MassIntelligence: Digital Transformation Debt, Part I

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Dr. Setrag Khoshafian is a featured speaker at the second annual MassTLC MassIntelligence Conference, a one-day AI/machine learning/robotics conference taking place on November 9. In the post below, he discusses five of the ten critical dimensions of digital transformation (DX).


This is Part I of a two-part post focusing on Digital Transformation (DX). More specifically, there are 10 critical dimensions to address DX holistically. Part I focuses on the first five.

Technical to Transformation Debt

Continuous improvements and optimizations of software and technology are critical for IT. Legacy software and technology can stagnate. There is even a term for it: technical debt. Simply, technical debt is “a concept in software development that reflects the implied cost of additional rework caused by choosing an easy solution now instead of using a better approach that would take longer.” Addressing Technical Debt is critical for IT. Often the debt accumulates and can have disastrous consequences for the organization.

Digital Transformation (DX) has a similar challenge and the debt could have much more serious ramifications. The “easy solution” is to resist change, ignore important dimensions of DX (especially the transformation aspect), and continue business as usual. DX implies change and it challenges existing norms and organizational power bases. Avoiding or postponing prioritization of DX will only accumulate the agony. At some point a price has to be paid – and it could be too late.

Digital Transformation is more complex than software development or technology deployment. There are several foundational digital technologies impacting transformations. These include Social Networking, Cloud, Big Data, AI, IoT, Mobile, Blockchain, and perhaps most importantly Digital Process Automation. Transformation through these technologies is confusing, with different meanings or connotations. As we observed and analyzed pragmatically how these technologies were impacting different organizations in all vertical domains, it became clear there is a spectrum of transformation options: from cultural DX to governance and best practices.

10 Dimensions for DX

There are 10 dimensions that are critical for Digital Transformation. These dimensions are not orthogonal. There is some prioritization in this list – though each of the dimensions has tremendous merit on its own. Here we go with the first five ….

  1. Organizational Culture: It starts with the most important – and perhaps the most difficult – dimension of DX. Digital Transformation is about culture. Culture is always much more significant and impactful than technology – including digital technology. It is interesting to note that one of the most archaic organizational structures that has survived decades if not centuries is the ubiquitous vertical “Org Chart.” It simply does not inspire agility or change. Digital technologies are just enablers of cultural trends that are transforming all demographics at an accelerated rate. To succeed and innovate with digitization, transformation best practices should challenge long established cultural norms.

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  2. Value Stream Digitization: addressing the siloed organization challenges. Most organizations are still organized vertically, and each business unit focuses on their particular measurable objectives. Value streams go horizontally across business units attempting to optimize customer experiences. The Cultural change needs to capture, digitize, and automate the value stream for optimized visibility and control. The value stream digitization and automation is one of the important pillars. Organizationally, the culture needs to encourage empowered ownership of the value stream – across silos.

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  3. Intelligent Automation: One of the most important technology trends pertains to automation: Robotics, Digital Process Automation, and Robotic Process Automation – to name a few. Once value streams are identified and digitized, they need to be automated. Today’s predictions that jobs will be lost to robots or automation are often simplistic. There is a spectrum of work and a spectrum of worker categories and automation impacts them differently. Automation can be used for repetitive work – especially through Robotic Automation – but more importantly it can assist and augment workers through intelligent agents. Automation is enabled and empowered through AI. The Automation Culture focuses on the efficiency and governance of automation best practices.

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  4. Citizen Developers: A new generation of tech savvy workers are entering the workforce. At the same time, a new generation of application development environments are getting much easier to use – also known as low-code or even no-code development – allowing anyone to build small and robust enterprise applications. Citizen developers can also contribute in the development of more complex automated value stream applications – collaborating with their peers and IT. In fact, traditional IT is not able to keep up with the demand of increasingly innovative enterprise applications. With these unstoppable trends, Citizen Developers are filling the gap for innovation in the enterprise – with close collaboration with IT.
  5. Citizen Data Scientists: By any estimate the digital era is facing an unprecedented explosion of information. Digital technologies, solutions, and content generate 2.5 quintillion bytes of data each day! However, similar to the IT application development bottleneck, there is a more serious data scientist challenge. Organizations are hoarding data – but often mining and benefiting from the heterogeneous data lakes is a challenge. A new harvest of data tools is emerging and allowing citizens to discover and deploy analytical models – predictive, machine learning, or even deep learning. This will enable Artificial Intelligence apps for the masses  – especially through easy to use Citizen AI tools for customer engagement, for concrete benefits and proven results.

Part II will focus on the next five dimensions of DX Debt, and subsequent posts will elaborate on pragmatic maturity roadmaps for DX.

This post originally appeared in Forbes.

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