Digital Transformation: Achieving Old Goals With a New Recipe
Digital transformation is nothing new. While it may appear that way based on the headlines and conference keynotes over the last five years, in established organizations, digital transformation projects have familiar scopes and goals. They're just now conducted under a different name.
In many ways, we have been doing digital transformation for a long time.
The difference now comes from the combination of marketing success coupled with the emergence of new technical architectures that allow for the seamless flow of data. When these evolved technical capabilities are combined with a better focus on user experience when redefining processes, we are able to digitally transform our organizations much more effectively than before.
Digital Transformation Is All About People and Process
Digital transformation is, and always has been, about the people and how they get work done. The goal has been to streamline processes, remove manual steps, and connect every step and action together. This includes finding ways to bridge an external entity’s (e.g. customer) analog processes with your organization’s digital processes.
The questions we asked 20 years ago and still are asking today include:
- What are people trying to do?
- What is the ideal state?
- What is working now?
- Which steps are manual?
- What is the source of errors and rework?
- If you could change one thing about how you work now, what would it be?
The difference between now and 20 years ago is that now we get creative in soliciting input. Workshops using the latest in design thinking, and lots of sticky notes, is a more effective way of uncovering what is really happening and what needs to be changed. The techniques are new, but the goal is still the same: finding the best way for people to get their job done.
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The API Difference in Technology's Evolution
Technology hasn't changed dramatically over the past five years. Sure, more organizations are in the cloud now, but the basic architectures are not new. The interconnectivity between systems delivered by RESTful APIs has been in use for over a decade. The cloud architectures and microservice concepts that come with those APIs have also been established for many years.
What has changed is the dramatic growth in the number of technologies supporting those architectures, as well as people’s understanding of how to use them. A good API is now a baseline feature of any product, including home-grown systems. The concept of API-first in systems design is now an established practice and not simply a good idea.
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The result is organizations can connect every system in their enterprise together, building a stronger technology ecosystem by linking multiple systems rather than building one giant system that controls everything. Each individual system doesn’t know, or care, how other systems do their job or track their data. All that each system, and those using those systems, require is trust in the contract laid out in their API definitions.
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Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts
When you get down to it, the largest lesson we've learned from more than five years of digital transformation is that it still comes down to people. Making things work smoothly for the people using the system drives:
- How business applications connect to different enterprise systems.
- Which of those systems are systems of record.
- Where the enterprise enforces data integrity.
- Where each business domain stores and executes their specific business rules.
Most importantly, we have learned, or relearned, that the most important factor is the user experience. Systems can be doing things perfectly behind the scenes, but if the people using the systems cannot make sense of the tools they are using, they will abandon their new tools and resort to something they understand, like email.
People want tools that can make their jobs easier. Digital transformation gives us that path to deliver on their needs. Take the time to understand the people executing on the mission and make their job easier, more effective, and more error-proof. When you use that focus, all your technology can be assembled together in a way that will give you a competitive advantage and allow you to hit your digital transformation goals.
Related Article: Guess What? User Experience Matters for Employees, Too
About the Author
Laurence Hart is a director of consulting services at CGI Federal, with a focus on leading digital transformation efforts that drive his clients’ success. A proven leader in content management and information governance, Laurence has over two decades of experience solving the challenges organizations face as they implement and deploy information solutions.