The Different Faces of Digital Transformation

After my post last week about 'action not discussion' as a prediction and plea for Sweet ‘16, the team at Adapt2Digital have charged me with writing content which allows the reader to gain as much actionable and relevant knowledge to help them move forward either in Digital Transformation or Digital Leadership

“No problem!” I said. And so, this blog aims to provide a summary of the different definitions of Digital Transformation that seem to have evolved and be talked about today. To what actionable end? So that you can recognise which type of Digital Transformation you are either currently undergoing or thinking of kicking off. So you can recognise which type of Digital Transformation someone might be referring to in conversation and consequently ensure the context is correct.

Somewhat akin to separating the goats from the sheep, or rather searching for the diamond in a coal bunker, the term Digital Transformation has become synonymous with single business area digital transformations, single project focus points, or worse, simply the procurement and deployment of a new piece of technology.

So, how many different types of Digital Transformation are there? Which one applies to you? And which one is the best? The following lists the types that tend to be referred to in the market currently, but without distinction.

1)    Digital Marketing Transformation


  • Raising the importance of the customer and the voice of the customer.

  • Bringing the value of engagement through social media and real-time capability to the fore as well as the need to be ready to pick up (and drop) new channels quickly and effectively to maintain relevance in the eyes of the customer.

  • Raising the game in regard to data and how connected data and allowing continuous engagement with customers can create richer experiences with together also contribute to more superior product or service design.


  • It potentially stays as a front end transformation and, without gaining the right visibility and endorsement across the wider business, further transformation may get stuck here forever.

  • This type can give rise to the adoption of technologies that may fall outside the visibility of the wider business. For example, the use of a new social media monitoring tool by the marketing or communications team could have far more value if integrated with other technologies or data within the business.

2)    Technology Digital Transformation


  • Gaining access to agile ways of working, using new technologies and connecting with suppliers that can provide the art of the possible.

  • Enabling innovation through joining the dots across the audience value chain (that can be a customer, employee, supplier, partner even stakeholder)

  • Building speed into the business from an operational perspective to meet demand and differentiate.


  • Without paying equal attention to culture and communication together with process and the technical fundamentals of deployment, usage and maintenance; this type of transformation can lose momentum and fail in achieving goals and objectives. For example; Using an new internal social platform like Yammer might go 100% smoothly in regard to process and deployment but without understanding the culture of the workforce and communicating the ‘why’ benefits success might be short lived.

  • The positioning of technology, especially technology teams within the organisation is of major importance. That the business perceives technology as a provider of solutions to its needs is vital. Equally important is the mindset and behaviour within the technology area itself, to actively go out to the business and seek to provide the business solutions rather than being told ‘I want this technology please.’

3)    Product/Service Focussed Digital Transformation


  • Often one of the most resistant areas of business open to change due to fear of revenue/profit decline, customer loyalty etc. Equally, this is often one of the most celebrated examples of Digital Transformation - how a business transformed by redesigning their product or service to better suite their customers. When product and service goes through Digital Transformation amazing value and opportunity can by realised through adopting a redesign mindset. This can, quite literally, be transformational!

  • This type of transformation often delivers one of the most valuable elements of the wider Digital Business Transformation if focus, investment and commitment is placed on customer experience mapping. The value of this is connectivity of the customer journey across all touchpoints, which means the business starts to get visibility and naturally integrate with other teams and business areas to better serve customers.


  • Can become a one-trick pony. Transform a product or service and then you think it’s done! Without adopting an adaptive mindset, embedding adaptive processes this is not a good route.

  • Digital Transformations in this area can become more of a channel shift rather than a full redesign, if there isn’t enough commitment and leadership to drive the transformation.

4)    Digital Business Transformation


  • Carrying out a Digital Business Transformation means, by definition that everyone and everything is involved and thus the overall benefits become far greater than the transformations mentioned above.

Something Beautiful

  • A complete transformation of your business from a 20th century organisation to a 21st century organisation serving a 21st century audience! Please note I say audience not just customer. Digital Business Transformation places a focus on each audience within it’s ecosystem: customer, workforce, supplier, partner, stakeholder and increasingly the wider community.

Clearly, for Digital Transformation to be truly sustainable and adaptive, it must be a Digital Business Transformation and that requires an inside-out focus, a commitment toward redesign far beyond a product or service, a commitment and participation by the entire leadership team and be fully inclusive of all audiences within the business ecosystem.

Any business that wants to serve a 21st century audience should, ultimately, have its eye on Number 4 above.

This is not to say the other types of Digital Transformation are without merit, quite the contrary, they can be significant starting points from which a wider business transformation can grow, and often one will effect the beginning of another. In this instance they would most probably become strategic projects or initiatives under the umbrella term Digital Business Transformation movement.


1)    Recognise which type of Digital Transformation your organisation is currently undergoing or talking about and if it falls within No. 1, 2 or 3 ensure your leadership team know this is only the start of something bigger. Do not dilute the imperative of the wider Digital Business Transformation but use your learnings, your successes as the business case to widen your efforts. 

2)    Think about how you can start to bring other areas of the business along the Digital Transformation Gravy Train – Data, Workforce Engagement, Customer Services…think, be open, share, collaborate, ditch ego and all sense of ownership and get out there!

3)    If you are undergoing Digital Business Transformation make sure you make it real for everyone: from the very top of the business to the very bottom. Everyone must be involved and and have a voice in mapping the journey from a place of contribution rather than a place of being force fed.

4)    Spend time, more time and then some more time, in getting a majority understanding and a solid level of authentic commitment to active participation from the leadership team.

Regardless of which type of Digital Transformation you are journeying towards or journeying through, make sure you are totally aware of your starting point. Ensure any targets are based on an audience benefit and business outcome and not just profit margin or savings quota.

So, one down!  I’m thinking of sharing our Wheel of Digital Transformation as my next actionable blog. Sharing with you the steps we take businesses through to help implement realistic and effective Digital Business Transformation. Sound good!? Please do let me know.