back to article Hate to add to the wanky jargon – but your digital transformation is actually a bolt-on

It's hard to believe there once was a more innocent time when if somebody used the phrase "digital transformation" you might think they were being pretentious about making the switch from renting films on DVD delivered in the post to Amazon Prime downloads. But there's still a lot of confusion around the term – even more so when …

  1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "the latter expecting overnight change .."

    That's already a reality. Business has no idea that what it asks may be complicated and, worse, when you give an evaluation of who long it will take, they invariably act like you were sitting in you office with nothing to do, so you can start now and be done in exactly that amount of time.

    As if all the rest of the things they asked you to regularly do has been magically erased from your schedule.

    I cannot count the times I have been asked to do something, answered "it should take about two and half hours" and heard in response : "great, it'll be done by noon then, right ?". And when I explain that no, I don't have time to drop everything and do this new project right away now, about half the time the other guy is pissed off at me.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "the latter expecting overnight change .."

      And when I explain that no, I don't have time to drop everything and do this new project right away now, about half the time the other guy is pissed off at me

      Top tip: When asked "how long will it take?" always answer "I could probably get it done by <date>, if you can find me more resources maybe sooner".

      They might have asked you how many hours the job will take, but that isn't actually what they want or need to know. By giving them you resource input time, you've set up an expectation that you then disappoint - in their mind, you over promised and then took that promise away. If you'd promised a date some weeks away, and then delivered ahead, you become the bloke who over-delivered, not the uncooperative IT guy who doesn't understand the huge importance of whatever trivial change they want.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Usually a cover for more deep seated problems

    When a company starts talking about "digital transformation" that is a convenient shorthand for "our company is complex, hidebound, slow to react, and incompetent in so many areas, competitors are eating our lunch. We've tried change programme after change programme, we've had new directors, changed the strategy repeatedly, and nothing really has changed. But this digital thingy that <insert wanky consultancy or ITO of your choice> have shown us really is going to work, unlike all the other projects, programmes, culture change initiatives that have come, grown and faded away".

    Digital transformation is the mid-life crisis of large companies, who can't see that the odds are hugely against any net benefit. All the organisational cruft and inertia that is the real problem is impossible to remove, no matter how often the directors say otherwise. The only strategy these companies could use is to to start a completely new leaner "challenger" company, using new systems, new processes, short management chains, extensive delegation and compete that way (including against the group's own core business). One day that will be crufted up, and need to be put out to pasture, but there's probably two decades of growth before that becomes necessary. And the other thing that NewCo needs to avoid like the plague is a high cost monolithic ERP (SAP and Oracle come to mind). Brewing your own can work very well but is risky, but in any segment there's usually a range of off the shelf systems from smaller IT companies that offer a near "out of the box" business model.

    But hey-ho, what do I know. You directors keep listening to the siren voices of the consultants and vendors, who want to feast on your company's undead corpse.

    1. MartyOhr

      Re: Usually a cover for more deep seated problems

      Exactly so. Most companies who need a transformation will never be able to achieve it. My model for a digital transformation would be to start a new company built from the ground up with the desired end state, prove the model works and then shift customers into it.

      Most large corporations can never do this because they are full of leaders whose main goal is not having their empire reduced in any way. This seems to be all the worse for the HR, legal, finance departments who spend their lives telling people what they can't do. They'd have kittens at the though of starting a new company unshackled from the current job/reward structure, accounting methods etc.

      1. Mellipop

        Re: Usually a cover for more deep seated problems

        I think the term for what you propose would be reincarnation, not transformation.

        "adorning themselves with digital bolt-ons." Just like the cargo-cult followers they are.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Usually a cover for more deep seated problems

        This seems to be all the worse for the HR, legal, finance departments who spend their lives telling people what they can't do. They'd have kittens at the though of starting a new company unshackled from the current job/reward structure, accounting methods etc.

        Multi-tens of-billions euro company I worked for actually created an internal "business accelerator", that stood legally distinct from the main business, had a direct reporting line to the group CEO, employment contracts were signed by that individual, was formally exempt from all company policies, eg on HR, procurement, investment. delegated authority - it was intended to free the prospective entrepreneurs from the shackles of corporate lardarsedness, and thus to create the growth businesses that the group had failed to produce.

        As you'd expect, the early stage stuff went really well, but then as soon as it exited this shielded world, the corporate jackals attacked, and ripped every shred of energy, vitality and commercial promise from the proto-business, so not a single business idea scaled into anything credible. Whilst this was going on, the main retail business was under continuous attack from leaner, more agile smaller competitors, and it was losing 40,000 customers a month. As you suggest, all of those corporate jackals were the problem in both slowly killing the main business, and in quickly killing all new ideas. The overall corporate culture was not "that's an interesting idea, how can we make it happen?", but of "you can't do that because...". No UK readers will be surprised to learn that this was a large energy supplier.

        1. MartyOhr

          Re: Usually a cover for more deep seated problems

          'how can we make it happen?", but of "you can't do that because...". No UK readers will be surprised to learn that this was a large energy supplier.'

          I was surprised, because it was more or less the same story where I worked. Different sector, exactly the same story. The CEO used to personally approve all expenses - he didn't even have a PA, but the company was super agile, fast moving and highly profitable. It was also always in the sights of the parent company .

          Weird things would happen; like our generous shift and on-call allowances would suddenly be changed to align with the parent's HR policies. Even though we were legally separate. Prompting oodles of bad will. Eventually closed down for offering too much competition to the parent.

  3. Death_Ninja

    Crystal balls

    "GE is still in the middle of a continuous transformation"

    So if its continuous transformation, ie over the length of the company's existence... and they are half way through it then if we track back to when they started it we can predict when GE will collapse.

    Genius!

  4. NightFox

    Maybe I'm not really understanding this digital transformation thing, but I can't help wondering what any company that suddenly finds itself in need of digital transformation has otherwise been doing over the last 20+ years?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I can't help wondering what any company that suddenly finds itself in need of digital transformation has otherwise been doing over the last 20+ years?

      Managing change incrementally with (surprise, surprise) digital bolt ons. Nobody is ever in a hurry to really shake up a company's core processes and systems, so when customers want a way of seeing their bill on line, that's not achieved by a new system, but by a quick and dirty kludge to interface between the customer and the CRM, linked via the company's website (originally designed largely as a marketing toy). Then, when they want to pay bills on line, that becomes a different kludge, that has to tie between the online bill, the CRM, and the customer accounting element of the back office systems. Then it turns out customers want to do this from phones, so these two kludges get replicated in Android and Apple versions, which then makes the company a software publisher and supporter. By now, even in this very high level approximation we've got six different software packages all having to interface with business critical systems, all with different security models, and possibly PCI DSS implications. If the customer pays by direct debit, and you want them to be able to change that, there's another three packages. Changing their personal details, another three, and so it goes on. Each element needs the full set of sign off, business case, business analysis, design, code test, release, bugfix updates. Now consider the movement in third part systems eg your web development platform such as Adobe, MS or whoever doesn't stay still, so you need to update your web apps for whatever the vendor supports. Then you've got the PITA lifecycling of the main ERP, and so it goes on.

      All these companies hoping to be transformed are starting from systems architecture of immense complexity built over time, almost none of which was actually designed. So in terms of "what have they been doing for twenty years", the answer is "spinning plates".

      1. cantankerous swineherd Silver badge

        alternatively, put some humans in the loop who can jfdi.

  5. cantankerous swineherd Silver badge

    "While it's hard to fault the ambition of Lloyds"

    let me help you with that. the object of the exercise is to improve the flow of cash to firstly directors and, a distant second, shareholders. this is achieved by getting rid of buildings full of people who were sufficiently intelligent and well trained to do things like, oh, entering a new address into a database. this laughably old fashioned way of doing business was replaced by a series of robots programmed to say things like "we're experiencing extremely high call volumes at the moment" and sending emails requesting information from no-reply addresses.

    the ambition to divert more money into directors pockets has been achieved by saving huge amounts of money on people and buildings. any impact on customer service is spun by mindless pr droids wittering about new ways of working.

  6. David Lewis 2

    Manglement Speak

    ... the latest bullish bullsh*t comments about transformation sit uncomfortably alongside high-profile problems ...

    FTFY

  7. Tim 11

    Survivorship bias

    Even though it may seem that some companies are struggling with digital transformation (or any kind of business transformation for that matter) and maybe even questioning whether it's worthwhile bothering, don't forget that most of the time you are only comparing them with other companies that still exist.

    Even if your stock price or market share has gone down while you were undergoing transformation, that doesn't mean it would be better if you hadn't done it; in today's world, companies have to run just to stay still.

  8. PonsonbyDeVille

    ....or just move it all to the Cloud, that fixes everything, right?

    "We have a Cloud first strategy...." usually the word 'strategy' means we read somewhere that we can just dump all of our sh#t somewhere else, pay a lot less, sit back and enjoy the Mojito's !!

  9. Bangem

    Jesus, this article demonstrably shows the disconnect between CLevel types and the plain speaking IT guys on the ground doing the work. None of what is written in this article translates into an actionable plan or definitive description of what digital transformation actually is.

    With waffly bollox like this, it's no wonder people take on projects like connecting fridges to the internet and standing back and saying "we digitally transformed the fridge"!

    Absolute Cxx guff-speak of the highest order.

    1. teebie

      Thanks, I was going to ask what the tldr of the article was

  10. BoldMan

    Digital Bolt-On Transformation

    Rearrange the following words into a well known phrase or saying that perfectly sums this up:

    old load bollocks of

    Here is my invoice for supplying you with this paradigm reference model realignment...

  11. Zwuramunga

    Versions!

    Add these words to the same old thing and patent and copyright:

    1.0 - On Computers!

    2.0 - On The Internet!

    3.0 - On A Cloud!

    4.0 - IN SPACE!

    1. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: Versions!

      5.0 - On a mobile!

      6.0 - With a drone!

      1. Bill M

        Re: Versions!

        0.0 - Zero-day exploit!

  12. Jack of Shadows Silver badge

    Been doing that rodeo since 1985 from the grunt DevOps (stupid term) to CIO and CTO. Everyone in the comments have hit the right nails with the right hammer so I can't add anything except to say that the corporate culture is the single greatest roadblock in the path for "reinventing" the business. You can throw huge piles of money all over the damn place, looking to see what sticks, most of it wasted if you don't change. Much like any addict, you have to want (what is usually called buy in) to change.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Gimp

    Overshoot

    Woaaah, Digital Transformation now means you've become a #CyberZombi

    Good Luck

    You won't much notice anyway

  14. FozzyBear Silver badge
    IT Angle

    Which is where those IT consultants (very loosely defined) who have absolutely no moral centre will come in. Charge a fortune to over promise under deliver on a project Then point the finger at the IT teams as the cause of the failure of the project.

    Ask the hard questions like Why is this a Digital transformation with so many consultants when if you boil it down it is basically a new server with a few extra reports being feed through the BI portal. You get the condescending reply that doesn't answer the question, along the smarmy smirk that you just want to ram a jackhammer into their face and hit the trigger until you hit bedrock.

    Slimy gits.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019