How to keep your company's digital transformation efforts moving forward

There are many steps on a digital transformation journey. Leading Edge Forum's Bill Murray talked with TechRepublic about why it's important that companies never stop progressing.

How to be a digital transformation pioneer

TechRepublic's Dan Patterson spoke with Leading Edge Forum senior researcher and advisor Bill Murray and asked Murray how to become a digital transformation pioneer.

Watch the video, or read a transcript of their conversation below.

Patterson: Digital transformation is a path your company is walking down. Your clients and your customers are also walking down a similar path, but maybe on different steps. Bill, thanks much for your time today.

Let's start with that path. It may seem like a basic question or a one on one question, but when your company is, say, five steps down the path, how do you interoperate and communicate with customers and clients who may be on Step 2 or Step 7?

SEE: Digital transformation: A guide for CXOs (Tech Pro Research)

Murray: That's a very good question. I'll be absolutely honest with you, Dan. The steps appear literally, as you move along, and it's very difficult to anticipate them. What you're saying is, how do you deal with folks that are a step ahead, how do you deal with folks that may be a step behind? We have a phrase in LEF called pioneers, settlers, and town planners. We've found that, that works really quite well.

We have a set of people, pioneers, little bit like the gold rush who zip out there, start digging in the ground, creating new things. They have a very entrepreneurial mindset. They have a different culture there. They have a different culture, and you just kind of let them get on with it, make things, break things, and at the appropriate time, grant those things, give them to the settlers. The settlers grow those. The settlers grow those to a point where suddenly you want some efficiency, and that's when you give it to the town planners.

Whenever we start talking to a member of LEF that has this transformational journey, we're looking at three simultaneous steps. A sort of pioneering step, which may be new products, may be new services, may be new markets. They may even be trying to build one of these fantastic platform businesses, like a mini-Google or a mini-Uber, or something like that. You almost have to have a translator, some digital sherpas that take the things from the pioneers to the settlers, and from the settlers to the town planners.

If you have that picture, and it's the coherent picture, and you can keep portraying that picture, people's sense of stability increases. They know there are three things going on at the same time, and there has to be some mechanism of pulling from the pioneers to the settlers to the town planners.

SEE: How Sephora is leveraging AR and AI to transform retail and help customers buy cosmetics (TechRepublic)

Patterson: How do you overcome some of the challenges, road blocks, that may be in front of you on your path from being a settler down the road?

Murray: If you've got a digital transformation. In fact, actually, Dan, it's interesting you use that word. We use a different word. We use the word transforming. It's a verb. It's just constant. Small digress. Dan, the big change for us isn't that people go through these steps, it's that they never stop. It's that seven to 10 years ago, the "digerati," the creatures of light, the thing that they did wasn't grab new technologies, it's that they invented an organization structure, and a way of working with these small pizza teams, and these three-tier models. They have it bang on. They have it absolutely bang on, three cultures running in parallel.

What we try and do, is, we say, can you convey from that first team? What are the things that you need to do really well? Can you import, can you have some of the settlers work in the pioneering teams and bring those new products, those new services, those new team structures, those new way of behaving back to the settler group? That may be called the center of excellence, Dan, by the way. Yeah? Similarly, can you bring folks from the town planners, typically IT, tend to feel a little bit stranded, the town planners. They're in charge of all the big technology infrastructure, all of the processes, all of the really difficult supplies and so forth. Can you have some of them work with the settlers and bring that stuff back again? Then you get a system of theft working between the three of them. You encourage it. You encourage the settlers to steal people, processes, and technology from the pioneers, and similarly, the town planners from the settlers.

SEE: Digital transformation: A CXO's guide (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

Patterson: The town is such a better metaphor. So, to mix those metaphors, how do we define our KPIs for the town? What does a successful town look like?

Murray: It has a pattern. It has an architecture. I hope it looks more like Paris than London, because it has some rigor to it, it has some simplicity to it, it has some processes. But interestingly, and this is where I'm afraid my metaphor fails you, Dan, is that what folks are doing more and more now, is they're taking parts of that town and they're pushing it away, into the outside. Every time you're pulling in new services from Google, over my left shoulder there, or from Amazon, so AWS or something like that, you're taking part of that town, you are reducing it, and you are bringing in new services. And that town is getting smaller and smaller and smaller, but it's regular, it's well organized, it's all about operational excellence and efficiency. How fast can you do things? How repeatedly can you do things? Can you have low fails? That sort of thing. It's purely about operational excellence.

Settlers, it's about growth. It's about revenue. It's about margin. It's about profit. It's about the amount of talent you're bringing into the organization. Pioneers, "How many things have you broken." is a really interesting metric for, "How much experimentation are you doing?" They want to know less about success and more about how many times you failed before you got it right. Those are the three sets of metrics.

Also see:

  • Brick and mortar retail digital transformation is powered by mobile device data (TechRepublic)
  • How digital transformation changed kathy ireland Worldwide's approach to retail (TechRepublic)
  • Amazon Go launches: The automated retail revolution begins (TechRepublic)
  • Essential reading for business leaders: Why digital transformation belongs on your roadmap (TechRepublic)
  • Digital transformation: Three ways to get it right in your business (ZDNet)
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