Detoxing from the Digital Transformation Hype

On June 29, 2022, BFC was honored to host Triple Jump’s ‘Driving Impact through Digital Transformation’ luncheon during MFC’s ‘24th Annual Conference’ in Istanbul. The luncheon’s keynote speaker, Ms. Floreta Zhulali, has been kind enough to develop a series of three blog posts that highlight the key takeaways from her presentation. This is the first blog post, which discusses the need to detox from the digital transformation hype that surrounds us.

My email and social media feed are constantly being bombarded with content about digital transformation. While this makes sense given my job and the fact that I have continually fed algorithms with searches related to digital transformation, I now find myself in the rather odd spot of needing to separate the hype of the digital transformation stories I’m constantly being shown from the realities I have experienced first-hand as a practitioner and consultant on digital projects. Thus, it is time for a detox, and this detox journey begins by tackling two of the most common “key to digital transformation success” myths I come across.

The first myth to bust on this detox journey is the idea that it is a MUST to set up a digital team as an independent unit within the company as the ONLY way to drive and lead innovation and digital transformation. This idea reminds me of so many Instagram posts that show the most serene and picturesque moments in life. These posts seem too good to be true, and they are. They are the result of an intense laborious process that involves dozens of shots, filters, cut-outs and photoshopping. In the end, the pictures that we see are nowhere near reality. Similarly, digital teams set out to lead innovation, but implementation realities are far from the promised picture. Digital teams usually end up creating chaos and unnecessary internal conflicts and ultimately fail to meet initial expectations (let alone innovation or transformation). This is because independent digital teams often struggle with other units for resources, which serves to increase resistance within other units as the digital team typically gets flashy positions and much attention without bringing “bread and butter” value to the company. They are often viewed as budget vampires that bring little, if any, returns. I have seen, first-hand, marketing and IT departments put on the spot and have to decide where to commit resources: the digital team or the “real earners”. This is not a viable way to run a company. And now we have detoxed ourselves of this notion that an independent digital team is a must.

The second myth to bust on this detox journey is, what I have come to call, the agile pandemic –i.e. becoming agile without a plan or a purpose and without making sense of it to create real value. I am not exaggerating; it is a pandemic. Whether it is lean, scrum, kanban, XP, FDD or something similar, companies are changing job titles and investing heavily in training staff to fit this new, agile concept of working. You can even see this trend all over LinkedIn, which is now overloaded with certification posts and cheerleading comments. Agile has become the passport to a new business order. Of course, there are still those with opposing mindsets that claim “the good old ways are the best ways”. This results in no one being effectively able to lead change as antagonistic mindsets drive a chaotic internal culture and ultimately reveal that “we still don’t know what the future will bring”. Some revelation, huh? In the meantime, budgets continue to be planned waterfall; processes and procedures remain largely unchanged; creativity is scarce; and there is nothing new (or at least of value) for customers. Yet, there are streams and sprints, and a definition of done (DoD) is followed; therefore, the company must be “agile”. In reality, institution-wide changes are still needed for the company truly be agile. Indeed, I have seen many “agile” financial institutions that remain far from realising any internal incremental value let alone any real customer impact. We have now detoxed yet another myth from our system.

At this point on our detox journey, it is important to note that agility, digital skills and digital champions within a financial institution are important and do have their place. What I want to guard against is using them as “off-the-shelf”, standalone strategies. Neither is perfect, and both need to be carefully contextualised as part of a larger, more encompassing go-to-market strategy that sets a clear vision and concrete expectations.

Next on our detox journey, we’ll move past the toxins and start building a good digital transformation base from which to work by examining a question I’m frequently asked: “How do we measure digital transformation?” After all, we can only manage what we can measure.

Floreta Zhulali

Digital Design Expert

Business & Finance Consulting