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Q&A on the Book Leveraging Digital Transformation

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Key Takeaways

  • The 2nd machine age offers many possibilities, but it takes unleashed minds, great leadership, and collaboration to leverage them.
  • Success in digital transformation requires mastering the full digital transformation success formula and not a part of it.
  • Business executives should lead digital transformation with the vital contribution of IT executives, and not the other way around.
  • Businesses should have clear visions and facilitate people's self-transformation to create true missionaries for their successful transformation.
  • Every business implementing digital transformation should invest in their leaders first.

The book Leveraging Digital Transformation - Proven Leadership and Innovation Strategies to Engage and Grow Your Organization by M. Nadia Vincent is a guide for implementing digital transformations. It explores how to lead a digital transformation, how to engage people into the transformation, and what can be done to enable digitalization and innovation.

InfoQ interviewed M. Nadia Vincent about the digital transformation success formula, the possibilities the digital and machine age provides, what to expect from leaders during digital transformation, how to have people participate in defining the mission and manage people's experiences in change projects, and driving technology choices by business needs.

InfoQ: What made you decide to write this book?

M. Nadia Vincent: I decided to write Leveraging Digital Transformation after I rescued the most challenging digital transformation initiative I faced in my career as a business and IT management consultant. The book has evolved since then. The challenging digital transformation initiative was for a global giant, and they were struggling with it for years without achieving anything before I was assigned to lead it. It was not the first time I was working on such an initiative, and the common thing I saw for them all was the misunderstanding of digital transformation.

At best, these transformation initiatives were labelled change programs, and the organization's resistance and employee disengagement are generally very high. Projects/ program/ service deliveries are usually delayed, the rate of project/program failure was often high, and organizational conflicts both internally and externally were constant.

Everyone on these initiatives struggled somehow:

  • Top management with lack of performance, fear, and confusion
  • Middle management with delayed or failed deliveries, lack of support from top management, organizational disengagement, and fears
  • Teams and individuals feel misunderstood, underappreciated, overwhelmed and are fearful for their career and future

After I found my way through the challenges, I made it my mission to help others find their way out of the labyrinth and leverage the 2nd machine age.

InfoQ: For whom is this book intended?

Vincent: Leveraging Digital Transformation is for managers and leaders in C-Level management and middle management positions.

InfoQ: What does the digital transformation success formula look like?

Vincent: The digital transformation success formula looks like this:
DT = IT x BT x TT
              F
It means Digital Transformation = Individual Transformation x Business Transformation x Technology Transformation, all divided by Fear.

  1. IT: Individual Transformation is the starting point of organizational transformation, thus inspiring and empowering the main actors, people in the organization, to lead and realize the transformation.
  2. BT: Business Transformation is the reinvention of the business for the digital age by the main actors, the people.
  3. TT: Technology Transformation or digital technology used as the engine to power the business reinvention allowing it to achieve new level beyond human capabilities.
  4. F: Fear is the common denominator that restrains people at every level of the organization from embracing the 2nd machine age and its new opportunities. It should be reduced at each level and recycled into motivation to embrace the new digital age.

Each of the four elements of the formula is essential for digital transformation success. Remove any, and the transformation will be critically challenged. The order of priority for the three main elements in the formula is also critical.

I created this formula based on many researches, experimentations and lessons learned from leading and rescuing troubled digital transformation initiatives in some Fortune 500 organizations and other large to medium-sized organizations.

InfoQ: What possibilities does the digital and machine age provide?

Vincent: The digital age started several decades ago as computers became widely available, and the digital technology innovated to provide solutions to all industries. That was the first machine age. The computer, otherwise, said the machine was not smart; it needed a human brain to operate it to do what was desired from it.

Now, the digital age has evolved to the 2nd machine age. The machine becomes more powerful with the evolution of computers that see outstanding and evergrowing storage and processing capacity, as well as networking evolution, beyond other aspects. Thanks to the fast increasing power of the computer, a very important domain in computing that was hibernating due to computer limitations back then, suddenly wakes up and thrives on the machine’s newfound power. I am talking about artificial intelligence. Now, not only are computers more powerful, but they can be given a brain with artificial intelligence, therefore becoming smart. As a result, the intelligent computer can take over many of the jobs that humans used to do. This is the 2nd machine age, the age when the machine becomes smarter and smarter.

The possibilities the 2nd machine age offers are countless because it allows the transforming of every sector, every business, everything, and even us humans. There is no limit because anyone and everyone can innovate and further build on previous innovations. It is a matter of imagination and creativity with all that we gain in the 2nd machine age.

I’ll attempt to list some possibilities:

  1. A global market
  2. A new and more powerful business intelligence
  3. The possibility to reach beyond our human capacities and further than the industrial age achievements in all domains with different digital technology inventions.
        a. Regardless of the volume and the form of data we are exchanging, transfers are immediate. Communication and connections are reinvented. Besides, our smartphone holds more data than the personal computers of the 90s.
        b. Drone technology transforms every sector, notably agriculture, photography, delivery, and transportation.
        c. Virtual Reality is bridging the location or presence gap between the real and the virtual.
        d. Networking & telecom: We don’t even pay for our voice and video communications anymore with WhatsApp, Skype, Messenger, Zoom, and the like.
        e. IoT: We can operate things in our homes while away using our phones.
        f. NLP(AI): We speak with our gadgets, with robots, and get their assistance on menial tasks.
        g. Robotic & Machine Learning (AI): Robots are created to assist humans in routine daily tasks (domotics) but as well with more advanced intelligence and logic to accomplish tasks beyond human physical and intellectual capacities. (data science/Analytics, Driverless vehicles, warehouse robots, war robots, …)
        h. 3D Printing: Printing a real, robust, and liveable house in a day is extraordinary.
  4. We can use more of our human intelligence to achieve higher things while delegating many menial and routine tasks to the machine for assistance.
  5. The development of a global conscience and togetherness, demanding more respect for one another on the planet.

InfoQ: What should we expect from our leaders during digital transformation?

Vincent: We can expect the following from our leaders:

1.   Inspiration - through their self-transformation work and leading by example

The most challenging aspect of digital transformation is the human aspect. It is difficult to change people's mindsets to embrace the new reality, let go of their losses, old habits, and innovate. They need urgency to move out of their comfort zone.  Many transformation projects are at risk or failed because of people's fears of the future or fear of losing their situation today. Leaders face people resistance regularly and in different forms on transformation projects.
My research and collaborative work done on brain science reveals what's happening in someone's brain during transformation. I cover that in the book, and it shows that telling people what to do doesn't work. What they need is to be inspired instead. When they are inspired, they will self-transform, break their fears, get out of their comfort zone for embracing the new reality, innovate, and contribute to the transformation.

2.  Guidance and Direction – Leaders do not always have to know the way, but they should at least work more to lead the way and facilitate goal achievement.

This relates to the importance of business vision. Companies, projects, programs with unclear visions are like a group of people working a lot but without a goal or with a vague objective. Everyone has a perceived idea of where they are going, what they are doing, but nobody is sure about the real destination or the direction to go. Sadly, I see that in many organizations and the frustration level of the team can be very high.

3.  Caring & Encouragement - to help keep the motivation and momentum

For the most troubled initiatives I've had the opportunity to rescue, I generally meet one-on-one with the main team members as I try to figure out where things are blocked. The constant complaints I hear are about lack of empathy, selfishness, lack of encouragement caused by other people's attitudes, and team members to leaders. The leaders have a great responsibility to care for the team, encourage them, and create and maintain a team spirit. Insignificant things can have significant negative impacts; on the other hand, small positive acts can turn things around rapidly. It's all about the established team spirit and trust level.

InfoQ: How can we have people participate in defining the mission to become true missionaries?

Vincent: We can help people become true missionaries for their organizations by helping them reconnect with themselves and find their purposes and mission; reconnect with what makes them feel truly alive and fulfilled. That is achieved through individual or self-transformation. Their own mission should be the priority.  

Then they can identify and define their vision and mission in life. As a result, they will search for and associate with the causes, the organizations, the initiatives with visions that align with theirs, and become true missionaries driven by the inspiring and transformative visions.

It is equally essential for organizations to have clear, inspiring, and engaging visions. They should then communicate the vision effectively so that their true missionaries can identify and associate with them.

InfoQ: How can we manage people's experiences in change projects?

Vincent: I believe that people's experience in business, in general, reflects what their leaders and the company have invested in them. Leaders should define the outcome or the business experience they want to have before managing the people's experience in the organization.

Then they should create that outcome or experience for the organization or the people first, starting from recruitment or role assignment.

Consider a table with two parallel columns, the people experience, and the business/project experience you want to achieve. They are linked. We should match the people's experience satisfaction level for each element of the desired business/project experience.

Practically, if I want my customer to have a timely business/project delivery, I strive to deliver the project's resources to the project's people on time. If I want my people to trust me, I give them my trust first. If I want them to break their personal barriers, I let them see me as their leaders, breaking my personal barriers. If I want them to go out of their way to deliver quality deliverables to customers, I go out of my way, negotiating what is needed and fighting for my team, my people first. If I want to be understood, I look to understand my people first.

People's experience is a mirror of what their leader or the business has invested or has not invested in them.

InfoQ: What can we do to ensure that technology choices are driven by business needs?

Vincent: We need to educate business executives, managers, and leaders to reduce the fear of technology for some and educate technology executives, managers, and leaders to be more business-driven. That will facilitate communication and collaboration between them.
I have seen executives hand over digital transformation or business innovation to IT as if they are less concerned. There is a wrong belief of IT being all about codes, bytes, and nerds, and that's wrong!

Some CIOs and IT Leaders, on the other hand, take over digital transformation, doing what they can or becoming the (unofficial) business leader and the person to blame for when things go wrong or when business performance is low.

Closer collaboration between Business and IT is a must for optimum performance. Business needs a better understanding of IT & Innovation, and IT leaders need a better understanding of business management & Innovation.

Having both backgrounds of business management and technology, it made it easier for me to navigate both in IT and in Business and understand each of their challenges.  Business and IT leaders should work together and not separately. Business should lead the whole transformation with IT insights, while IT leads the technology transformation. Working that way, they will optimize the business potential.

InfoQ: What's your advice to leaders in companies that are embarking on a digital transformation?

Vincent: My advice to your leaders is to understand that digital transformation is not only about digital technologies, but that it is more complex than that and keeps evolving. Keep educating yourself about digital transformation, leadership, innovation, digital disruption, and business transformation in your sector as well as other sectors. Continuous learning is a must for each of us.

About the Book Author

With over two decades of international work experience, M. Nadia Vincent is an MIT SLOAN Certified Digital Transformation and Artificial Intelligence Executive Advisor. She led many major transformation initiatives on the European market. The author of "Leveraging Digital Transformation," Vincent is also a professional keynote speaker, leadership coach, trainer, and the founder of digitaltransformationleaders.com, the ultimate training and coaching platform for transformation leaders.
 

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