March 26, 2023

David Larkin reflects on his learnings from a George Westerman masterclass in achieving digital mastery.

Electronic transformation remains a fascination in the collective consciousness of the business world. As the pace of technological progress rapidly increases, organisations have realised that being digital-ready is not just the ‘nice to have’ element of their fundamental structure, but rather an essential pillar around which the company must be built.

Business leaders had the particular opportunity in order to reflect upon their current digital transformation strategies at a recent masterclass event at the Irish Management Institute, hosted by George Westerman. A senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Administration, Westerman and his colleagues have researched digital change for 12 years and have produced pioneering research along the way.

Business frontrunners who attended the occasion walked away with numerous key insights, preparing them to reframe their challenges and reflect on how best to deal with them moving forward.

Think again about digital

Westerman emphasised that will the trajectory of technological advancement has followed Moore’s Law, which states that digital technology tends to double in performance every 18 in order to 24 months. As this is an exponential process, our brains struggle to grapple with it and the enormity from the associated challenges.

Nevertheless, he argued, the business community must think differently about its relationship with technologies and conduct experiments to provide more optionality for the future. The DURCH research revealed that digital is not really the problem in all; transformation is.

He pointed out that the particular First Law of Digital Innovation states that technology changes quickly, but organisations change much more slowly. In that sense, he added, this is not a technical challenge, but a leadership one.

Digital mastery is about trial and error

The work that George and his colleagues carried out showed that very few organisations were consistently hitting the mark in terms of what he calls ‘digital mastery’. Many companies included in the research were implementing innovation initiatives rapidly – and often successfully – but there was not an integrated approach to fundamentally change the experience of the business.

Others, that he said, were overly cautious and were limiting their progress as innovation was stalled over concerns of capital. There were other companies that simply had maybe not put a roadmap in place yet, putting them behind the curve in the technological sweepstakes.

What the digital masters did differently, he explained, was innovate and integrate their processes, creating an iterative plus sustainable feedback loop associated with learning from mistakes. If something didn’t work, there were no alarm bells ringing. These companies were willing to fail fast and learn fast from their experiments, refining the process throughout.

The electronic masters not only put a more coherent digital infrastructure in place; they were also able to convert this into value-adding opportunities in order to the business’ bottom line.

20-20 vision

In case your business doesn’t possess a clear eyesight of its future direction of travel, Westerman said, this will be doomed to repeat the same mistakes again.

What is needed, he explained, is not a prescriptive and concrete vision, but simply a good achievable final product that an organisation can aspire towards.

A strong vision that will evolves and is tied to the customer is a huge step towards successful digital modification, Westerman said.

Improve in the right way

The research conducted at ÜBER also identified multiple opportunities within the electronic transformation space. One that particularly stood out was the customer experience, whereby digital tools can instantly solve problems and deal with client concerns.

Westerman challenged the company leaders in the masterclass to identify the ‘low-hanging fruit’ in their organisations. That is, areas where introducing digital enhancements could rapidly transform the company’s offering for the better.

Build it up from a firm foundation

Without a solid platform associated with systems plus processes, a digital alteration project will stall rapidly, Westerman stated.

He described that, for many organisations, unfortunately, no such platform exists. For many, each department has its own way of doing things, a legacy problem through when the particular technology was originally place in place.

The problem, this individual explained, will be that the disconnected jumble of procedures leads in order to major connectivity problems. When one side of the company can’t talk to another from a digital perspective, chaos ensues. George noted that by revamping the business’ systems and processes and building them in a structured, clearly defined way, the electronic transformation journey becomes much smoother.

To become a fast-moving culture based on integrity, Westerman concluded, businesses must be prepared to build new things, preserve the elements of change that deliver most value, reorient depending on customer and client comments, and be more flexible within their approach.

Companies don’t need a digital strategy, he or she said. What they need are the capabilities with regard to digital to thrive within the business, which powers the strategy.

By David Larkin

Jesse Larkin will be content, brand and PR manager for the Irish Management Institute (IMI). The recent event featuring George Westerman was part of IMI’s masterclass series, which usually   is usually delivered in partnership with Mason, Hayes and Curran.

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