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COVID-19, The True Digital Transformation Acid Test

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In the past decade or so, many have been banging their drums to hard sell digital transformation and its benefits to the average business. Billions have been invested and a plethora of online services had seen the light along so many buzzwords as well, SaaS, Big Data, AI, Machine Learning, IoT, AIoT, Blockchains, Agile development, Agile Organizations and the list goes on. You could actually make an app that take one technical word and another of business, combine them and you get another interesting buzzword say for example, machine strategy, AI Competency, Software as a Revenue (SaaR), that last one was actually good. Business startups anyone?

Some of these new terminology were actually superfluous or oxymoron, say for example Software as a Service. If you ship software, that is actually a product that you are selling not a service, however if you deploy it on your servers, now that is a service, if you lease it to a group of customers, then you are sharing the infrastructure resources and software license among them. Nothing really new or cloudy about any of these, it have been done even since the mainframe era. You can dust off your old mainframes and call them your own private cloud at will. Actually it was ironic to witness some of the most mainstream cloud providers running out of storage and compute capacity or what they sell as IaaS, should had they outsourced their infrastructure to some sort of an upper cloud? Here is another buzzword for you, the God Cloud.

All of this buzz and yet today, during the COVID-19 outbreak, we still see businesses struggling to stay afloat. What happened to these million project investments, why these businesses are failing to operate solely online? isn’t digital transformation is all about sales, marketing and customer service that can be done online and in a remote manner? The same circumstances that COVID-19 is forcing upon us.

So many products and services, spun out of this digital transformation movement. So many consulting firms had made fortunes applying it to businesses around the world. Digitizing services in search for some digital opportunities that their customers were missing on. What they sold for their customers though was actually a form of digital lipstick. They kept the same old business processes and practices their customers used to do and transformed the same inefficient processes to its digital clone, but in essence they were still the same inefficient processes.

How come their cloud services are failing to withstand the bursts of demand that cloud services were in essence advertised for? What happened to their rapid development and continuous deployment SaaS? Why businesses are struggling to pivot in agile manner to meet the new demands?

As Warren Buffett once said, only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked. Now we can realize that most of these “digital transformation” project have nothing transformational about it. It was just like placing a new label on the same old products and services that are still being offered using the same old business processes, nothing radically innovative or new about it, they just sprinkled a bit of digital fairy dust on it.

Some would argue that this is not a fair assertion, it’s a global crisis by all measures and it’s expected for businesses to fail. Well, let me preempt this argument in the bud for you. Being digital is a business strategic competency that was overlooked at by many directors and managers as they treated it as some sort of a new nice to have utopian fad, and even when their strategic leadership pushed for digital transformation, they either consciously or subconsciously applied it half heartedly to their existing business processes while having every kind of change resistance possible as they chanted their everlasting moto, we have always done it this way, leading to this digital lipstick phenomena which COVID-19 helped to expose today.

Digital Transformation main benefits were nullified and watered down to just a mere technology stack with no whatsoever actual business added value let alone an actual new strategic competency, which again thanks to COVID-19 our new golden acid test, had became a threshold competency to survive what to come which by the way, judging by trend, it’s a marathon and not a sprint where only the most fittest of the new digital world will survive.

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