Digital transformation insights report - May 2020

Digital transformation insights report - May 2020

In November 2019, the Digital Transformation EXPO team surveyed IT and business leads on their considerations, challenges, and sourcing priorities around the technologies that enable digital transformation. In April and May 2020, we repeated that survey to hundreds of businesses in a world that had changed massively.

Forbes says that ‘after Q1 2020, Digital Transformation is no longer an option’, and Simon Sinek says it’s time to ‘re-invent’. While recognising the impact and trauma of COVID-19, we wanted to ask IT and business leaders, influencers and technicians what they thought of those statements. Did they agree? What IT changes are their businesses making? Have they got the right digital culture to support new ways of working?

The results were eye-opening…

Opportunity vs hype

When conducting this survey in Q4 2019, opportunity was the 9th most frequent word associated with digital transformation (DX). Now, it is comfortably the most frequently chosen word. When looking at the detail, of the people who believe DX to be an opportunity, the largest segment of those who answered were in positions of technical leadership (with IT Director and CTO the most frequently-occurring job titles), with slightly smaller segments coming from IT technical staff, non-IT business leads and channel partners.

Conversely, between Q4 2019 and Q2 2020, 20% fewer people describe DX as ‘hype’, falling down the rankings as opportunity rises up them. When looking at what else that group told us, what they believe in is evolution (more on this in a moment), resilient networks and infrastructure, business culture and data management as primary solutions to the digitisation of their businesses. Perhaps notably, this group was mainly made up of IT technicians and non-IT executive staff, rather than technical leadership, lending support to the theory that for a DX programme to be credible within an organisation it needs strong advocacy from IT leaders.

Evolution, not revolution?

Both in Q4 2019 and Q2 2020, evolution was a frequently-occurring word selected by the IT and business teams that we surveyed. This is interesting, as you often see analysis and reports saying that the most successful digital transformations are those which are huge in scope, all-encompassing and ambitious. Are those reports mainly written and promoted by those who are trying to sell said transformations though? As what we’re seeing is that the people on the ground in IT departments often don’t see it that way.

We can see it both ways – on one hand, a full, large, rapid digital transformation of a business can result in a great leap forward for an organisation. Moreover, it is an attractive poster-child when producing and marketing an event about DX. But at heart we recognise that for many, many businesses that isn’t possible, and in reality a phased digital transformation driven by customer demand and upgrading legacy systems is more realistic. This is still digital transformation.

Culture is everything

Another big change in the last 9 months is that while digital transformation is an increasing necessity, it also rings loud and clear that technology alone is not a silver bullet when it comes to successful DX. If anything, culture is considered to be more important than technology.

  • Culture and people transition is considered to be the biggest part of digital transformation, with 72% of respondents citing it
  • The biggest challenge around DX by a long distance is ‘adapting culture quickly to new ways of working’, with 80% of respondents facing it

The key factors around that challenge are varied, with a fairly even split between:

  • Managing change quickly: making sure your people are still productive, right now
  • Successfully communicating between technology and business teams, and
  • Planning your technology strategy for when all of this is over – figuring out the new needs of the user

If anything, digital culture is the toughest nut to crack when it comes to DX, as technology can be sourced and programmed, but hearts and minds can’t. This lends itself to the assertion that successful digital transformation programmes require charismatic and impassioned advocates at all levels and functions in a business.

Cloud is paramount

Given the opportunity, the survey respondents didn’t hesitate to tell us how important cloud was to their digital transformation strategy.

  • When answering what words describe digital transformation, cloud was the most popular technology
  • When considering what is *part* of digital transformation, 62% of respondents said cloud (second only to culture and people transition)
  • When asked which technologies they are investing in, cloud and cyber security were comfortably the most popular

Cloud is a necessary, nay vital part of any organisation’s future. The question is really around choosing what cloud is right for you. Looking at specific challenges around cloud:

  • 62% answered ‘public/private/hybrid cloud – what should your strategy be in the new world?’. Of the other options…
  • 23% answered cloud security, and
  • 15% faced challenges around deciding who their cloud host should be.

The rise of UC

Given *events*, this comes as no surprise, but unified communications and collaboration tools are increasingly elevated in the thinking and planning of IT and business leaders. In 2019 UC+C was middle ranking in the technology mix, and 29% of teams were investing in it. Now, 41% are. What’s more, 48% consider UC to be part of digital transformation, and 39% are viewing it as a challenge that needs to be solved.

Regarding that challenge, creating an effective remote working culture and ensuring quality of service are comfortably the biggest factors. It will be interesting to see whether what many people are calling the new normal remains normal when it’s no longer new, but it certainly feels as though digital transformation increasingly relies on collaboration tools. Future DX insights surveys will give further insight into this.

Cyber security is a constant

When looking at the survey responses, there was initial surprise at the fact that, when asked about the words that describe digital transformation, cyber security was 11th in the rankings. The surprise ended there. When asked about what is part of digital transformation, 56% answered cyber security (third on the list, behind digital culture and cloud), and when asked about their biggest challenges, 53% responded ‘cyber security as businesses change quickly’.

Looking at the detail behind the challenge, ‘planning your new cyber security strategy for your changed business’ and ‘threat detection in the new remote environment’ made up 77% of the key considerations.

A common theme coming through in the responses is that change in business creates opportunity for threats to go undetected. As a result of this, perhaps, cyber security is the technology that most respondents are investing into today.

Going back to the first question, perhaps cyber security isn’t a word that people immediately associate with digital transformation, but the fact is that it is a constant, continuing concern, and an indelible part of DX strategy, as it should be.

Conclusions and takeaways

Top 5 takeaways:

  1. Cloud and unified communications are the technologies most associated with DX in Q2 2020
  2. Digital culture and people transition is seen as critical to DX success
  3. People are mainly buying cyber security and cloud right now, with a big increase in sourcing unified communications and collaboration tools in recent months
  4. While people don’t necessarily think ‘cyber security’ when they think ‘digital transformation’, it is clear that security and threat concerns run through every business technology deployment
  5. People from across the IT spectrum are describing DX as an opportunity – including senior functions from end user organisations – in greater numbers than in Q4 2019

While it is undeniable that COVID-19 has accelerated the digital transformation of a great many companies, news from IT teams at the coalface is a little more nuanced, with the pressure to keep the lights on, maintain quality-of-service for remote workers and continue to protect networks against evolving and opportunistic threats presenting daily challenges. Nevertheless, the words opportunity and digital culture ring out from the results. Many IT and business leaders involved in DX are seeing a greater share of the limelight, and there is a significant opportunity to affect real change. Technology as a driver of company culture has got its place in the sun, and it is the responsibility of the leadership of companies of all sizes and sectors to futureproof their operations by keeping it there.

Appendices: detailed responses to the questions cited in this report

Appendix 1 – what words describe DX to you?

Appendix 2 – what do you consider to be part of DX?

Appendix 3 – what are the biggest challenges and considerations when it comes to digital transformation?

Appendix 4 – what technologies are you investing into today?

Appendix 5 - what do you think will shape the future of digital transformation

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