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On the edge of digital indigestion…

Digital buzzwords now make every company strategy. How can we recover sight on real issues to be tackled?

Would you care for some more digital buzzwords sir?

"Digital" once meant something

"Digital" was once something pretty clear : "digital marketing", "digital sales channels"... Meaning : proposing brand new businesses, sales channels or products using what was new technologies. Mobile and internet are not anymore "new" and are part of our every day life since a long time.  Transformation of our habits is real but everything now becomes "digital", it is not anymore a matter of creating new ideas. Instead, most of the time, it has become the new name for paperless. Digital buzzwords rule.

It is now time to clarify the action plans. I see three possible explanations to why we fell in that confusion and lack of ambition. 

1. There are still "real" digital revolutions

It has been a long running question, is it a "digital transformation" or "digital revolution"? Let's say both in fact, it really depends on the business and company concerned.

Revolution : A forcible overthrow of a government or social order, in favour of a new system. [...] A dramatic and wide-reaching change in conditions, attitudes, or operation.‘marketing underwent a revolution’

Oxford dictionaries

GAFAMs and unicorns have created new businesses or enabled new ways of doing things that sometimes really change the way we live : cloud, connected health or life saving services (and even mass manipulation...). Digital is thus something tangible.

On the other hand all "brick and mortar" companies have hired their "Chief Digital Officer" and launched their "digital transformation plan". And of course, all these companies widely communicate on these initiatives via commercials, events or job descriptions. But there is a wide gap between what is really "wide reaching change" for end users and what is "only" changing operations within the companies. 

2. Fear

Louis XVI beheaded
CxO facing "digital" as described by consultants (and competitors)

On one hand, as this "Digital revolution" storm came, every CIO saw himself facing the scaffold. In that situation, anyone would spend (major) part of his budget to have an action plan explaining how to resist "uberization".

On the other hand, going deep into proposing new solutions can have major impact on organizations, on the way people work within a company, on talent management... One doesn't become Google just by doing IT projects.  As a consequence, there was a strong need do demonstrate "quick wins" with somehow low internal impact at first. 

This could be the birth of some of the digital misconceptions. Let's take an example with "ATAWAD".

Misconceptions and shortcuts, the ATAWAD example

For those who don't know yet, ATAWAD stands for "Any Time, Any Where, Any Device". You can enrich it, if really you like buzzwords, with "AC" at the end for "Any Content", which makes it even more fuzzy buzzy.

As new businesses on the market relied mostly on web and mobile, and as most of us use a mobile in everyday life for almost anything, old IT systems with dedicated terminals quickly sounded not that optimal. Some technologies and ways of building IT emerged, like SOA, to enable access to IT services and features from any possible channel if needed.

Here comes a new moto : "replacing silos and isolated channels with omnichannel". I.e. Technically being able to activate an IT or business service if needed on any possible channel.

This last sentence is not so sharp (and to get budget, one has to be sharp).  Let's remove "technically being able to" and "if needed". It will be easier for everybody to keep the buzzwords and to remove the "useless information". 

Omnichannel now becomes "activate an IT or business service on any possible channel". And why not completing with "any time", "any content", "any whatever...". Its already huge, a bit bigger will not make such a difference.

When technology seems to be the issue, it is rarely the solution

It might seem quite the same, but... At the beginning, the concept was only an expression of common sense and pragmatism : try to build industrial things so that we have to invest less to make it available with shorter Time To Market and lower cost.

With just a few missing words, it becomes the opposite and complete non sense : struggle to push the same user experience on every terminal. Thus proceed with useless and expensive projects to make everything available "in case of". And as some channels are 24*7, explode your SLAs and operations costs!

Projects were difficult to run, but hopefully new frameworks emerged : responsive UI...

-dramatic pause and music-

Of course all these framework do not solve customer journeys issues. Now come all the questions of value brought to customers, how to optimize investments, return on investment... CIOs are now stuck between the continuous rush for new technologies, new ways of working and the need to demonstrate pragmatic results. 

ATAWAD is only an example. We can indeed go with the same analysis with other key "technical" concepts like (micro-)services for example or blockchain.

Thus, this urge from CxOs to demonstrate digital transformation as soon as possible increases the confusion around buzzwords, heavily relayed in Hype Cycles. Now everybody does AI, even if it is "calling an API", everybody does "Big data" even if it means "dumping data somewhere" and everybody is omnichannel even if it means "having a mobile app".

3. Hype Cycles

I used to be very keen on Gartner Hype cycle. It is a convenient representation trying to forecast future, and thus,  help CxOs invest at the appropriate place. However it is biased on the most critical part of it.

Gartner Hype Cycle from trigger to productivity
Gartner Hype Cycle

On on side, everything is pretty clear for the early stages. There are a lot of new technologies rising. If you are risk adverse, looking there is only to get informed. On the opposite side of the curve, it is also pretty clear. If you are wondering if it makes sense to invest on these technologies, you're late and should consider changing job.

Trouble comes with the Peak of inflated expectations and Trough of disillusionment. That's where the main digital buzzwords stand and hype cycle is not of any help. It confirms that some words have a lot of emphasis and that after some time, the bubble explodes. Mainly common sense.

Enthusiasm just creates bubbles; it doesn't keep them from popping.

Adora Svitak

In fact we can notice that we don't face inflated expectations for the same thing that was identified at the early stages on the hype cycle : The concepts only get blurry. Everybody puts its own definition behind them. After a while, anyone can call themselves an "expert" on the full range of the topic, as long as they have done a bit on part of their own definition. Saying it differently, it becomes a mess.

To take appropriate actions, it is important, not to invest on hype concepts, but to better understand what becomes hidden behind them. I'll go through more details of following "framework" in an upcoming post :

from mist to mainstream, concepts start clear and become digital buzzwords and stormy fuzzy concepts
Techno weather, how to go through digital buzzwords storms

What can we do?

What is the result if you remove buzzwords from your sentences?

Would you just imagine to get on a plane if the captain told you "Believe me, I will take you at the right destination, because I know it is the best place for you,  even though I don't exactly know were we go nor where we are. That wonderful levitating machine can nearly teleport us there, as long as we co-invest to learn how to drive it"?

Stupid example ? What about this one ? : "Believe me, AI is the exact thing you need to revolution your customer journey. I know it is a foundation to digital nowadays. And as you surely face digital threats and uberization, it is definitely a must have. Technologies behind that are too complex, let's call that chatbots, or RPA, your choice, we have experts on both. However, it evolves quite fast and it might be interesting for you to be leading the market and we're ready to co-invest".

Whatever is well conceived is clearly said

Nicolas Boileau

For one given digital buzzword, it is critical to understand the underlying technologies, the different kinds of tools, their applicable use cases, with simple examples and simple words.

Take it for what it really is : a pretext

There are some exceptions of course, but for most of the companies, bringing a new technology is not a short term key driver.

As an example, cf. Gartner : "CEOs are creating the CDO role as a powerful addition to current organizational structures to drive cross-organizational synergies and integration in the drive to focus on digital business opportunities". Main issue to be tackled by CDOs is not to implement new technologies. Technology is only a mean to make organizations change.  

Most of the time, even if we try to put in place "agile "or "devOps" (sorry, other buzzwords), IT, business and real market are not in real relationship anymore. IT systems are getting old and can hardly evolve, not only because of IT but also because of the habits of people operating them and outdated processes or structures.

I've faced some AI projects which could technically have been successes but were in the end blocked because of the potential impact on jobs descriptions. So, avoid hidden agendas! A key success factor is to see all "digital transformation" projects not only from the IT point of view, but to involve from the early beginning the HR representatives. 

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