My cartoon last week on the COVID-19 digital transformation wrecking ball seems to have touched a nerve. That cartoon was shared and licensed more than just about any cartoon I’ve created in the last 18 years (nearly as widely as this other cartoon I drew on digital transformation in 2018).
Organizations are all feeling the sudden and increased urgency of digital transformation. But there’s still a lack of clarity on what digital transformation actually means. Definitions vary widely between companies and within companies. Colgate-Palmolive recently touted their “TikTok-led digital transformation efforts.” When a term can be stretched to mean just about anything, it starts to mean nothing. Urgency without clarity can be a risky combination.
P&G digital transformation alum and author of “Why Digital Transformations Fail”, Tony Saldanha put it this way:
“The biggest challenge in today’s world is the language related to digital transformation. The term has been co-opted by every IT marketing person selling anything from an email upgrade to artificial intelligence…
“Around the world, organizations are spending about a trillion dollars a year on digital transformation. Seventy percent of those transformations fail. I believe that this is happening because language prevents business and public sector owners from setting the right end goal. It also prevents them from following a very disciplined approach to getting there.”
A report last year from CompleteSpectrum showed a confusing mix of definitions of digital transformation from senior leaders. These senior leaders only agreed on one thing — 94% reported that digital transformation was high on their list of priorities.
It makes sense that digital transformation will vary for a bank versus a university versus a toothpaste brand, but it’s critical for teams within an organization to have clarity.
As WPP CEO Mark Read said in a recent interview, “What we want to do is to be precise and talk about technology which is at the heart of digital transformation.”
Here are a few related cartoons I’ve drawn over the years, starting with last week’s COVID-19 wrecking ball: