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As we enter what feels like week 599 of the lock-down, and people are starting to develop a punch-drunk sense of humor, I’m getting hit with memes on how the quarantine has led to the age of digital transformation. I can see why people think that. After all, most of us started 2020 thinking that the word “zoom” represented speed, only to find out three months later that no, it’s the name of the company whose stock you should have bought three months ago. Everybody and their grandmother is using Zoom, and therefore this must be the age of digital transformation, right? However, over on a different planet, corporate technology managers are working through a slow down of digital plans as budgets for the year get slashed. So, which is it? An era of accelerated transformation, or a slow down as businesses and people rightly hunker down on their essential priorities?
As a bonafide member of the suit-and-tie wearing advisory community, I’m obliged to give you the consultant answer i.e. it depends.
No, just kidding. That’s not true.
The world as we know it is digitally altered. The pace of digital transformation, both at a personal as well as enterprise level, has inevitably accelerated. Part of question of whether we’re seeing an acceleration, or a slowdown is related to the time-frame that we’re talking about.
We are currently in what I believe is stage two of a four stage journey relative to digital transformation. Stage one was Scramble. This was the stage where IT managers suddenly had all-hands-on-deck to support remote work for all employees in the company. Further, they had to support the systems underpinning critical business operations, ranging from order taking to payments, being done very differently. Stage two was Sustain. This is where they needed to keep critical systems running, but also stay nimble to rewire operations as their businesses themselves pivot. That’s where we are at today. Still ahead of us is the third stage, of Streamline. As businesses inevitably deal with the need to cut costs further, IT budgets will reduce in most cases along with all other budgets in the company. That will end with stage four, Supplant, where newer ways of working more efficiently, and newer business models, will become solidified.
Digital transformation done differently
So, what’s a leader supposed to do on digital transformation? Since we’re in cheesy alliteration hell with the four “S” stages above, may I suggest Perspective, Persevere and Pivot?
Perspective: It’s important to keep track of which stage we’re at in the crisis. The four-stage model is not new. It’s a proven management framework that’s been tested in previous economic downturns.
Persevere: Digitalization is today’s best option for efficiency going forward. The vision of digital transformation must not change. However…
Pivot: What must change is the path to get there. We’re going to have to reach the same goals with less money and less time available.
Creative problem solving
This will need creative problem solving. This is a crisis, and we’re often at our best when faced with a major crisis.
In the late 2000s, the US Department of Defense was looking for a supercomputer, but money was tight. The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) in New York came up with a creative idea. They proposed to hook up hundreds of Sony Playstation PS3 consoles to create a supercomputer. The idea had been around for some time. PS3s were known to have the ability to accelerate computing to the order of a cluster of 30 PCs for the price of one. In 2010, the AFRL unveiled the Condor Cluster, a network of 1760 PS3s which became the DoD’s fastest supercomputer. The Condor Cluster saved 85% on cost and power consumption versus comparable traditional designs.
Which brings us back to today’s world. The fundamental disruptive forces of the Fourth Industrial Revolution have not changed. If anything, digital transformation has become even more urgent. And, we have less money in which to do it. So, what’s your Condor Cluster?
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