A report earlier this month by the Science and Technology Committee of the U.K.’s House of Commons has accused the Government of a lack of leadership and a loss of momentum in its digitisation strategy. Norman Lamb, who chairs the committee, said: “The potential that digital Government can bring is huge: transforming the relationship between the citizen and the State, saving money and making public services more efficient and agile. However, it is clear that the current digital service offered by the Government has lost momentum and is not transforming the citizen-State relationship as it could.”

Somewhat damning as the criticisms are, it is not as if the U.K. Government is alone in struggling with ensuring that the potential promised by the new technology becomes a reality. Such are the challenges that there are books and articles galore describing the issues and offering solutions. Among those to appear in just the past month are Digital Transformation: Survive and Thrive in an Era of Mass Extinction by Thomas Siebel, founder of the pioneering customer relationship management company Siebel Systems and now chief executive of C3.ai, a provider of artificial intelligence software, and Why Digital Transformations Fail by Tony Saldanha, a former senior executive with the consumer goods company Procter & Gamble who now advises leaders on digital transformation through the consulting firm Transformant.

In the former, which carries a foreword by Condoleeza Rice, the former U.S. Secretary of State, and endorsements from politicians, business leaders and academics, Siebel is by turns excited by the opportunities provided by artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things and other technological developments that are making the world more digital and gloomy about the prospects of those that do not embrace the new realities. As he says, “This is as close to a winner-take-all situation as I’ve seen. Companies that transform will be operating on an entirely different level from their lagging competitors. This will be tanks versus horses.”

Indeed, one can already see this Darwinian process in action with the way that Netflix has usurped Blockbuster, Amazon has seen off most of the traditional high street and Airbnb is upending the traditional hotels business.

Reinforcing his point with the claim that “the opportunity is exceeded only by the existential threat,” he proposes a CEO Action Plan:

  • Make the senior executive team the engine of digital transformation.
  • Appoint a chief digital officer with authority and budget.
  • Work incrementally to make progress and capture value.
  • Forge a strategic vision and then set about tackling projects that stand the greatest chance of succeeding and use that momentum to move forward.
  • Draft a digital transformation roadmap and communicate that to stakeholders.
  • Pick your partners carefully.
  • Focus on economic benefit.
  • Create a transformative culture of innovation.
  • Recognise that your organisation is unlikely to have the skills to succeed at digital transformation. But rather than thinking that you can hire in consultants, you need to infuse both executives and other employees with new skills and a new mindset.
  • Continually re-educate the workforce.

Encouragingly, many of the same points are made by Saldanha because, despite the title, his book is also a guide to making a success of digital transformation. Saldanha’s approach to leading such a process — born of his experience with P&G’s global business services unit — is that, despite the promises of the technology providers and the sense in the word “transformation” that things can change quickly, the real requirements are diligence and discipline. In fact, the heart of the book is the “checklist of surprising disciplines.” Borrowing insights from aviation — where pilots go through a routine that is said to ensure that more than 99.99% of aircraft takeoffs are successful — and healthcare — where checklists drive repeatable success in complex tasks — he writes that “it became crystal clear that the answer to the issue of perpetual digital transformation would be disciplined execution.”

To this end, Saldanha sets out a five-stage road map for success in digital transformation, which he helpfully defines as the ability to win in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, described as the “melding of the physical, digital and biological worlds today.” The major driver, he says, is the availability of massive computing capacity at negligible and further plummeting costs, resulting in what used to be physical (retail stores) becoming digital (online shopping), or what used to be purely biological (traditional medicine) becoming biotech (personalised genetic medication).

The real appeal of the book, though, is that — having shown what is possible — Saldanha explains the processes that have to be gone through to get there and — very importantly — what each stage of the journey looks and feels like. The idea is that those going through the process have some sense that they are not alone and, if they stick to the task, stand a chance of getting there. The catch, of course, is that there is no real “there”. Succeeding in this process means committing to constant reinvention.

Read the original article here.