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Digital Transformation Requires Perseverance and Knowing When to Pivot

As we enter what feels like week 599 of the lockdown, and people are starting to develop a punch-drunk sense of humor, I’m getting hit with memes on how the quarantine has led to the age of digital transformation.

I can see why people think that. After all, most of us started 2020 thinking that the word “zoom” represented speed, only to find out three months later that no, it’s the name of the company whose stock you should have bought three months ago. Everybody and their grandmother is using Zoom, and therefore this must be the age of digital transformation, right? However, over on a different planet, corporate technology managers are working through a slow down of digital plans as budgets for the year get slashed.

So, which is it? An era of accelerated transformation, or a slow down as businesses and people rightly hunker down on their essential priorities?

It’s both.

As a bona fide member of the suit-and-tie wearing advisory community, I’m obliged to give you the consultant answer – it’s both. The world, as we know it, is digitally altered. Whether we’re seeing an acceleration or a slowdown depends of the time frame that we’re talking about.

We are currently in stage two of a four stage journey relative to digital transformation. Stage one was Scramble. This was when IT managers suddenly had all-hands-on-deck to support remote work for all employees in the company. Further, they had to support the systems underpinning critical business operations ranging from order taking to payments, being done very differently.

Stage two is Sustain, which is where we are now. IT managers need to keep critical systems running while nimbly rewiring operations as their businesses themselves pivot.

Still ahead of us is the third stage, which I call Streamline. Businesses inevitably need to cut costs further, and IT budgets will shrink along with all other budgets in the company. That will end with stage four, Supplant, when newer ways of working more efficiently, and newer business models, will be solidified.

Digital transformation done differently

Leaders need to push digital transformation forward, quickly, just as every economic indicator warns of a severe contraction looming. Since we’re already in cheesy alliteration hell with, I suggest we thing about Perspective, Persevere and Pivot.

Perspective: It’s important to keep track of which stage of the crisis we’re in. The four-stage model is a proven framework managers have applied in previous economic downturns.

Persevere: Digital transformation is the best option available for increasing efficiency going forward. The vision of digital transformation must not change. However…

Pivot: What must change is the path we take to get there. We still need to reach the same goals, but sooner and with less money.

Creative problem solving

This will need creative problem solving. This is a crisis, and nothing inspires creativity like a crisis.

In the late 2000s, the US Department of Defense was looking for a supercomputer, but money was tight. The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) in New York came up with a creative idea. They proposed to hook up hundreds of Sony Playstation PS3 consoles to create a supercomputer. The idea had been around for some time. In 2010, the AFRL unveiled the Condor Cluster, a network of 1,760 PS3s which became the DoD’s fastest supercomputer. The Condor Cluster saved 85% on cost and power consumption versus comparable traditional designs.

Which brings us back to today’s world. The fundamental disruptive forces of the Fourth Industrial Revolution have not changed. If anything, digital transformation has become even more urgent. And, we have less money in which to do it. So, what’s your Condor Cluster?