Digital Transformation

You knew, didn’t you? I’m part of you? Close, close, close! I’m the reason why it’s no go? Why things are the way they are?”

This quote is from “Lord of the Flies“, and that’s what a dead pig head on a stick says to one of the main characters.

I always loved the quote, even if I find it profoundly scaring. In my opinion it well summarize the dark side of our world and irrational behaviors that emerges on scale from human agency.

Digital what?

When I moved to Milan a couple of years ago and I used to chit chatting with people about their or my job, they usually said “I work in the digital field”. I was really confused about that: everything was so vague and intriguing at the same time. A couple of months later I discovered I’ve worked in the digital field in the past five or six years and I was still working in that field.

It’s easy to see how nowadays this “digital transformation” thing is on everyone’s lips, and whatever it means it’s another attempt to chase the speed of the market in an uncertain and volatile landscape. In the past years it was all about Six Sigma. After that, the Agile community assumed that Scrum was the silver bullet for everything. Then, it was the time for these “Agile transformations” supported by questionable scaling frameworks (SAFe among these) and/or approaches (i.e. Lean Startup) . By the way, in my opinion the term “digital transformation” it’s fancy and charming for business people and at C-level too. It’s easy to sell from a consultant’s point of view and it’s not something that sounds for geeks only (or a thing promoted by wierd community of hippies).

But…that’s what they call digital

Long story short: two months ago I went to my bank and they said that would have made obsolete the physical device called “O-key” (a piece of plastic that when pushed, generates a code to log in into your bank account).

You can easily access through your app, because we’re doing digital things

They said to me less or more. Anyway, “ok, we cannot escape technology so let’s do it” I thought. They called this new feature “Smart O-Key” because you are supposed to login into your bank account easily, using the touchID of your smartphone.

Now, the crude reality is that when I came back home I wasn’t able to access my bank account anymore (because the app crashed when I tried to generate an access code). One month after, they released two updates without fixing the issue. Two months later the physical O-key it’s now obsolete and my banking app too, because I cannot even login into my iOS application to check my savings. In addition, I need to pay money for this “service”.

The world stands on software

Nowadays the entire world stands on software, it is one of the pillars of our economy too. You cannot even call your mom if you don’t have the right software installed on your phone or much worst, you cannot even fly safe and secure if you don’t have a well tested and high quality software commanding the airplane’s autopilot. Think about the Boeing 737 max accident.

Many companies and consultancy firms are completely ignoring this aspect even if they are selling or buying digital snake oil.

In the past a bank was a bank and a software house was a software house. They were two separate entities but nowadays it’s not like that anymore and it cannot be like that anymore. Every company nowadays it’s (or should it be) a software company too, and they have to drink their own champagne (that are the services they provide through software).

Maquillage or sustainable change?

The slowest soldier determines the speed of the march

This is a reference to the drum, buffer and rope concept (theory of constraints). I am writing this because many companies have IT departments that are dating back to the stone age. Ignoring this aspect, changing the transformation name every two or three years, will not produce any effective or sustainable change.

I hear a lot of people blaming waterfall (that’s what the dogmatic side of the agile community likes to do – demonizing approaches to claim universality of other ones), but I am sure that a real waterfall approach for companies like the ones above, can only be a blessing for them, because they nowadays live in what I call “the messy and nonsense work hell”.

On the other side, I’m so tired of reading everywhere that this digital transformation thing it’s all about people. It’s so trivial and simplistic, like saying: “You know what? plastic it’s bad for our planet”. It’s clear and obvious. How you make things happen in order to produce a sustainable change it’s a wider topic. And here it is where we should spend more energies. Amplifying a narrative in favor of another (in this case people against software or vice versa) will make us forget what customers really need and how we can get it to them.

Digital job titles speculative bubble

Last but not least, I see on social media people pushing for this new job title called “Digital Transformation Officer”, assuming that in the near future we will not need any diversity in job titles related to Digital ecosystems. Even if I understand the marketing reasons behind, we should be careful about for three reasons mainly. In my opinion firstly because it’s like teaching PHP to kids at school assuming that PHP will remain the first programming language in three years from now. Secondly because they’re contributing to a speculative bubble and thirdly because these leadership roles are seen only as a personal development rather than a company capability. An important distinction because courses or trainings alone are not enough to grow the capability of leadership within an organization. This capability needs to be built into the organizational structure and culture.

But I will blog more about this digital transformation stuff, because it’s a complex issue that involves three others interesting phenomenons: knowledge and information entropy, unbalancing and tragedy of the commons.

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