I was talking a friend recently. They advised me I was giving the impression of being angsty, almost against the idea of ‘digital transformation’. I’d been doing it on Twitter as well.

I sighed. I could see their point.

My problem isn’t with ‘digital transformation’. My issue: The misuse of ‘digital transformation’. And it was starting to manifest in a curious form — air quotes whenever I used ‘digital transformation’, when I talk and when I write. I mean, it’s just words, yeah? Picking on them is just semantics. Doesn’t matter does it?

But it does.

‘Digital transformation’ stands for something.

Recently I was reviewing some work. The product owner was proud throughout the hour we spent together. This work was a “fantastic piece of digital transformation”.

I tried to be encouraging. But deep inside all I was looking at was a web interface that worked as people might expect in 2016. The technology underneath? Barely untouched. The ways of working? Pretty old school waterfall. Requirements up front. Assumptions. A lack of research to try these assumptions. People working separately in their roles, handing over when their bit was done. They had stand ups every day though.

Let’s be clear: this isn’t transformation. This isn’t digital transformation.

At least they’re modernising something, eh. At least users won’t have to pinch and zoom the screen. It just that though: modernising a bit of a service. (It isn’t service design either, but that is a thing for another day.)

And that’s just one example. And that one example I’ve had three times the past few months. I’ve had a few more over the past years. And I’ve read more. I don’t want to go on. And on. And on.

The ‘ways of digital’, the people centric things — cohesion and learning through collaboration and cooperation; understanding thriough listening, respecting how things are, respecting opposite perspectives— are missed out in the big sell of technological modernisation. Maybe the onus on transformation being led, driven in some places by a “Chief Technology Officer” is a part of the problem. Maybe the organisations have been fundamentally technology led, all about the systems and the processes mapped out and put down, so it is hard. Anything that is modernising is wrapped in the digital transformation banner.

I am a massive believer in digital transformation. And it can be painful, it can take time. But there needs to be honesty. Know where you are up to, what you are doing. The lines between actuality, ambition and misuse are clear to see.

If you’re not doing for and with the people who will use your thing(s) it’s not digital transformation. And that’s as much about the “back end” as the “front end”. If you’re not doing it mindful of the people doing the work it’s not digital transformation either. Users are the “workers” too.

That’s my problem with “digital transformation”.


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