Many companies mistakenly believe that deploying cloud-enabled solutions or digitalising documents and feeding them into revamped workflows ticks the digital transformation box. They couldn’t be more wrong.

By Gerrit Olivier, founder and CEO of About IT

Digital transformation is a human thing. It’s an evolutionary step in the context of the businesses that employ us. Because digital transformation isn’t making a snapshot advance in the way you operate and manage your business. It’s not just about getting up to date with the best practice of what’s happening in your industry today.

It’s about creating the ability to change, as continuously as you need to, in order to stay at the forefront of meeting customer needs and expectations, now and in the future. Improving the customer experience, creating new business models, improving operational efficiencies, differentiating products and services, and reducing business risk is what it’s about. It’s about the ability to discover, initiate and embrace the change that leads to those capabilities.

That’s not tied to a specific technology or platform. It’s a mindset, an ethos, a methodology that begins with your executive business leadership and extends through management to employees at the coalface.

When you transform digitally you’re undergoing a seven-step process. First, you determine why you’re transforming and align everyone to the same path. Then you prepare for the cultural change because with the greatest systems in the world you still need humans to put them to work. Third, you start small, deliver early wins, and replicate the impactful, measurable initiative into further parts of the business. Fourth, you map the technologies that you need to the strategic intent. Then you find the right partners with the expertise to deliver. The sixth step is to gather feedback, refine the process and roll out adjusted activities based on your flexible approach. Finally, scale what’s working and embrace emerging opportunities to transform.

The shift from operational technologies to information technologies and becoming an exponential organisation goes well beyond sourcing and deploying a cloud-enabled ERP system with CRM and supply chain, automated warehouse management, analytics, and integrated IoT.

It has to go deeper because those may be the technologies today that keep the disruptors at bay and allow you to lead your industry. But what happens tomorrow when somebody invents an even better system, like an AI-driven development engine that hooks up your business policies with market news feeds and data-driven predictive analytics, then writes its own code to continuously evolve your ERP and business systems on the fly? Suddenly your state-of-the-art, cloud-enabled ERP solution starts to show its crow’s feet.

That’s quite futuristic. Ideas coming on stream today include AI-driven audits. That’s a novel concept that’s going to fundamentally alter the way our businesses operate and it will change the auditing industry and the cycle of education that produces graduates for the field. How will businesses adjust to incorporate that? Who will lead and who will lag, who will be successful and who will not?

The fact is that industries, markets and consequently the companies that serve them will always change. Those with the high level, strategic leadership and employee, activity-led execution abilities to be flexible and adapt will prosper.