IT raises an eyebrow as pundits push 'digital transformation'

Big Thinkers are urging IT to lead a charge to digitally remake every aspect of their businesses. CIOs aren't so sure...

Digital transformation

Attention, IT leaders: If you haven't yet heard the message that you should be heading up a charge to digitally transform your organization, it's not for lack of trying from the big tech consulting firms.

Accenture and McKinsey are touting "digital business," instructing CIOs to, respectively, create "a comprehensive strategy that leads to new architectures, new services and new platforms" and develop digital skills "not just in marketing and in sales but, increasingly, in operations and across the whole value chain."

PricewaterhouseCoopers is backing "digital IQ," which it defines as "a measure of how well companies understand the value of technology and weave it into the fabric of their organization."

Gartner's bailiwick is the "digital industrial economy," a vast confluence and integration of cloud, social collaboration, mobile and data from the "Internet of Everything."

And Capgemini, in promoting "digital transformation," baldly warns that companies "must succeed in creating transformation through technology, or they'll face destruction at the hands of their competitors that do."

Got all that?

Some IT leaders, like Red Hat CIO Lee Congdon, are already onboard. "Just as we made the transition from an agricultural society to an industrial society, we are now making the transition to a digital society," he says. In that context, every company will be a digital company.

Of course, Red Hat is a technology company to begin with. Telling an agribusiness or a manufacturer of power tools to transform itself digitally is a different kind of task. Nearly all organizations have computers, software and networks, and many have automated processes and a mobile workforce -- how much more digital can they get?

Lots, says George Westerman, a research scientist at the MIT Center for Digital Business. Digital transformation isn't about computerization, Westerman explains. It's about using technology "to expand the reach and performance of enterprises" -- even those that are decidedly analog.

General Electric, for example, is adopting an Internet of Things service strategy that will help customers schedule maintenance and avoid part failures on industrial GE products, which in turn improves its own operations.

Westerman includes that example in Embracing Digital Technology, an MIT research report done in conjunction with Capgemini that cites three major areas of potential improvement in going digital: better customer experiences and engagement, streamlined operations, and new lines of business or business models.

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