urgency without clarity on digital transformation

My cartoon last week on the COVID-19 digital transformation wrecking ball seems to have touched a nerve.  That cartoon was shared and licensed more than just about any cartoon I’ve created in the last 18 years (nearly as widely as this other cartoon I drew on digital transformation in 2018).

Organizations are all feeling the sudden and increased urgency of digital transformation.  But there’s still a lack of clarity on what digital transformation actually means.  Definitions vary widely between companies and within companies.  Colgate-Palmolive recently touted their “TikTok-led digital transformation efforts.” When a term can be stretched to mean just about anything, it starts to mean nothing.  Urgency without clarity can be a risky combination.

P&G digital transformation alum and author of “Why Digital Transformations Fail”, Tony Saldanha put it this way:

“The biggest challenge in today’s world is the language related to digital transformation. The term has been co-opted by every IT marketing person selling anything from an email upgrade to artificial intelligence…

“Around the world, organizations are spending about a trillion dollars a year on digital transformation. Seventy percent of those transformations fail. I believe that this is happening because language prevents business and public sector owners from setting the right end goal. It also prevents them from following a very disciplined approach to getting there.”

A report last year from CompleteSpectrum showed a confusing mix of definitions of digital transformation from senior leaders.  These senior leaders only agreed on one thing — 94% reported that digital transformation was high on their list of priorities.  

It makes sense that digital transformation will vary for a bank versus a university versus a toothpaste brand, but it’s critical for teams within an organization to have clarity.

As WPP CEO Mark Read said in a recent interview, “What we want to do is to be precise and talk about technology which is at the heart of digital transformation.”  

Here are a few related cartoons I’ve drawn over the years, starting with last week’s COVID-19 wrecking ball:

Digital Transformation and Organizational Change” April 2020

Digital Transformation cartoon

We’re All Aligned” December 2017

Digital Transformation” October 2018

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Marketoonist | Tom Fishburne


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