There are Two Ways to Look at This

First of all we’ll consider the approaches that are offered online. Virtually all of these are incomplete methods or processes to tackle a business transformation that is in part founded in bricks and mortar. Real people at a desk or workplace, responding to clients, dealing with finance, fixing or assembling things and so on.

Second there is the idea of looking at transforming something that primarily exists online. A digital business or organisation. Here the challenge can be getting the right people to look at and develop the various aspects. Simply moving a business from platform A to platform B is hardly transformative despite the fact that the move may result in significant improvements in service quality or cost reductions and so on.

1. Look Beyond the Advertising

When you do a search for Business Transformation why do you think there are so many adverts? The plethora of businesses trying to persuade you to use their online tools or methods is, frankly, ridiculous.

Why do I say that? Simply because these tools don’t add much to transformation. Instead they should be viewed as mechanisms for handling data or collating information. There’s no such thing as an online transformation tool. By definition business transformation is the result of applying a whole range of analysis and processes. Yet those businesses are paying to have their Ads at the top of the listings – they are so desperate to get your attention because this is a lucrative market, full of the unwary.

What’s On Offer?

Here is a pretty representative sample of what’s on offer from the paid Ads.

  • Benchmarking personnel ability against industry norms
  • Digital technologies and advanced analytics
  • Digital product and service design
  • Edge or cloud computing advice
  • Cultural aspects and emotional intelligence
  • Changing the digital mindset – Digital Leadership Bootcamp (spread over 2 days) aimed at business leaders, which sounds like it is at a physical location
  • Consulting on digital and technology disruption
  • Lean Six Sigma and continuous improvement skills – remote/online training

The question remains – just how are these actually going to help you transform your organisation? Some of them might be relevant at various stages but none of them is showing you how to go from start to finish and get it right. It’s also pretty obvious that large chunks of this stuff simply aren’t going to be delivered online.

Instead of being led by advertising isn’t it better to follow some quality thinking? Then in order to consider the use of online tools, we need to fit them into a framework that demonstrably works.

A Working Framework

This should be your benchmark for how anyone intends to approach a business transformation. If what is proposed doesn’t map to this – then it is pretty much doomed to fail. I don’t care how smart the digital tech is going to be nor how good the training or support for whatever it proposed. You have to start right at the beginning – and the vast majority of the digital transformation ideas being touted start from a #metoo approach. Their proposition is “This is what everybody should be doing”. Except that you are NOT everybody nor, for that matter, is any other business or organisation.

Besides this uniformity of approach the offers overlook the possibility of real innovation. Those who have read some of my other articles will know that this ought to be the source of transformation – otherwise it is merely step change (at best) and incremental change (at least). Note – I don’t dismiss either of these options, just remember that they are not necessarily transformation.

So what is the framework to follow? I’ve only ever used one – the Creative Problem-Solving Cycle (CPS for short). It covers the whole journey from identifying that there is an underlying problem that needs a solution, right through to the execution.

So here it is. A simple diagram that tells it all. And if at any time you don’t know where you are in the cycle then I suggest you need to seek help. Floundering around is not going to deliver the outcomes you hope or wish for.

In addition, check where the online tools might fit against this. If necessary they can be plugged in at appropriate times. However don’t be fooled by promises that they will fix everything because they simply won’t.

Can Transformation Work Via Online?

Yes it can, provided you realise that this should be viewed as a communication channel. Exchanging ideas and advice from a coach or consultant can work well – especially if they are helping you to take control of things rather than doing stuff for you.

Obviously there may be some elements that are purely digital and working on those may be done by remote agencies such as developers. Overall you still need to manage everything within the CPS framework.

2. Transforming an Online Operation

If what you already have is an online operation, then start by analysing and designing as for any transformation. However you will probably want external assistance in the design phase to look at technical possibilities that already exist before blowing your budget on reinventing those particular wheels. A bit of creative swiping never goes amiss!

Who Are the Right People?

In a virtual organisation that relies for most of its operations on automation in a digital sphere finding the right people to look at any particular component is rather more difficult. You don’t have an existing workforce with detailed experience of the processes to consult with. So here I would suggest is where you want an external expert who understands the existing technology and can explain what it is doing.

If you don’t start by truly getting a grasp of what you already have then there’s a risk of building something that might not be capable of taking that into a new realm. For certain there will be times in transformation when you simply want to leave the old completely behind. However, knowing what you can and can’t abandon isn’t that obvious when it’s all hidden in a software package built by someone else.

Which Are the Right Tools?

This is where you need more help. Just because consultancy X says they have the answer isn’t necessarily correct. You want a detailed explanation of how, using their tools, they can help you get where you want to be.

That means they also have to engage with you and understand the rationale of what you are trying to do. Don’t accept an off-the-shelf solution on the understanding that this is what everyone else is using. Validate what you are trying to do against what is possible with the technology the experts can bring to bear. Only when you get a good match should you consider hiring or buying that expertise.

What Next?

The key point to consider in all of this is that there’s no single solution because every transformation (and I do mean every) is different. So make a point of getting your brain around the framework and then how to apply that to your particular situation. The next in this series of articles will cover a more detailed business transformation blueprint. That will include some graphical representations of how the various components might fit together.

How Will You Know You Are on the Right Track?

If you have got to the stage of looking at online solutions in one form or another, then how are you going to validate how they fit into the required framework? You can’t just take the provider’s word for it – most of them simply don’t have the breadth of knowledge or experience, they are too focused on their own offering.

So who will you talk to? If you want an impartial ear – I and my team are here to listen and help you reflect. So get in touch and let me help you get things straight. An initial consultation isn’t going to cost you a penny. On the other hand it could save you a fortune.

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Rob Wherrett can be contacted at

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