultants and researchers published extensively on the topics of digital disruption and digital transformation.

I listed a few sources in one of my LinkedIn articles late last year.

Whilst each of these theories and hypotheses is conceptually sound, comparing two or more can leave you quite confused as they support different and at times even opposing views.

What we are seeing in the past year, but especially the past few months is that whilst the rhetoric stays quite diverse, first commonalities in terminology and concepts do emerge and a few books and academic articles get referenced more and more.

One such example is Leading Digital by George Westerman, Didier Bonnet and Andrew McAfee.

This standardisation already starts with the term digital transformation itself, which is getting all the more defined and is now widely abbreviated as just "DX".

We have seen this happen before: When we in Space Age Technologies were one of the first companies worldwide to introduce Managed Services (a term that also did not yet exist in that form) to the SME market around 2001, the terminology emerged a year or two later, followed by a rapid uptake by business.

We are predicting that we are on the cusp of just such a development.

4. The Need for Practical Guidance

But just as with Managed Services, the terminology alone is just a precursor to the main reason for adoption.

Most books and articles up to now have focused on the why and the what, but have been thin on the how, especially for the SME sector, where there are no big teams and ample budget to figure this out from first principle or pay handsomely for one of the big consulting firms.

And Relevant IT, our own framework, mostly falls into that category as well, even though concepts like the four Value Propositions of IT have helped many organisations to unpack the complexity of the DX journey and focus their efforts on a step by step journey.

We recognised the need for more practical guidance a while ago and wrote several articles on the topic of Digital Transformation as well as e.g. a very hands-on series of blogs on the practicalities of Project Coordination, a key competency every organisation should acquire.

Making our own guidance, and with it the Relevant IT framework, much more actionable is one of the major design goals for version 4.

We will be publishing more about it soon, but please feel free to contact us directly, should you want to discuss any aspect of digital transformation so long or want to get started on a DX journey and don’t know where to start.

Contact us if you would like assistance with your DX journey or don’t know where to start!

5. Every Business Leader Will Become a Technology Leader

We initially “rocked the boat” by stating as early as 2015 that every mid-sized business would not only need the traditional one IT leader (usually the IT Manager, Head of IT or CIO), but at least four.

As digital disruption becomes more acute and as companies embrace digital not only because of this threat, but also as the next big business revolution (many talk about the 4th Industrial Revolution  or Industry 4.0), it becomes clearer that every business manager and executive will need to become a technology leader.

And here we are not talking technology experts, but would rather use the analogy with finance: These days every business leader is able to read a financial statement and knows how to handle terms such as depreciation and EBITDA.

Once more the common terminology and practical guidance will be instrumental.

Conclusion

The last two years have been a roller coaster of learning and, if we heed the signs of our exponential times, the next two years will bring even more change.

And lucky for us, we are in the fortunate position that we learn massively every time we facilitate one of our BTM Mastermind sessions for our trail-blazing mid-sized business customers.

It is amazing how much faster one can move when one shares learning! 

How do you experience Digital Disruption and have you already started on your DX journey? We would love to hear your war stories!

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About the Author

Digital Sensei | Abundance Thinker | Helping Mid-Market Companies Evolve through Digital Transformation - As trained Industrial Engineer with close on 25 years' experience as IT Professional and Business Executive in the mid-market IT industry, Mathias Tölken loves to share his experiences and expertise with others.

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