WTF is “digital transformation”? Beyond AI and VR for practical, software-driven innovation – My January Register Column

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At the top of the year, companies are setting their IT agendas. Most high level executives seem to be lusting for “digital transformation,” but that phrase is super-squishy. In my Register column this month, I offered my advice on what it should be: simply “digitizing” existing, manual work-flows by perfecting how you do software.

This, of course, is the core of what I work on at Pivotal; see my wunderkammer of knowledge, the soon to be PDF’ed “Crafting your cloud native strategy,” for example.

What do these opportunities look like in businesses? Here’s a chunk that cut out of the piece that provides some examples:

A project to “digitize” the green card replacement program in the US provides a good example of the simple, pragmatic work IT departments should be curating for 2017. Before injecting software into process it’d “cost about $400 per application, it took end user fees, it took about six months, and by the end, your paper application had traveled the globe no less than six times. Literally traveled the globe as we mailed the physical papers from processing center to processing center.”

After discovering agile and cleaning up the absurd government contracting scoping (a seven year project costing $1.2bn, before accounting for the inevitable schedule and budget overruns), a team of five people successfully tackled this paper-driven, human process. It’s easy to poke fun at government institutions, but if you’ve applied for a mortgage, life insurance, or even tried to order take out food from the corner burger-hut, you’ll have encountered plenty of human-driven processes that could easily be automated with software.

After talking with numerous large organizations about their IT challenges, to me, this kind of example is what “digital transformation” should mostly about, not introducing brain-exploding, Minority Report style innovation. And why not? McKinsey recently estimated that, at best, only 29% of a worker’s day-to-day requires creativity. Much of that remaining 71% is likely just paid-for monotony that could be automated with some good software slotted into place.

That last figure is handy for thinking about the opportunity. You can call it “automation” and freak out about job stealing, but it looks like a huge percentage of work can be “digitized.”

Check out the full piece.

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