Digital Transformation. Again?

(This post first appeared on You should hire us.)

You hear someone in your org proclaim “This business needs a real Digital Transformation.” You think to yourself “Again? Already?” Trust us, we’ve been there. We’ve heard the term over and over again in the last ten years. As early as 1997 in fact.

As a Director of Online Communications and eCommerce in the early 2000s, I remember hearing the phrase “Digital Transformation” tossed about in the hallways of my company. At that time it meant we would all have palm pilots (!) and go “paperless.” Besides solving this so called “problem” with our current technology, we all wanted to know what exactly that meant. What was the actual problem with what we were doing at the time?

“At that time [digital transformation] meant that we would all have palm pilots and go paperless.”

According to the UK’s Institute of Directors’ recent survey of over 1,000 business leaders and senior directors, we are still waiting to find out what the exact problem is–what problem are we actually trying to solve with digital transformation? In that same survey of business leaders we learn that although 86% of business leaders think digital transformation is necessary within their organization, only half feel that they fully understand it. While this statistic may seem staggering, we’ve found that this confusion is more common than you think, even amongst some of the world’s leading brands.

It’s easy to get confused about digital transformation. And while it would be convenient if the survey defined what the problem is that required business leaders to embark on their digital transformation journeys, the survey simply deep dives into the data. However, we do start to see some clues.

According to the survey, “The most popular way businesses are transforming digitally is by updating an old system through a digital evolution process (65%) while 29% are investing in a complete new platform.”  The survey also tells us that “47% are investing in internal retraining or recruitment of personnel to deliver change, and 41% are implementing a change programme in partnership with a digital or creative agency.”

Where I think this survey’s methodology falls short is that they are highlighting only solutions–agencies, new technology–as the way to solve for digital transformation. But..what are the actual problems that spurred the change in the first place? We think that this survey continues to spread the traditional, and in my opinion flawed, way of thinking. At Clearhead we advocate for a different approach, outlined in our unified methodology below.



Most organizations like to skip over the problem part of the journey and jump right to solutions. You can see that same thinking in the responses to this survey. There’s nothing wrong with the data in the survey, it’s just human nature to jump to technology and other investments when we aren’t clear what the problem is.

Want to embed test and learn culture in your company? Then buy some software. Want to start an optimization team? Then buy some software. Want a digital transformation? Then buy some software to help you go “paperless”! As you have likely seen over your years as digital executive, that approach rarely works.

Addressing the survey’s findings, one of the authors said “Digital transformation is such a hot topic but we find that senior decision makers and heads of businesses are feeling quite overwhelmed with the amount of conflicting information out there and choice of how to evolve their business in the most effective and relevant way.”

“Digital transformation is such a hot topic, but we find that senior decision makers and heads of businesses are feeling quite overwhelmed…”

So if this is a real problem, where to start?

Here’s how we do that at Clearhead through our Accelerator consulting process. We firmly believe that any digital transformation needs to have an agreed upon objective that is backed up by SMART Goals. Once those are decided, we gather your problems through several means–the real problems that are inspiring you to look at digital transformation. Since we work with Fortune 500 companies, much of our focus lands on ecommerce and data problems. Then we present those problems back to the client and gain alignment. Only then–after prioritizing and agreeing on problems worth solving–do we start to form hypotheses on how to solve those problems.


The difference between us and most consultancies? The assessment and problem discovery phase doesn’t just stop. All of our engagements also involve actionable, on-the-ground work towards solving the problems you identified.

So what are your problems worth solving around digital transformation? And how can we help? 

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