Ask tech analysts for a digital transformation definition and many will have a quick one at the ready. In the trenches of businesses struggling to automate processes with AI, analytics and rules-based engines, there's less spoken of digital transformation and more about bottom-line results -- one project at a time.
Without passing judgment on the accuracy of IDC's, Forrester Research's and Gartner's digital transformation definitions (see "Leading analyst firms describe digital transformation"), it's easy to agree they're all convincingly vague.
In the content management sphere, the meaning of the term digital transformation can lean toward making content from all corners of the enterprise accessible to all users, subdivided to just the snippet of text and graphics that an employee or customer needs at the time -- and nothing more -- dynamically rendered to the device in use.
But whatever the true meaning of digital transformation, customers and vendors at the PegaWorld 2018 user conference in Las Vegas had difficultly agreeing on, or even expressing, how to define this shopworn tech expression in the real world, where actual CFOs approve real budget spending on technology that affects everyday workflow.
Marrying process with tech is the start
Information systems have been "digital" -- paperless, that is, with data stored as bits and bytes -- since the 1960s' ascent of the "big iron" mainframe era. It's the transformation part that derails the conversation -- what are we transforming from and into?
Alan TreflerCEO, Pegasystems
The problem is that many of those data silos existed in parallel, never to share with one another because of migration or interoperability issues. In this era of computing power, analytics tools and storage capacity, it appears that digital transformation means something akin to breaking down silos, because technology costs are going down as capabilities improve. It takes analyzing workflows -- human and enterprise IT -- to find things in need of transformation and endpoints to which they need to be transformed.
Pegasystems CEO Alan Trefler, who dropped a digital transformation-themed slide into his PegaWorld 2018 keynote presentation in Las Vegas, has been working in the business process automation and AI tech space since founding the company in 1983. Even this chess master, who typically has a quick answer for any question, paused a bit before offering his digital transformation definition.
"It's the combination of technology and business thinking that really enables change," Trefler told SearchCRM. "You can't do it just with tech; you can't do it just with made-up slides."
For Pega partner Abbyy, based in Moscow, the digital transformation definition is very specific, said Carl Hillier, global product head, data capture: Turning paper and static digital documents such as scanned PDFs into searchable, usable enterprise content, indexed, and with metadata generated by AI and other enabling technologies -- all with the least amount of human interaction possible.
"We want to liberate [that content] and make it available to a variety of applications," Hillier said, including Pega Infinity, a new connector announced at PegaWorld.
For customers, it's all about use cases
For their part, customers at PegaWorld didn't really offer a digital transformation definition. Instead, they expressed digital transformation's meaning in raw numbers -- what individual automation initiatives were projected to save or are already saving.
Leading analyst firms describe digital transformation
- IDC defines it as "... the continuous process by which enterprises adapt to or drive disruptive changes in their customers and markets (external ecosystem) by leveraging digital competencies to create new business models, products and services."
- Forrester Research's take: "It's not just about new technology like AI, machine learning, blockchain, IoT or robots; it's also about understanding how to weave together the right processes and governance as well as actionable data to drive impact."
- Gartner calls digital business transformation "the process of exploiting digital technologies and supporting capabilities to create a robust new digital business mode."
Getting a particular 40-week project to streamline online customer service completed in just eight weeks was the digital transformation goal for Saul Van Beurden, CIO, of consumer and community banking at JPMorgan Chase & Co., as he explained in his PegaWorld keynote address. His co-keynote speaker, Martijn Gribnau, chief transformation officer, long-term care and life division of Genworth Financial, said digital transformation meant "simplifying and digitizing the crap out of the business, from sales to service." In concrete terms, that meant breaking down barriers between enterprise IT systems preventing timely issuance of health insurance policies as well as servicing existing customers.
Genworth customers are mostly older people, so writing a policy can involve a visiting nurse evaluation. So far, Genworth reduced policy issuance from an average of 53 days to 21 days and, in some cases, just 10 days. That's Gribnau's digital transformation definition -- or at least part of it. "I feel it can be done in 10 minutes," Gribnau said in his keynote. "But it's not so easy. It requires different thinking, working and acting."