Avoid Digital Transformation Failure And Live To Tell About It

@Cyril Bladier
17 April 2019

Digital transformation failure is not an option at a time when the words ‘digital transformation’ are the trendy buzzwords that people put in their special sauce to ensure the success of every article, course and conference they are involved with. Everyone is doing it, but decision makers seem lost when they have to try to tackle the subject for their own organization.

Avoiding digital transformation failure is not an option

As Yahya El Mir, co-founder of IRevolution, says: “transformation is a breakpoint“. To embark on a transformation and end up reproducing the same processes or the same ideas will undoubtedly lead to the same results. This is one of the reasons why businesses need a digital transformation specialist to guide the non-specialists (but specialists in their industry) as they rethink their organization and operations.

digital transformation failure

A little bit of history

When we look at what has happened in recent years and we look more closely at companies that have been successful in transforming themselves or even transforming their industry, the greatest success comes from those who have managed to think differently. These are organizations that have not necessarily brought with them a technological breakthrough.

Most of the time, those who are behind these major transformations have identified consumers’ “irritants” – the things that annoy their customers, known to all but ignored by brands who believe that they are all powerful and unbeatable. These businesses have redesigned their business models through the resolution of these friction points.

How Apple solved its customer ‘problem’

Personal jukebox introduced in 1999 (common area – Wikipedia)

Apple did not kill the music industry any more than it invented hard disk MP3 players. The first player was introduced in 1999 (the Personal JukeBox from the Korean firm Remote Solutions) and the first one to store 1,000 tracks was created by Archos.

Apple’s real innovation in the MP3 player market was design and simplicity. It is worth remembering that Apple was almost bankrupt in 1997. As for the music industry, Apple killed the idea that you had to buy a whole album when you only wanted to listen to one or two tracks.

What problem did Uber solve?

Uber didn’t kill the taxi industry either. The company was born out of the frustration of its founder to find a taxi when he was at the LeWeb Conference in Paris. Uber did, however, put an end to the scarcity of taxis and killed the business of a small number of unethical drivers who would not hesitate to take the unsuspecting customer on the longest route possible, for the highest possible fare.

Amazon, the undisputed champions of customer experience

Amazon’s first site in 1996

Amazon did not kill retail or e-commerce. Amazon did, however, capitalize on the bad customer service and bad user experience that customers had with other existing suppliers. For Jeff Bezos, the customer has always been “the most important person in the room” (even when you are not in the room).

Airbnb addressed 3 distinct needs

Airbnb focused in on limited hotel capacity. Airbnb was born of the impossibility of its founders to pay their rent. To help make ends meet, they rented out their apartment during a popular conference in San Francisco at a time when every hotel room was booked up. Airbnb responded (initially) to 3 customer needs: to meet people from around the world, to help make ends meet and to let people stay more cheaply than in a hotel.

Digital transformation failure is not a technology issue

These are just a few examples, but they illustrate a significant point: the technology in itself does not create transformation nor a rupture. Fundamentally, it is the fact of not being truly customer oriented that is the biggest threat.

This does not mean that technology has no value or no role. On the contrary: technology is at the heart of all transformations. But it is not the only way to reach one’s business objectives. What is at the forefront of technology today may be totally out of date tomorrow. The examples are numerous and the risk of being technologically overtaken is real. Especially since technologies live and die faster than businesses do. However, being customer-centric is a timeless principle.

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