What Is IT Transformation, Really?

Anyone involved with information technology suffers from buzzword fatigue, and the jargon keeps coming. IT transformation—more commonly known as digital transformation—has become a popular piece of the techie vernacular in the digital age, but its meaning is relatively subjective. Ask 10 CIOs or IT executives about the basic definition of transformation, and you’re likely to get 10 different answers.

Does transforming your IT department mean morphing from a utility/cost center to a value creator? Reshaping your architecture or application mix? Moving from a centralized model to a decentralized one, or vice versa? IT leaders have said “yes” to all of the above, all while using the same term–transformation–to describe the change.

Why is digital transformation important?

Though it’s difficult to define, digital transformation is the primary force behind most companies’ competitive advantages. IT transformation enables organizations to eliminate inefficient systems and manual processes. Instead of legacy systems, companies implement digital technologies that allow them to be more productive, increase revenue, and cut long-term costs.

A strong digital transformation strategy gives other business departments the tools they need to reach their goals more efficiently. It also creates more operational flexibility, so the business as a whole can pivot quickly when its needs change.

Read more on eWeek: Digital Transformation Examples: Business Use Cases

How to implement a digital transformation strategy

Successful digital transformation starts by identifying existing inefficiencies and the specific digital tools that can be used to make improvements. This scope may be as narrow as individual enterprise applications or as broad as cloud computing.

Then, it’s important to get buy-in from key stakeholders by communicating the impact the changes will have on the business’s long-term success. When users understand the value of the digital technology they use, their patience and overall satisfaction during the transformation process improves.

Once the outdated systems have been replaced, the IT department can leverage artificial intelligence, machine learning, and big data to automate processes across the business. Automation increases operational efficiency, reduces error frequency, and minimizes risk.

Finally, the best digital transformation frameworks encourage ongoing analysis and evaluation of the strategy’s success. If needs change and a particular tool, vendor, or process, no longer suits the business, it’s important to allow the transformation to continue.

Read more on IT Business Edge: 7 Strategies for Successful Digital Transformation Integration

IT transformation challenges

Dan Roberts, president of IT transformation consulting firm Ouellette & Associates, believes most digital transformation challenges stem from the inability of CIOs to communicate their vision. “Even when [CIOs] have a good transformation plan, communication is done so poorly that they don’t get people on board or get people driving it across all levels,” he says.

Roberts looks at digital transformation as something broader than a specific initiative or strategy. It’s a shift from being a reactive, order-taker culture to driving business growth and improvement. A key part of that, he says, is positioning your IT shop as the “internal consultant of choice,” versus available consulting or advisory services.

Sharing this mindset with the rest of the company relies on clear, strategic communication.

And IT pros, in general, aren’t known for their communication skills. Many of CIOs’ biggest obstacles—becoming more strategic, retaining the best workforce, and aligning with the business—can be attributed, in part, to poor communication.

To be effective business leaders, CIOs must prioritize the hearts and minds of their team in addition to promoting technological innovation. Cultural change is crucial to digital transformation success.

Aligning digital transformation with business goals

CIOs also need to pinpoint their digital transformation efforts in the right places–namely, in meeting the business goals and customer needs. “CIOs and IT leaders easily revert to their technical comfort zone,” Roberts says.

“You have to think about it as looking from the outside in. People in IT work their tails off trying to hit the bull’s eye on customer value, business value, and being more strategic. They’re hitting the bull’s eye every time, but it’s their bull’s eye, not their clients’ bull’s-eye.”

Synchronizing goals should make sense to both IT executives and those aspiring to leadership roles, as well as non-IT folks who work with and rely on digital technology. But if no one understands the true meaning of IT transformation—and what it portends for technology shops and the business at large—it will become just another buzzword that delivers few real results.

Read next: What Does Digital Transformation Mean for IT?

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