In Digitization, Learn How to Learn More

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Digital transformation is all about becoming a learning organization – yet a common mistake many organizations make is believing they’re working toward a specific end state.

Digital transformation is the realignment of an organization to embrace technology – specifically software – as a competitive advantage. There are really two key drivers for this: ongoing shifts in consumer expectations and pervasive connectivity.

  • Consumer expectations continue to drive towards a highly digital experience, which is also the case for business-to-business (B2B) interactions.
  • Pervasive connectivity has opened up a world of opportunity, both for people being connected and for physical devices to be connected. Combined, these trends are evident in virtually every industry. I prefer to think of this macro trend as the “digitization of the economy.”

For a company to be successful at digital transformation, it must embrace continuous learning and evolution of its products, people and processes. This means two things: knowing how to focus your teams on priorities (ie. outsourcing what you shouldn’t be focusing on) and embracing rapid feedback loops through processes like DevOps, agile, continuous delivery/continuous integration, etc.

In other words, learn how to learn, and learn how to let go.

It’s about the culture

While digital transformation certainly involves employing technology, technology should never lead the conversation. The focus should be on user needs. What products are you selling, and how can they be improved? Does technology provide opportunities for significantly increasing the value of your products? Can changing your methods of production lead to being more responsive to changing user needs?

After identification of needs, there is a critical “people step.” Start with a small team of driven, interested, energetic, qualified people. Help them identify and carve out a specific improvement, no matter how small. Allow them the flexibility and autonomy to operate in whatever way is most efficient for them, go through iterations of change, and innovate. As this begins to show successful results, scale up from this seed team by adding more teams of similar size.

Train your employees

In truth, many organizations are already software companies; they just never thought about themselves that way. In preparing for digitization, organizations often presume they must hire a specialized bunch of new people. But if you have an organization of decent size, you already have a huge untapped well of knowledge and energy at your fingertips. Turn inward and consider the assets you already have. Remember, digitization is a customer-centric, goal-focused process; it should not be driven by technology.

Leaders take the lead

This isn’t just about engineers and product managers. An organization’s leadership has to change its approach to management and its way of thinking about how each part of an organization fits together. The role of a CIO has been traditionally focused on cost control, but these days it’s more important to think about the strategic value of investments in technology, including the people who help to build it. Once a company figures out how responsive well-designed teams can be, they want more and more.

Business value matters

When you properly align your teams to business outcomes, it’s the business (or user) value that matters most. Tie your software development processes to the business goals through user-centric metrics. For example, are you seeing better customer retention, higher satisfaction, better preventive maintenance, or less downtime or inefficiency? In terms of efficiency, what matters much more is the amount of time between feedback being received from a user and the results of that feedback being shipped. In manufacturing terms, this is known as Takt Time, and is something that enlightened organizations have embraced as a key metric for measuring team efficiency.

Digital transformation doesn’t have an end. In fact, the whole point of the transformation process is to jump-start a never-ending cycle of learning, evolving, adapting and innovating. Companies that have embraced this reality are seeing much more success in their particular markets, and are much more likely to successfully adapt to changes in technology, customer expectations and their competition.

About the Author

Chip Childers, CTO, Cloud Foundry Foundation has spent 20 years in large-scale computing and open source software. In 2015, he became the co-founder of the Cloud Foundry Foundation as Technology Chief of Staff. He was the first VP of Apache Cloudstack, a platform he helped drive while leading Enterprise Cloud Services at SunGard and then as VP Product Strategy at Cumulogic. Prior to SunGard, he led the rebuild of mission-critical applications for organizations including,, Merrill Lynch and SEI Investments.


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